Magazine Feature / People

DU sign maker is third-generation staffer

Working at the University of Denver just seemed natural to Dave Ostrom because he’d been around the school most of his life.

As young boy, Ostrom’s grandfather, John Ostrom, would usher him around campus to different events.

“He’d take me to almost all of the hockey games and let me sit with him up above the press boxes of the old arena,” Dave Ostrom recalls. “When he had to come in over the weekend, I was usually standing in his shadow and seeing how things worked and seeing parts of the campus nobody ever saw.”

John it turns out, would be the first of three generations of Ostroms to work at DU. He began at DU in 1938 (during the Franklin Roosevelt administration) and retired in 1976 as supervisor of plant operations. He died in 1979.

“I know my grandfather enjoyed working here,” Ostrom says. “He would work at all the sporting events and any other event going on around the campus to make sure they all ran smoothly.”

Then it was Ostrom’s dad’s turn: David Ostrom, who worked part time at DU in high school and started a full-time job in 1971. He handled several duties, including painter, yard crew foreman and maintenance foreman for the married student apartment complex and student housing until he retired in 1999. He died in 2007.

Between 1974 and 1976, all three Ostrom generations were on campus together. The junior Ostrom started at DU in high school in 1974, watering lawns by pulling hoses (no sprinkler systems in those days).

Today, Ostrom is the man behind many of the signs on campus: nameplates for employees, signs for buildings, room numbers (with Braille) and fire evacuation signs.

When the University first bought a computerized sign-making machine, Ostrom took a computer class at DU.

“My superiors knew I took the class and figured I might not break their new machine, so they asked if I would like to try it out,” Dave says. “From then on they would bring me a challenging project and I would get it done.”

So, is there another family member waiting in the wings to make it a fourth generation? Actually, yes. And technically, it’s already happened. Ostrom’s daughter, Charice, worked for DU for two weeks in 1997 cleaning dorm rooms. “She didn’t like it much and quit,” he says.

But his two sons, Timothy and Jonathan, have talked about working at DU.

“My hope for them is to see DU in a different way than I did,” Ostrom says. “Meaning from the classroom and getting a degree. Then if they want to work here, that would be fine with me.”

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