Obituary: Robert L. Ott / Farmer admired for strong work ethic

Sept. 9, 1939 - Feb. 28, 2013

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Farmer Robert "Bob" L. Ott of New Alexandria was known for his vegetables and flowers as well as his words of wisdom.

His sayings included "The harder you work, the luckier you get," "If you don't have it in your pocket, don't spend it" and "It's all good."

Mr. Ott, 73, who died at his home Thursday of complications from diabetes, lived a life of old-fashioned values encompassing hard work, community and a love of family.

"He enjoyed using his hands and making something," said Titina Ott of Monroeville, one of his three daughters.

"My dad would come in, and he'd finally go to bed at 11 at night or maybe midnight, and he was up at 4 o'clock in the morning," she said.

"He'd be going up to the greenhouse, walking the aisles, checking the heat, making sure there was no damage, no mold."

Another daughter, Rebecca Wadhawan of Cleveland, said, "He loved taking something, growing it, seeing it and knowing what he was growing was going to bring happiness and health to others."

Mr. Ott grew up in Homestead, initially in modest surroundings, and then in West Mifflin, where his father, a steelworker, and mother had a small garden and grew vegetables to sell. His family bought the farm in New Alexandria, on which he would work the rest of his life, when he was in high school.

After a stint in the Navy, he returned to work on the farm. He also worked for a time as a millwright at Westinghouse Air Brake.

In 1965, he married Sara Tamburo, whom he met at a dance in 1962. She said she knew right away he was the one for her. Her father, who came from an Italian olive-growing family, felt the calluses on Mr. Ott's hands and concluded he was a good man and would be a good provider.

About 40 acres of the land was farmed for vegetables, such as tomatoes, green beans, corn and potatoes. They were sold at farmers markets in Wilkinsburg, Monroeville, Greensburg and Heidelberg.

The sisters recalled getting picked up after school and riding to the markets in an old green truck -- nicknamed "Thumper" -- full of produce, with Rebecca, the youngest, on her mother's lap, and the other two sisters, Ms. Ott and Deborah Yurinko of Export, sharing a seat on a milk crate.

From participating in the business at the farm and at the markets, Ms. Wadhawan said the girls gained a family closeness and learned a strong work ethic and the importance of caring about others.

As business improved, their father was proud to have a new white truck emblazoned with "Ott's Farm and Greenhouses."

The greenhouses were a result of about four years in the late 1970s when the weather treated crops poorly.

Mr. Ott decided to build a greenhouse to raise tomatoes. That led to raising flowers. Eventually, the number of greenhouses rose to 20, resulting in flowers becoming more important than vegetables. He stopped farming vegetables in 1986.

"I think he really loved the flowers more in the end," said Ms. Wadhawan.

That transition was aided by the discovery of natural gas on the property, which ended up providing heat for the greenhouses.

"That's when the business took off," said his daughter Ms. Ott.

About 70 percent of the plants in the greenhouses were sold via fundraisers for groups such as 4-H, churches and school bands. The greenhouses also were used by 4-H and others for training.

"He felt like his business was doing good for the community," said Ms. Ott.

His daughters said he was known as "Mr. Friendly."

There were lilies, tulips and hyacinths around Easter; bedding plants and hanging baskets in the spring; and poinsettias at Christmas.

Ms. Wadhawan said her father insisted on quality. If a branch broke, he'd refuse to put the plant out.

In 1994, he won the Pennsylvania Master Farmer Award.

He retired in 2002 for health reasons.

Mr. Ott also was a wildlife enthusiast, usually getting into his truck every day and looking for turkey and deer on the farm. He once was a hunter and fisherman but in recent years was more interested in photographing wildlife.

He also loved to travel and visited more than 50 countries.

In addition to his wife and three daughters, Mr. Ott is survived by two sisters, Carol Zabkar of New Alexandria and Judith Duke of Austin, Texas; and three grandchildren.

Visitation is from 1 to 3 p.m. and 5 to 7 p.m. today at the Vaia Funeral Home in Delmont. The funeral is at 1 p.m. Monday at Congruity United Presbyterian Church in New Alexandria.

obituaries

Eleanor Chute: echute@post-gazette.com.


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