Teacher, mentor, friend
Don “Oz” Osman inspired his students and his community through selfless service
Say the word “teacher.” The image it evokes reflects the experience you’ve had with them. Some people will have positive thoughts and some negative; most will have a mix of the two.
WhenI say that word (and I consider it to be a sacred word), there is one person who embodies it above all others: my high school English teacher with whom I’m friends to this day. I am now 55, and he continues to teach and inspire me.
If you were lucky enough to be in his class while attending Havre de Grace High School, the first thing you would have realized about Don “Oz” Osman was that he cared; he cared a lot.
It was evident that he was fulfilling his destiny by teaching. Sitting in his class, you felt the same way you did when you watched a master musician play an instrument. We were the lucky ones; we were his instruments.
His most profound lessons, however, took place outside the classroom. Oz taught by example — not just his students, but the entire community.
One day, decades ago, he received a call from a stranger. The caller was trying to reach his mother wholived in a senior living facility. He was concerned as he had had been unable to reach her despite several attempts. Not recalling the name of the facility but figuring that someone in Havre de Grace would know of it, the individual decided to dial a phone number one number up from his mother’s line, and randomly reached Oz, who immediately offered to help.
Oz took down the woman’s name and room number, and made a point of visiting the facility to check on her. She had fallen ill and needed medical assistance. Oz made sure that she and the family member who had called him received the help that they needed. Oz then made it a point to visit the womanagain, as her family lived out of state. After visiting the senior care center and seeing the lonely condition in which some of the people in his community were living, Oz chose to do something about it.
He organized a group of volunteer high school students to visit the nursing homes in Havre de Grace on a regular basis. This group’s mission was to bring joy to those whomight not have very muchin their lives. He called them “SMILES” for Service Makes an Individual’s Life Extra Special.
Another one of his ideas was to organize a senior prom— not seniors in high school but senior citizens. He orchestrated all aspects of the prom, again soliciting the help of student volunteers. The students worked to ensure that the seniors had a wonderful evening.
The SMILES program lasted for over 30 years until Oz’s retirement from teaching, but that was not the end of his volunteerism. Oz also started a community Thanksgiving Day Dinner. The dinner is open to all; not just the struggling, but also the lonely and anyone whowants a communal meal. There are no questions asked, just a welcoming smile and an open table. The Havre de Grace Thanksgiving Day Dinner now feeds over 1,200 people annually with volunteers coming from as far away as Philadelphia and Delaware.
Then, there was the young student who had no place to live who landed at Oz’s door. Through no fault of his own, the young man was homeless; Oz opened his home to him and helped him find his footing. Today, Oz lovingly refers to him as his son, and he lived with Oz until he graduated from college. That student is now 40 years old and doing very well. Oz could not be prouder; when I last visited with him, Ozproudly showed me pictures of his new granddaughter.
While I was visiting, Oz received several calls from other people that he’s currently helping out — veterans who have lost their way, senior citizens who have no one else to talk to. Although he never married, he has the largest family of anyone I know. I love him as do hundreds of others. I will always be his student, and he will always be my teacher.
Don Osman, center, an organizer of the Thanksgiving dinner in Havre de Grace, made sure things were running smoothly last year.