Shirley Jean Otto
On February 13, 2021, Shirley Jean Otto peacefully passed away in her Montecito home. She was a passionate person who loved animals, opera, basketball, and the films of Janette Mac Donald and Nelson Eddy. Her interests were both diverse and committed. At an early age, she watched the Fort Wayne Pistons work out practices in her high school gym. Her family held season tickets to the team that later moved to Detroit becoming the Detroit Pistons. This love of basketball eventually led her to much later purchasing a Continental Basketball Association team that Chick Hearn mention while broadcasting a Los Angeles Lakers game. This CBA franchise became the Santa Barbara Islanders. Ten of these players went on to play in the NBA. She never missed a game! Another early interest was opera. She worked part-time while in high school to pay for voice lessons. She had a lovely voice. Three years after graduating high school, she relocated to San Luis Obispo and began singing professionally giving operatic performances. Throughout the rest of her life, she continued to enjoy singing by taking lessons from the retired German opera star, Ruth Michaelis. Receptions for the regional Metropolitan Opera competitions were hosted at her Montecito estate. And, she never missed the Saturday program, “Live From The Met.”
In 1958 she married Richard Otto II who had been the campaign manager for Upton Sinclair’s bid to become governor of California. Together they worked to transform undeveloped land into Baywood Park Estates of Los Osos. In 1964 the Ottos purchased a Montecio estate nestled on Ashley Road. One week later the Coyote fire rages on all sides of their newly acquired home; however, no buildings were damaged. Their new neighbor, Avery Brundage, owner of the Montecito Country Club and President of the USA Olympics, however, lost everything to the fire. Through this tragedy, a friendship was forged. Shirley became one of the first women to gain membership at the country club. Unfortunately, Richard Otto passed away in 1966. After his death, Shirley devoted herself more deeply with opera, traveling to many cities as well as internationally to attend performances of her favorite singers. In addition, she immersed herself in another early interest, Janette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy films. She traveled to Los Angeles twice a year to attend the semi-annual meetings of the Janette MacDonald Nelson Eddy Fan Club. In these meetings, she met and became close friends with several members who would travel to Montecito to spend weekends pouring over memorabilia and watching the films.
Her love of animals also brought her great joy. On many occasions she was contacted by the County of Santa Barbara as well as by friends and neighbors to take in strays who were in need of a good home. She never turned down an animal in need. At one time she had 27 cats and 7 Great Danes which required that she obtain an amateur kennel license from the County. Shirley was a very private person towards the end of her life. She continued to maintain contact with her friends, but she seldom went out other than riding in the car to the grocery or to one of her favorite local restaurants. When a parking space seemed to be unavailable, she would state, “Okay Sweet Spirit. Help us find a parking space.” It never failed. An open space would quickly appear. Her laughter and sense of humor were infectious, and her discussions about politics were well informed, both of which she shared with those who visited her. She will be sorely missed. She gave abundant financial support to local basketball, music, education, and animal welfare organizations, for both profit and non-profit entities in the Santa Barbara County communities. She leaves behind her nephew, Mark Otto; grand niece, Tiffany Otto, and closest lifetime friends, Jody Eng; Curt Pickering; Linda Tolman, Joe and Sandy Bourdeau, Mirna Esquivel and Alex, Diego, and Gigi Mena.