SAH News

Obituary: Osmund Overby

by Paul Overby and Damie Stillman | Jun 02, 2014

Osmund R. Overby, 82, Past-President of SAH and former Editor of both JSAH and BUS, died on June 1, 2014, after a lengthy struggle with Parkinson’s disease.

Osmund Rudolf Overby, known universally as Ozzie, was born November 8, 1931, in Minneapolis, the son of Oscar and Gertrude (Boe) Overby.  He attended school in Northfield, MN, and graduated from St. Olaf College in 1953 with a degree in mathematics and philosophy.  He played in orchestras and bands as a clarinetist and saxophone player and was active in several sports and outdoor activities, including ski jumping.

He married Barbara Spande, of Portland, OR, in 1954 in Brooklyn, New York. He served in the United States Army during the Korean War as a military band musician.  The couple attended graduate school at the University of Washington, Seattle, where Ozzie obtained an M.A. in architecture.  In 1963, he received his Ph.D. in Art History from Yale University.  His first teaching position was at the University of Toronto.  From there, he went to the University of Missouri, Columbia, where he taught in the Department of Art History and Archaeology until his retirement in 1998. 

At Missouri, he was a key contributor to long-range campus planning, a driver of the renovation of Pickard Hall, and director of the Museum of Art and Archaeology.   He led teams of architectural students from around the nation during several summer projects for the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) in St. Thomas, Boston, Newport, Hanover, and St. Genevieve. In 1987, Ozzie was named Distinguished Alumnus of St. Olaf College. During sabbatical years, he conducted research and taught at the University of California, Berkeley; the University of Tennessee, Knoxville; Washington University, St. Louis; and the Philipps University in Marburg, Germany, which was one leg of an extraordinary, year-long road trip through fourteen European countries the family made in a 1971 Volkswagen camper van. 

Ozzie founded and led several historic preservation organizations at community and state levels in Missouri.  He was also a nationally-recognized champion of architectural preservation.  In Ozzie’s honor, the Missouri Alliance for Historic Preservation, an organization that advocates for preservation of architectural and historic landmarks in Missouri, annually bestows the Overby Award, given for a published work contributing to the documentation and interpretation of Missouri’s architectural history.

Ozzie was a long-time dedicated member of the Society of Architectural Historians, becoming a Life Member in 1958, and he played a major role in the Society for thirty years.  He served in many leadership roles:  Editor of JSAH, 1968-1973; 2nd Vice-President, 1982-1984; 1st Vice-President, 1984-1986; President, 1986-1988; and Editor-in-Chief of the Buildings of the United States series, 1990-1996.   In 1998 he was named a Fellow of SAH to commemorate his decades of service to the Society and the profession.  As Editor of the Journal, he guided this major publication, shepherding authors and prospective authors to produce an impressive series of articles on the built environment throughout the world.  As President of the Society, he led the organization ably, especially, among other activities, helping the fledgling project for Buildings of the United States gather strength and momentum and presiding over the first of its many grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities.  Subsequently, as the second Editor-in-Chief of that project, he was responsible for the publication of the first four volumes of the series and for selecting and encouraging the authors for many of the other volumes that have appeared in the last two decades.

As a scholar of American architecture, he wrote a number of articles and books, including William Adair Bernoudy, Architect: Bringing the Legacy of Frank Lloyd Wright to St. Louis (1999) and his own co-authored volume in the BUS series, Buildings of Missouri, which will be published posthumously.  Over the course of his career, Ozzie advised and mentored numerous doctoral students who have gone on to teach around the world.

Ozzie served on the board of the Missouri Parks Association, advised former Governor Christopher Bond on the restoration of the Governor’s Mansion in Jefferson City, and served on advisory committees for the HABS and various other preservation organizations.  He lent his time to civic, academic, and religious organizations, including St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church in Columbia, where he sang in the choir for many years.  While working and in retirement, he joined his wife Barbara on archaeological excavations in Portugal, and together they walked the Camino de Santiago in France and Spain and a similar pilgrimage route, St. Olaf’s Way, in Norway from Oslo to Trondheim. 

Ozzie is survived by his wife of sixty years, Barbara, an accomplished musician, textile artist, cook, and business owner, who often accompanied him to SAH meetings.  He is also survived by his son Paul; his daughters Katherine Howland and Charlotte; and four grandchildren, Clara, Alexander, Joseph, and Sarah.

Admired for his kindness, intellect, humor, generosity, and humility, Ozzie greatly inspired these same qualities in his friends, colleagues, and family. He will be sorely missed.

Co-written by Paul Overby and Damie Stillman


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