When Prop. 13 Pitched Him Lemons...

...Joe Osterman made lemonade, and then some.

Last week, , the second of George and Lois Osterman’s rough-and-tumble trio of boys, spent his formative years being rural, rambunctious and—despite a nationwide economic depression—relatively secure as he grew up in El Toro.

From first through eighth grade, Joe attended El Toro’s red brick grammar schoolhouse, followed by enrollment at Tustin High. Then he enlisted in the Army, returning five years later from the Philippines and enrolling at Santa Ana College. There, he majored in California history and met his future wife, Edra. Within a few years, he and Edra married, Joe transferred to USC and they began a family. Upon earning his teaching credential, Joe moved Edra, 3-year-old Kathleen and 2-year-old Timothy with him to Whittier, and took on his first teaching job at Whittier High School. A few years later, he accepted a teaching and coaching position at the new El Rancho High School in Pico Rivera.

Life was good during those busy post-war years. But because Joe wore a number of hats, including those of husband, dad, English and history teacher, and golf and basketball coach—well, some things just had to be put on hold.

Such as his master’s degree, and the half-finished thesis to support it: a history of the Saddleback Valley, with special focus on El Toro. Years passed, and the boxes containing his notes and photographs continued to gather dust.

Joe's Lucky Number: 13

Then, on June 6, 1978, voters approved bit of legislation called Proposition 13. Designed to limit property taxes, the controversial initiative affected funding for a number of public agencies. Including schools.

And so it happened that during the 1978-79 school year, the peripatetic Joe—who’d always taught year-round—learned his summer job was kaput.

What to do? Well, with all his new extra time, there was always that moldering ol’ thesis. At least, that was what his father, George, told him. Why not dust it off, reshape it and turn it into a family history that could be given out at Christmas?

As Joe later admitted to reporter Fran Syverson in the Aug. 25, 1985, edition of the Mission Viejo Mirror, “Dad kept pushing and I kept stalling.”

Finally, Joe set up a sort of writer’s headquarters in his own backyard, using a beach chair and a desk from his now-grown daughter’s old room, and began banging out his original notes on a rented typewriter. He also, as the Mission Viejo Mirror article noted, relied heavily on his father for both details and inspiration.

“One of the best things about writing the book,” Joe was quoted as saying, “is that I spent more time with my dad than I had in all my life.”

Summer turned to fall, but the project still wasn’t finished. Finally, Edra and son Tim pitched in, helping Joe pull the copy together in time for St. Nick.

El Toro History Goes Public

By the new year, a new challenge arrived, this time from the book’s recipients: Why not have it professionally published?

Because, Joe answered, that would mean polishing the writing, finding a publisher and dealing with both money and marketing issues.

Once again, his father prodded him to go forward.

The end result, as chronicled in the Mission Viejo Mirror, was a "290-page book crammed full of anecdotes ... [and] stories of early days: threshing crews, croquet games on the lawn, importing and planting groves of eucalyptus trees, rattlesnakes, the 'Trabuco Gang,' booms and busts in real estate, 'ashes of rose' crepe gowns, the switch from horses to tractors. ... Simply told, comfortably paced, the stories capture the reader and carry him along, telling not just of El Toro and the Ostermans but, as the preface says, 'of people, a community, and a life style that was found in many places during the first half of the 20th century.'"

And the name of that book? Why, Fifty Years In Old El Toro: A Family, A Time, A Place, the first of four books Joe would write about his beloved hometown.


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