Children's Fairyland in Oakland suffered two terrible blows last month with the deaths of Karl Osterloh, who died Jan. 26 at age 79, and Bruce "Skipper" Sedley. who died Jan. 21 at age 86.
Karl's official title was "volunteer extraordinaire," but that doesn't begin to describe what he meant to Fairyland. If William Penn Mott and Arthur Navlet were the park's fathers, Karl was its fairy godfather.
There's hardly a square inch that doesn't bear his imprint, from the remodeled entrance plaza, where he donated more than 2,500 hours as the project's general contractor, to the new Aesop's Playhouse, which he guided every step of the way from the earliest drawings to its final completion.
"We were too small to attract a company to do the concrete work, so Karl got on the phone and convinced a company he'd previously worked with that the children of Oakland needed them to complete this project," says Fairyland's executive director, C.J. Hirschfield. "They couldn't say no when Karl asked in that way."
Born in Albany, Karl worked his way through Cal (Class of '54) and served two tours of duty in Vietnam, flying HU-1 "Huey" assault helicopters and earning two bronze stars plus a slew of other medals.
Having seen more than enough of war and destruction, he came back to Oakland and spent the rest of his life being kind to little kids.
First he founded a hugely successful construction company that built the executive terminal at Oakland Airport and refurbished the San Pablo Hotel in downtown Oakland and Doe Library at Cal.
Then he put all that expertise to work at Fairyland. He was the best friend the park ever had, but he always deflected praise away from himself.
You'd think a guy like that devoted so much time and energy to other people's children because he had no kids of his own. But not in Karl's case.
To the contrary, he and Rita, his wife of 56 years, presided over an extremely close-knit family of six daughters and sons-in-law and 14 grandchildren, each of whom had a special relationship with their beloved "Papa" and tried their best to make him proud of them. And he was. Very.
Within hours after his death, his grandkids created a Facebook page called "In Loving Memory of Karl Osterloh," featuring videos, photos and fond recollections, especially of his delightfully impish sense of humor.
There will be a funeral Mass at 3 p.m. next Friday at Christ the Light Cathedral, followed by a reception at -- where else? -- Fairyland. In lieu of flowers, his family has asked that donations be sent to Children's Fairyland.
Bruce Sedley: I don't have to explain who Bruce Sedley was to anyone who grew up around here. He and his puppet sidekick, King Fuddle, were stars of local children's television during the 1950s and early '60s, first hosting Popeye cartoons on Channel 4, then hosting Three Stooges flicks on Channel 2.
And he was also the man who invented Fairyland's most enduring icon: the Talking Storybooks and the Magic Key that activates them.
"I constantly hear from 30-, 40- and 50-somethings, 'I still have my key!'" says Hirschfield. "And I always reply, 'And it still works!' " In recent years the Skipper lived in retirement in Hong Kong, but he returned to Fairyland in 2008 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Magic Key and King Fuddle's 600th birthday. Many of his old fans, now grown and with grandchildren of their own, turned out to greet him.
In his honor, Fairyland is raising money to create Spanish-language versions of the Talking Storybook segments for the park's Spanish-speaking visitors.
Children's Fairyland's address for sending donations in honor of Sedley or Osterloh is 699 Bellevue Ave., Oakland, CA 94610. Donations are tax-deductible.
Reach Martin Snapp at firstname.lastname@example.org.