Disc jockey, navy telegrapher, newspaper woman and eventually Monrovia politician--Pat O'Brien Ostrye has worn many hats in her life.
As the first elected mayor of Monrovia in the 1970s, Ostrye took advantage of the career opportunities that arose for women in the 20th century and, by her own avowal, she loves the life she has created for herself here in town.
“I’ve been in Monrovia for over 60 years,” she said. “I’ve enjoyed a lot. It’s just been great, every part of it.”
Ostrye is originally from Minneapolis, Minnesota. She was the oldest of five kids, and her siblings included one sister and three brothers. Ostrye said her mother worked in the home after working as a switchboard operator before she married, and her father was a World War I veteran who worked his way through the ranks at Diamond Iron Works to become the general manger of two defense plants.
Ostrye, who was then known as Pat O’Brien, attended St. Margaret’s Academy in Minneapolis. She remembers her parents as encouraging their children without forcing them to do anything in particular for a career. Free to make up her own mind, Ostrye decided in high school that she wanted to work in radio. After she graduated from St. Margaret’s, she worked full time for AT&T, and attended the Beck School for Radio part time.
Eventually, Ostrye got a job at the KYSM radio station in Mancato, Minnesota, a radio station which still operates today. Ostrye said that she was on the air three times a day for about two years in the early 1940s.
“I had a women’s program in the morning. I did the noon news, and in the afternoon I interviewed people,” she said.
“I used to write commercials. And I arranged what music they put on,” she added.
Today, Ostrye still enjoys some of that music.
“I have stacks of Dean Martin,” she said.
She also appreciates Andre Rieu, a violinist and composer who is often featured on public television. But her love of radio has never wavered. Even now, she listens to radio more often than she watches T.V.
“When I was in high school, I was interested in radio. There was no T.V.,” she said.
After working at the KYSM station from 1941-1942, Ostrye felt the call of patriotism and joined the Navy and attended boot camp in New York City. She recalled that she was able to meet up with her brother, who had also joined the Navy, and they had the opportunity to see the city.
After boot camp, she was sent to California, where she worked as a telegrapher in air traffic control at the 11th Naval District Headquarters in San Diego.
“I ran the teletype machine connecting the flight plan for twelve airports in San Diego,” she said.
The barracks she stayed in were on Coronado Island, and she commuted to work for all of her shifts. She said that there were probably about an equal number of men and women working as telegraphers at the Naval District Headquarters.
“The women just didn’t sit back and hope something would happen,” she said.
She also remembered how she used to request peanut butter and banana sandwiches for lunch, and that she especially enjoyed going ice-skating on dates. She had many beaus, but it wasn’t until she met Peter Ostrye that she felt ready to settle down.
Ostrye met her future husband, a friend of her aunt’s, through the church choir at in Monrovia. Peter Ostrye, a teacher and a writer, was originally from Cleveland and had graduated from Case Western Reserve University. He had moved to the state of California to see if he could help with the war effort.
“He wasn’t in the service because he had lost his hearing from measles. He thought they were more lenient in California!” she said.
After only a six-month courtship, they enjoyed a very happy marriage, but he passed away 22 years ago.
“It was heaven for me,” she said. “I just think it’s been a glorious life, except he died too young.”
The Ostryes were married in June of 1945, but Pat Ostrye was not discharged from her position with the Navy until August, when the war ended. Over the next several decades, the Ostryes raised a large family. They had eight children, but one tragically died as an infant, and one passed away as an adult. Pat Ostrye now has six living children, four daughters and two sons. She also has six grandchildren. Many of her descendants have put themselves through school and earned advanced degrees in their fields, which include Library Science and Astrophysics.
“We’re kind of an academic family,” she said.
Both Ostryes were active in the city council and shared a love of writing. Her husband wrote the Monrovia Centennial Review. She wrote in many newspapers for 35 years, including the Mountain Views Observer and the Monrovia Weekly. But for the first 20 years, Ostrye concentrated on raising her family.
“I was home for 20 years and I loved it. I didn’t have any ideas that I wasn’t living up to my potential,” she said.
After her youngest child started school, Ostrye began working outside of the home again. In the 1960s she worked at the Conrac Corporation, which was in Monrovia. She started as a switchboard operator. Later, she began working in their personnel department. Eventually she became their corporate librarian and edited their monthly magazine.
Ostrye was also active in church and school activities, and served as the president of the PTA. Then in 1974, after her husband had already served on the city council, Pat Ostrye became the first woman to serve on the council.
“At that time fewer than 1% of legislators in the country were women. And now it’s getting to be like 35%. It should be 50,” she said. “But that just goes to show what can happen in 30 years.”
Ostrye was also the first elected mayor, and she served her two-year term in 1978 and 1979. Prior to this, Monrovia had mayors, but they had been chosen by the five council members. Ostrye ran a campaign against two other candidates and won.
It was a significant change in many ways. She remembered overhearing a community member say, “Over my dead body will a Catholic be mayor.” He spoke the truth, she said, because at his funeral, she was the mayor.
During the 1970s, Ostrye started the Meals on Wheels and Dial A Ride programs. Meals on Wheels continues to thrive, and she appreciates how the transit system has grown. She decided on her own to stop driving about a year ago, and she enjoys knowing that she can take the transportation anyplace in Monrovia, and also to medical appointments in Arcadia.
“This transit, I’m so glad I started it,” she said.
After her term as mayor, Ostrye worked as the city clerk, and then she was the city treasurer. She retired from her position as treasurer in 2004, at the age of 80.
Over the years, Ostrye has seen many changes come to Monrovia. What was once, in her words “a ghost town,” has become a thriving city. During her time on the council, Ostrye worked closely with other members, especially Eric Faith and Bob Bartlett. Bartlett later became Monrovia’s first African-American mayor.
“He was probably the best mayor Monrovia ever had,” she said of Bartlett.
These days, Ostrye is happy to be a member of Quota International, where she has been active for 30 years and served twice as a governor of the organization. Last year, she also served as the president of the New Horizons Senior Club. She relinquished the presidency this year, but she still attends their weekly meetings, which are attended by about 50-60 seniors from the local community. At 87, she feels like she’s one of the younger ones on the list.
“You wouldn’t believe the number of people on the roster that are over 90,” she said.
Although Ostrye is officially retired from working for the city, she still enjoys being able to keep in touch with her friends and community members by participating in the clubs and activities that Monrovia has to offer.
“Monrovia is home to me in all ways,” she said.