James Osta

James M. Osta, 73, of Forest Park, died peacefully on Feb. 27, 2016, surrounded by his children.

Born in Buffalo, New York, on Aug. 18, 1942, he graduated from Niagara University in 1964, then went to work as a Catholic Extension Volunteer on the West Side of Chicago where he worked as a community organizer for fair housing and other social justice and anti-discrimination efforts. This led him to pursue and obtain a Master in Social Work degree from the University of Illinois Chicago. He eventually went to work for the Illinois Department of Mental Health where he spent nearly 30 years developing innovative programs and policies to better serve people living with mental illness. He and Susan chose to raise their family in Oak Park for its progressive social policies, racial and economic diversity, and excellent schools.

In 1983, he was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS). He said it was mostly “just a nuisance” and would go on to provide counsel and support to people newly diagnosed with this confusing and frightening disease, offering a listening ear, reassurance, and living proof that one could lead a full and satisfying life with MS.

He was a lifetime social activist and advocate and worked on issues ranging from ending abuse and promoting reform in foster care settings in Illinois, to drafting legislation to ensure children born with fetal alcohol syndrome receive the support and services they need, and volunteering in Congressman Danny Davis’s office on “ban the box” efforts to eliminate job discrimination for people formerly incarcerated. He was an active member of Al-Anon and provided countless hours of support to families impacted by alcoholism and addiction. 

He was an avid reader and consumed more left-leaning magazines each week than seems possible. He was a dedicated gardener and loved plants and trees, often pointing them out to others to take in their beauty. 

He read to his grandchildren, cheered them on in their sports and activities, and attended their performances. Most of all, he listened to them and loved them unconditionally.

He loved music and singing and was a member of the Celebration and Gospel choirs at St. Catherine of Siena-St. Lucy Church. When asked about his life he often expressed that for him it was “truly an embarrassment of riches.”

James Osta was the husband of the late Susan W. (nee Waters); the father of Kathleen (Tony Smith), Mark (Cynthia), and David (Amanda) Osta; grandfather of Kaelen and Addison Osta Smith, Allison and Jack Osta, and Seth and Ian Osta; brother of John (Nancy), Tom (Kathleen), Elizabeth (Dave), D. Mark, and Kathleen Osta, and the late Mary Jean (the late John) Downs; uncle of Jean (Eric) Osta Niemi and Timothy Osta; brother-in-law to William (Jeanne), Robert (Linda), Barry (Jacqueline) and Peter (Janet) Waters; and uncle, cousin, friend, and mentor to many.

Visitation will be held on Thursday, March 3, from 4 to 8 p.m. at Drechsler, Brown & Williams Funeral Home, 203 S. Marion St., Oak Park. A funeral Mass will be celebrated at 11 a.m. on March 4 at St. Catherine-St. Lucy Church, Oak Park. Interment is private. 

In lieu of flowers, memorials to National Multiple Sclerosis Society of Greater Illinois http://www.nationalmssociety.org/Chapters/ILD/ or South Suburban Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse http://sscouncil.org are appreciated.