'Natural storyteller': Dave Otto, award-winning Green Bay Press-Gazette outdoor writer, dead at 83

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GREEN BAY – There was never a doubt that Dave Otto would be a newspaperman. That his avocation would become his occupation was a bonus.

Otto, 83, who died Nov. 26 in Green Bay, was the longtime outdoors writer for the Green Bay Press-Gazette. Before that, he was an award-winning courthouse reporter for the newspaper.

"He would have succeeded in any endeavor he wrote about," said his son, Jon Otto. "For those two things to mesh, the talent and the interest, and being a natural storyteller, that was a perfect fit, for him and for the community."

Dave's father, Carl Otto, was vice president and editor of the Wisconsin Rapids Daily Tribune, where he worked for 46 years. Dave graduated from Ripon College with a bachelor's degree in political science and from Northwestern University with a master's degree in journalism. After serving six months in the U.S. Army Reserves, he joined the Green Bay Press-Gazette in 1962, where he worked for the next 36 years.

For a decade, Otto covered the courthouse and received two national Gavel Awards from the American Bar Association. He won in 1967 for a series examining legal aid programs available to the poor, and in 1971 for a series focusing on sentencing procedures in criminal courts.

Dave Otto, former longtime Green Bay Press-Gazette outdoors and environmental reporter, doing one of the things he loved best, fishing. Otto, 83, died Nov. 26, 2021, in Green Bay.
Dave Otto, former longtime Green Bay Press-Gazette outdoors and environmental reporter, doing one of the things he loved best, fishing. Otto, 83, died Nov. 26, 2021, in Green Bay.

"He had a keen eye and ear for the political scene. There’s no doubt about that," Jon said. "That was a strong part of his upbringing, being part of a newspaper family."

Even while covering the courthouse, Otto dipped his toe in other areas, such as the sports, outdoors and environmental beats.

Jon Otto said he'd sometimes tag along with his dad, especially when he was covering the Green Bay Bobcats hockey team.

"I saw what 'under deadline' meant," he said. "I'd be watching him sit at the old Remington typewriter at home working to make deadline. He had a four-fingered typing technique that was a marvel. He almost never made mistakes."

About 1972, he transitioned to the outdoors and environmental reporting beats full time, winning more awards, including a Scripps Howard Award for conservation writing and the Gordon MacQuarrie Award for environmental reporting from the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts & Letters.

"He was a storyteller by nature. He always had a smile, always tried to make people feel warm and welcome. If it wasn't a story, he always had to tell a joke or two," Jon said.

Some of his more memorable stories were about the slow recovery of the Fox River from years of pollution, the stocking of trout and salmon in Lake Michigan, the reintroduction of wild turkeys to Wisconsin and, always, deer hunting.

Dave Otto's dad was not an outdoorsman, but Dave said that when they went fishing when he was 10, he became hooked. His interest in the outdoors and environment expanded from there.

"Not having that experience as a kid on a daily basis, he kind of yearned for that," Jon Otto said. "Once he took it, he ran with it."

He was known for his weekly column, "Plugs & Slugs," and his annual "Report from the Lake."

Otto officially retired in 1998 but continued writing this column for several years after.

"The most rewarding thing about this job is all the wonderful people I've had a chance to meet," Otto said at the time of his retirement.

On the outdoors beat, "you write about things that make people happy, except when you write about their favorite fishing lake," he said with a smile.

Jon said his dad always found time for family and cherished family vacations at a lake near Waupaca.

If forced to choose one outdoors activity, he would have picked fishing, Jon said.

That said, he never owned a boat.

"He’d say, 'Why do I need a boat? I can just call somebody up and say, 'Let's go fishing. I have hundreds of boats at my disposal,'" Jon said.

His obituary is available at greenbaypressgazette.com/obituaries/wis341491. A memorial service is being planned for the spring of 2022

Contact Richard Ryman at (920) 431-8342 or rryman@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter at @RichRymanPG, on Instagram at @rrymanPG or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/RichardRymanPG/.

This article originally appeared on Green Bay Press-Gazette: Dave Otto, award-winning Press-Gazette outdoor writer, dead at 83