Osmund Overby was MU professor, lifelong learner

Monday, June 2, 2014 | 10:08 p.m. CDT; updated 12:22 p.m. CDT, Sunday, June 29, 2014

COLUMBIA — Dr. Osmund "Ozzie" Overby once took his family on a yearlong trip through Europe.

During the trip, they split time between living in the town of Marburg, Germany,  and traveling throughout Europe, living in their Volkswagen camper, said Paul Overby, Dr. Overby's son.

"We would pull into a place and within about two minutes be all ready for making food and sleeping," he said. "Everybody could sleep in the car, which was pretty crazy, pretty tight quarters."

It was Dr. Overby's vision, his son said, that they could do something like this and everybody could be together.

"We saw so many fabulous things," Paul Overby said.

Osmund Overby of Columbia died Sunday, June 1, 2014. He was 82.

He was born Nov. 8, 1931, in Minneapolis to Oscar and Gertrude (Boe) Overby. He married Barbara Spande in 1954.

Dr. Overby's family would tease him, Paul Overby said, saying he almost never took pictures of the kids because he was always photographing buildings.

"That was his work," he said. "He would say, 'What do you mean? There are lots of pictures with the kids in them.' That was also true. He would occasionally line us up in front of a building, and then he would back way up and take a picture of the building, and we would sort of be in the foreground to show how big it was."

That was, indeed, Dr. Overby's work.

Dr. Overby graduated from St. Olaf College in 1953 with a degree in mathematics and philosophy. He then attended graduate school at the University of Washington in Seattle, obtaining a master's degree in architecture in 1958. In 1963, he received his doctorate in art history from Yale University. After teaching at the University of Toronto, he went to MU to teach in the Department of Art History and Archaeology.

He taught there until his retirement in 1998.

"He loved hearing what his students had to think and their new ideas," said Charlotte Overby, Dr. Overby's daughter. "And at the same time, he was a very disciplined person, and he took teaching very seriously. And he really wanted to inspire that in his students."

He loved his work, his daughter said. "His life's work was also his life's passion."

Dr. Overby was a devoted member of the Society of Architectural Historians and became a life member in 1958.

"It's interesting that he made a lifelong commitment to architectural history from the very beginning," said Pauline Saliga, executive director of the Society of Architectural Historians. "That showed his level of commitment."

He served in many leadership roles for the organization. Dr. Overby was the editor of the Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians. He was also president and editor-in-chief of the Buildings of the United States Series, a series of publications dedicated to documenting the United States' architectural history.

The Society of Architectural Historians also named Dr. Overby a fellow in 1998 to commemorate his decades of service to the Society of Architectural Historians, his preservation efforts, and his intellectual contributions to the field of architectural history, Saliga said.

Even with his many accomplishments, Dr. Overby was down-to-earth and approachable.

"I always enjoyed talking to him," said Keith Eggener, a professor of art history and archaeology at MU. "We would go out to lunch periodically. ... He was always the same with everybody all the time. He was gentle and humble and kind."

Dr. Overby is survived by his wife, Barbara Overby; a son, Paul Overby, and his wife, Patricia, of Pittsburgh; two daughters, Katherine Howland and her husband, Robert, of Columbia, and Charlotte Overby and her wife, Barbara, of Durango, Colo.; a sister, Solveig Tschann of Mendota Heights, Minn.; a brother, Karl Overby of Fullerton, Calif.; and four grandchildren, Clara, Alexander, Joseph and Sarah.

His brother Rolf Overby died earlier.

Services will be at 11 a.m. Thursday at Calvary Episcopal Church, 123 S. Ninth St. The family will greet friends following the service at a reception at the church. The burial will be private.

Memorial contributions can be made to the Columbia Civic Orchestra, P.O. Box 7119, Columbia, MO 65205.

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