Irene Osterbrock

Irene Lenore Osterbrock

1926 - 2019

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Obituary of Irene Lenore Osterbrock

Irene Lenore Hansen Osterbrock died early Saturday morning at Dominican Hospital in Santa Cruz after a brief hospitalization. She was born on August 7, 1926, in Williams Bay, Wisconsin. After graduating from Williams Bay High School and business school, she worked for W. W. Morgan as what was then known as a “computer” at Yerkes Observatory, an astronomical observatory of the University of Chicago in Williams Bay. At Yerkes, the stars aligned, and she met her future husband and perfect match, Don Osterbrock. Following their marriage in 1952, Don’s academic career took them around the country, and they made good friends wherever they landed. They lived in Madison, Wisconsin for many years before moving to Santa Cruz in 1973.

Irene had a generous heart and willing hands, and was always happy to employ her talents for a good cause. In Santa Cruz, she volunteered for the Mary Lea Shane Archives of the Lick Observatory, the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History, the Friends of the Santa Cruz Public Libraries, and the Volunteer Center Transportation Bureau, as well as recording many mathematical and scientific textbooks for the visually impaired. She also enjoyed attending music and theater performances, catching the latest movies, practicing yoga before it was cool, fixing delicious meals, knitting, gardening, reading, and finishing the New York Times crossword puzzle faster than her daughter.

In addition to graciously hosting Don’s astronomy colleagues from around the world, Irene helped edit and indexed many of Don’s history of astronomy books and indexed the Annual Review of the Astronomy and Astrophysics.

Most importantly, Irene was a wonderful mom and grandmother. She is survived by two daughters, Carol LePage of Santa Cruz and Laura Osterbrock of Seattle, one son, Bill Osterbrock of Santa Cruz, and three grandchildren. She was preceded in death by her parents, Winifred and Walter Hansen, her sister Elinor Hansen, her brother Robert Hansen, and her husband.

Irene’s family would like to thank the staff of the Cardiology Department at Dominican for their care and concern during her last few days. In lieu of flowers, please consider making a donation to a charity that supports peace, justice, or the environment, or to the Donald and Irene Osterbrock Leadership Endowment ( The Osterbrock Leadership Program provides unique training opportunities to astronomy graduate students at UCSC.


A memorial service will be held in Santa Cruz at a later date.