Boeing’s bust was senior paper’s gain in editor

It was 1972. Sharon Ostant was a young victim of the Boeing Bust.

The Boeing Co. had shed so many jobs that in 1971 a much ballyhooed billboard near Sea-Tac Airport made a stinging joke: “Will the last person leaving SEATTLE — Turn out the lights.”

At 22, Ostant had lost her Boeing office job in Everett. According to the HistoryLink website, the number of Boeing workers in the Puget Sound region fell from more than 100,000 in 1967 to about 38,000 by 1971.

That billboard wasn’t Ostant’s story. A 1967 Mountlake Terrace High School graduate, she took a job with Snohomish County. She worked in senior services, then part of the county’s Parks and Recreation department.

Senior Services of Snohomish County is now a stand-alone organization. It was established as a nonprofit agency in 1974.

The organization changed, but Ostant never left.

On Aug. 1, the 63-year-old Ostant will mark her 40th anniversary with Senior Services. For 37 years, she has been editor of the agency’s newspaper, now called Senior Focus. That’s a long time in a job fraught with details and deadlines.

Back in her 20s, could she have imagined staying 40 years?

“Oh no. My plan was to go back to Boeing. If I hadn’t taken the newspaper job, I probably would have,” Ostant said.

“I am just in awe of her, and her dedication to this organization and the people we serve,” said Jim Steinruck, CEO of Senior Services of Snohomish County. “She’s just full of new ideas, energy and life.”

Senior Focus, formerly a monthly publication, is published every other month. “That’s mainly because of budget cuts,” Steinruck said. Ostant took over in 1975 from the paper’s first editor, Cydnie Hill. The paper was previously called The Third Age News. It is supported by advertising and donations. Senior Services also publishes an annual Resource Guide, also edited by Ostant.

Ostant doesn’t write articles for Senior Focus, which she said has a circulation of about 21,000. Papers are mailed to Senior Services clients and supporters, and distributed to senior centers and other places.

Ostant works with freelance writers, among them reporter Teri Baker and history columnists David Cameron, Margaret Riddle, Louise Lindgren and Jack O’Donnell. The paper’s local history column, “Perspective on the Past,” and a profile called “Senior Spotlight” are popular features.

Years ago, the paper’s main mission was providing information about services. It still does that, but Ostant also aims to share people’s stories.

“In ‘Senior Spotlight’ we feature a local senior — maybe volunteering or their travels — what they’re doing that’s inspirational,” she said. Subjects are rarely controversial, and Ostant said the paper steers clear of politics.

Ostant plans and edits stories, shoots some photos, and does layout. “I don’t sell the ads,” she said. In 37 years, she has missed just one issue. “I had surgery and was out six weeks,” she said.

She works at the Mukilteo business park near Boeing where Senior Services has been based for 20 years. Ostant remembers the early days. Senior Services was housed in a Paine Field officers club building.

At 22, Ostant’s understanding of aging came from others. In the early 1970s, a public focus on the elderly was just beginning. In 1965, Congress had passed the Older Americans Act, which established the Administration on Aging and made possible grants to states to fund senior services.

Nearing retirement age, Ostant now has firsthand experience of seniors’ concerns. She has also walked in the shoes of today’s young adults — looking for work in a tough economy. The Boeing Bust coincided with the 1970 recession. Newsweek magazine recently labeled today’s young job seekers “Generation Screwed.”

The job Ostant took became a lifelong career.

On Aug. 8, Ostant and her co-workers will celebrate her 40 years at Senior Services. “It’s not a retirement party,” she said. Ostant plans to work until at least 65.

“You’d think after 40 years she’d slow down a little bit,” Steinruck said.

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460;

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