“I think he was Bruce Wayne.”
So jokingly suggests James Mount, who works in administration with the Lake Bluff Police Department, of Lake Bluff resident Othon Henry Ochsner II, who died July 14, 2017. “He was a world traveler with a million stories, a super-nice person who always called (the department) to check up on us. He had a big house here, and if, for example, there was a major snowstorm, he would offer it as shelter (for officers with a long drive home). Sometimes he would call just to chit-chat.”
But it wasn’t just chit-chat, notes Russell Trebilco, general manager of Ochsner International. Ochsner, he told DailyNorthShore, was truly a people person with an inquisitive and ingratiating personality that at first meeting might seem intimidating. “He would ask things like what you did for a living, were you married, did you have kids, what kind of restaurants do you like? And the person might be thinking, ‘What’s the guy doing asking me these questions?’”
Ochsner International imported and distributed elite and prestige European cycling brands, including Campagnolo and DT Swiss. Trebilco worked for Ochsner in several roles over the course of 36 years. He was childhood friends with his nieces and nephews (Ochsner never married) and first met him at his friends’ family gatherings. “He was the fun uncle,” Trebilko recalled of his first impression of him.
As his employee, Trebilco witnessed first-hand Ochsner’s generous spirit. After his faith, nothing was more important than family. “He would say that work would always be there, and that if you needed time off for a family issue, just go and do what you need to do,” Trebilco explained. “We worked together for so long, it was almost like you became a part of his actual family.”
Trebilco himself has been married 35 years and has three children. “He was at my wedding,” he said, “and was there for every stage of my children’s lives. He wanted them to call him ‘Uncle.” Of course, he jokingly told us how we should raise them.”
While Trebilco had a lifetime of firsthand experience with Ochsner’s kindness, he has, since his passing, heard further stories from people whose lives he touched. One longtime customer, a bike dealer, related to Trebilco an anecdote about attending an industry convention in Las Vegas. Ochsner, an epicurean who compiled and printed his own restaurant guide, recommended the dealer visit Lotus of Siam, a highly popular eatery. When the dealer and his brother arrived, there was a three-hour wait. Ochsner was dining there separately and a word with the owner from him got the dealer seated. When they went to pay their bill, they learned Ochsner had taken care of it.
“That was about 15 years ago, and they’re still customers,” Trebilco said. “That wasn’t just about getting an order. Ochsner could sell. It was sincere. He truly believed that if you are kind to people, they will be kind to you.”
Ochsner’s passion for fine dining (his father, in addition to being a champion cyclist in his native Switzerland, was a master chef) made for some memorable evenings. He was friends with many of the Chicago area’s most renowned chefs. “I, fortunately, was able to go to restaurants I probably never would have gone to,” Trebilco said. “On those occasions we traveled to Europe on business, he would recommend certain restaurants, and demand that when we ate there, we put the chef or the owner on the phone.”
One memorable night, the restaurant came to Ochsner. “He was very friendly with Charlie Trotter,” Trebilco said. “And Charlie Trotter came to our Lake Bluff building to cook for us.”
Among his many cultural pursuits, Ochsner was the founder of the Ochsner Museum of Contemporary Art, Automobiles and Bicycles. This was actually his private collection, and not for public exhibition. If he met a kindred artistic spirit, he would invite them to his home to share (his collections),” Trebilco said.
“He looked at things differently,” he summed up. “He believed very strongly in being a rounded person.”