West Marin lost a brilliant mind this month. Dr. Carol Rogers Osterberg, a renowned psychologist, jet setter and community leader, passed away in her sleep on November 3 in her Inverness home.
Carol was a trailblazer who was able to raise four children while simultaneously earning a doctorate from the University of California, Berkeley, which offers one of the toughest psychology programs in the nation. Carol had her own psychology practice for decades, but also devoted her talents to helping troubled and abused children at local schools.
She will be remembered for her incisive mind, generosity and wonderful cooking.
“She was a great mom. She cared for her children first and foremost, above school or anything else,” said Carol’s daughter, Allyn. “She was very independent, very opinionated. She taught us to be independent thinkers, and taught us to believe that we could be whatever we wanted to be.”
Carol was born in Merced, California on December 2, 1933 to Al and Edith Kelm. Al was an engineer for IBM, helping design tabulating machines—early computers used to review data and assist in accounting. Edith purchased lingerie for large department stores.
Carol was raised and schooled in San Jose. “She loved her parents. She was a regular kid growing up,” Allyn said. After graduating high school, Carol got a job in a cannery. Her coworkers introduced her to a handsome young farmer named Al Feci (pronounced “Fetch-y”).
Al was from a large family, which quickly adopted Carol as their own. The Fecis emigrated from northern Italy in 1909, though Al was born in the United States. Carol immediately took to the big family dinners, and learned traditional northern Italian cooking from Al’s mother, Edith Feci. Edith’s recipe for stuffed macaroni, which originated in the old country, was passed to Carol, who went on to prepare the dish every Easter until she passed away.
Al and Carol were married, and within their first few years Carol gave birth to daughters Allyn and Laurie, and son, Christopher. Al decided that he didn’t want to be a farmer, and enrolled in business school in Santa Clara.
Carol desperately wanted higher education, but her responsibilities to her husband and three children prevented her from further study. Al got a job in management at the local Sears Roebuck. He was soon promoted, and the family relocated to Rohnert Park. Al was promoted several more times in the following decade, during which time they moved from Buena Park, to Santa Rosa, to Sacramento. While living in Santa Rosa, Carol gave birth to a second son, Paul.
Carol never lost sight of getting a full education, but she was a devoted mother. “She waited until all of us were old enough to watch ourselves. She was a terrific mother,” Paul said. “I can remember coming home from school on rainy days, and she would always have popcorn waiting for us. Every time we had a rainy day, there would be popcorn.”
Despite her lack of a college education, Carol was blisteringly smart. She had a fondness for puzzles, Scrabble and television game shows. In 1965 she decided to apply to be a contestant on the new show PDQ, hosted by Dennis James and named after its sponsor, a flavored drink mix.
Carol was granted a spot during the show’s first season. Before the big night, Carol and her friends would sit by the pool and practice the game for hours. On the show, two teams played a word game that required quick thinking and encyclopedic knowledge of trivia. The object was for a player seated in an isolation booth to guess a famous name, title or phrase posed by their teammate, who displayed letters as clues—one at a time, starting with three letters.
“She was really good at it. She ended up being the winning-est contestant that the show ever had,” Paul said. That night Carol, dressed in a hot pink skirt, won a new car, a stove, a washer and dryer, deco furniture, scuba gear, a trip to the Bahamas and an ice cream maker. “She sure won a lot of items that day,” Paul said.
Carol was extremely photogenic, and was asked to be a contestant on the game show Password, where she won further prizes. “She came off well on camera. She was flashy, tall, blond,” Paul said. “I remember the next door neighbor kid would always say, ‘Geez, you sure look pretty! Whoo!’ That was Monty Tresize, who later trained Navy Seals.”
After all of her children were old enough to cook and look after themselves, Carol went to college. She graduated Phi Kappa Phi from Sacramento State College with a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology. Then she enrolled in California State University, Sacramento, where she earned a Master of Science in counseling.
Carol and Al began to grow apart, and separated in 1975. She had enrolled at the University of California, Berkeley to pursue a Ph.D. in psychology. “It was unusual for a woman like her to get a Ph.D. at that time,” Allyn said. “There were lots of women in the psychology field, but they were younger and not married. It was interesting for us kids because our friends moms weren’t working at all, let alone being a full-time student.”
After graduating, Carol began her clinical work in Sacramento. She started working with troubled children District as a school psychologist in the Sacramento Unified School District. “We never knew the stories of her successes, because she kept everything very confident,” Paul said. “I remember one child: her father attacked her mother with a knife.” Paul also remembers his mother field-testing the child emotional evaluation tests
Carol began writing a newsletter on educational legislation with a friend, Bill Rogers. Bill also worked within the school district. They became close, and married in 1979. Carol wanted to start her own family practice in San Francisco, so they moved into a house in Stinson Beach. Their marriage was brief, and Bill left Stinson in 1984.
After Carol found herself single again, she decided to do some traveling. She was at a psychology conference in Switzerland when she met and immediately fell in love with a Swedish businessman named Rolf Osterberg. Rolf was the head of Svinska, a major Swedish film studio, and owned one of Stockholm’s six daily newspapers.
Rolf and Carol were married in San Rafael in 1986, and they decided to split their time between West Marin and Stockholm. “They were the happiest years of Carol’s life, filled with great adventures in many countries around the world and intense philosophical discussions surrounding the forces of nature and power of the human spirit,” Allyn said.
Carol fell in love with Sweden. She adored its art, and became expert in different sculptors and artists. She didn’t speak Swedish, but Rolf was fluent in five languages. They stayed in an apartment in the city, and Rolf owned property on Vastrgarden, an island off the coast of Stockholm. Vastrgarden had rolling hills rimmed by rock walls, set in the harsh but beautiful Baltic Sea.
“They did a lot of traveling—to New Zealand, Machu Picchu, Paris, Italy, Greece, Denmark, All over Europe, really,” Allyn said. “They shared families, homes, vacations, everything.”
Carol’s family took to Rolf as well. Easter was an important family gathering for Carol, Rolf and the children. “Rolf would write an Easter story that would involve everyone, and we’d have to enact it,” Paul said. “I remember Mom climbing up on top of the old stone barbecue to read her part of the story, way up in the air. We’d tell our part of Rolf’s story, and give thanks.”
They had to move to Inverness in 2004 after the ownership of Carol’s home in Stinson Beach changed hands. They found a spot on Tomales Bay that she found suitable. “She refused to leave the area,” Allyn said. “She loved the ocean.”
When Rolph died in 1996, Carol settled into a quiet life in West Marin. “She wasn’t into doing new things so much as her routine. Life was very simple for her at the later stages,” Paul said. “She liked going to art exhibits and showings, she had her bridge club and book club. She liked to cook and watch plants grow on her deck. She had a lot of friends, she had a very free spirit, and we’re going to miss her a lot.”