July 3, 2008 · Updated 7:51 PM
"Anyone who has visited the Maple Leaf Cemetery in Oak Harbor to pay their respects in the last 36 years may remember the man in bib overalls. As caretaker of the cemetery since 1965, Henry Cougar Ottesen was always quick to help visitors find the markers they came looking for, and he usually offered a little history of the headstones and those lying six-feet beneath.When he got older and a little slower, Ottesen could be seen wheeling around the cemetery, picking up the occasional visitors, in the famous graveyard golf cart.Although he still helps out at the cemetery, 78-year-old Ottesen is officially retired. Last spring, he and his wife Lorene decided to seize their spare time to work on a project that local people have been talking about for the last 20 years: Building a monument to Whidbey veterans in the cemetery. The couple started asking for donations and got the job done in a matter of months, with the help of local veterans groups. On Veterans Day, the community is going to get a look at the new monument during an unveiling ceremony in the cemetery.It's something that should have been done a long time ago, Ottesen said, noting that there are a pile of veterans buried there. I got the notion to get it done before something happened to me. I'm 78 years old, he added.Yet Ottesen is careful about giving others credit for helping with the monument, including Mark Burley, current Maple Leaf supervisor Mike Dougliss and caretaker Ron Forester, as well as the Fleet Reserve, the VFW, the American Legion and the Disabled American Veterans.The ceremony will be an especially melancholy event for Ottesen. Lorene died in July and never got the chance to see the monument she worked so hard on. But she died knowing they had raised enough money and that her husband's idea would soon be a reality.While Ottesen says the monument is meant to honor all those who have served and will serve in the military, it will also certainly be a permanent reminder in the community of the man who has been a local fixture for so many years.He's part of the history of Oak Harbor, Dougliss said. Ottesen is clearly proud that he was born on Whidbey Island over three-quarters of a century ago and never left except for vacations and such. He said he's seen incredible changes in the city over the years, but has remained remarkably unchanged himself.When he was a Boy Scout over a half century ago in Oak Harbor, his friends started calling him Cougar. The name stuck. Today, plenty of people in Oak Harbor know Cougar, but don't know his real first name.Dougliss says he and the other guys at the cemetery often tease Ottesen, who's usually a good sport, by calling him Cougie or The Cat.There's also his bib overalls. Legend has it that Ottesen has worn overalls almost exclusively - with only rare exception - since he was in high school.The bibs are his trademark, said Dougliss. If he wasn't wearing them, you probably wouldn't recognize him. "