Flowers for Drew: Remembering the life of an editor, writer and friend

In 1999, Drew Ostroski wrote about the oddities and interesting people along “the Dual” for the Delaware State News.

DOVER — The first few words of a David Allen Coe country song was all it took.

Drew Ostroski joined a co-worker in song, growing louder as the chorus neared.

But you don’t have to call me darlin’ … darlin’

You never even called me by my name

Music crossed over cubicles and smiles filled the newsroom. That happened often when Drew was around here.

We have been reminiscing about his personality and prose.

The longtime Delaware State News and Delaware Today writer and editor died of health complications last weekend. He was 52.

For the past 15 years, he was managing editor of Delaware Today.

“He was the glue in our editorial department,” said Mark Nardone, a former editor of Delaware Today and one of his college buddies. “He kept everybody on track.”

The same was true at the Delaware State News for many years. He was every bit as cantankerous as he was funny.

So much of what he did was behind the scenes. Inside the office, we’ll remember the talent he had in mentoring reporters, shaping stories and firing off witty headlines — some so irreverent that they couldn’t be used.

Friend Darrel O’Connor, a sand sculptor, readily recalled an interview Drew did with him years ago and admired the wit.

Drew took what had become a cliched annual feature on a sandcastle contest and made it clever. The headline was, “The Rodins of Rehoboth.”

A sand carver’s secret, Drew learned, was staking out a good spot. “The early bird gets the berm,” he wrote.

University of Delaware journalism professor Dennis Jackson recognized Drew’s talent early on and recommended him to the State News in 1992 when we had an opening for a sportswriter.

Not long after, we moved Drew to a role as a news editor for our sister paper, The Daily Whale, in his hometown of Lewes. It was there that Drew really started to shine, putting his knowledge and appreciation of the area into play.

He appreciated the Sussex County landscape as much as its unique culture.

Perhaps that made it easy for him to interview Dover International Speedway builder Melvin Joseph — a man who, despite having only a sixth-grade education, started his Georgetown construction business with just a dump truck and a shovel.

Drew Ostroski

“They had Sussex connections, they had common ground,” said Mr. Nardone. “You can’t write about someone unless you get to know them in some way. Drew always found common ground and found a way to relate to people.

“He did that with Roy Klein, the ‘Duke of Kent.’ I think he appreciated what those people accomplished.”

Drew spotted quirky stuff and found ways to work it into his stories.

There was the story he did on mosquito control. “They had a young guy run across the marsh and then they would count the bites,” he remembered.

In 1999, he did an amazing piece on “The Dual” – what Delaware old-timers used to call U.S. 13. It was then that he met James E. Clark, the proprietor of a service station in Dover.

We found it odd that it remained opened, yet no longer had gas pumps thanks to an environmental regulation. His headline — “Running on fumes” — came naturally.

“Clarkie” was still offering service to locals, though. He would check oil and inflate tires, and sometimes he would drive his old customers to a nearby station to fill up their tanks because that’s what he always did for them.

After meeting him, Drew tucked away another idea after learning Clarkie had survived the Indian River Inlet bridge collapse in 1948. The man plunged into the icy waters and managed to swim to a bulkhead where he reached out for a tire that saved his life.

The lede of the story:

James E. “Clarkie” Clark curls his left pinky finger toward his hand.

More than 50 years ago, it was the strength of that little finger that stood between life and death.

Drew’s newspaper career took him from the Delaware State News to Delaware Today in the 1990s and then back to our newspaper. In 2005, he returned to the magazine so he could spend more quality time with his family and less time on the road and less time attached to a daily newspaper nights and weekends.

Craig Horleman, our features editor, was alongside Drew for much of his career, dating back to work at The Review at the University of Delaware. They reunited at The Daily Whale and spent many evenings playing trivia and talking shop at Grotto’s Grand Slam.

“We’d talk about the day’s events and discuss how we could make the paper better and brainstorm story ideas,” Craig said. “This turns out to be pretty common among us newspaper folks. We can never seem to turn it off.

“He had his nervous moments like any of us do from time to time but it was out of an abundance of care to get the job done. He knew when to make things light and knew when to take things seriously and that mix really made him what he was — a great journalist and a great friend.”

It was in the fall that I last talked with Drew.

Whenever he called, there was a jestful greeting. This time, he opened with “Why don’t you send me flowers anymore?”

It had been too long between conversations.

You can’t help but wonder what Drew’s headline for this column would have been.

“Flowers for Drew” seems right.

We’ll not forget him.