Former Niles City Councilman Osceola Wilson “Osie” Skinner, age 95 years of Niles, husband, father, grandfather, World War II veteran, chemist, optimist – both the club and the attitude, and friend to all died peacefully at 6:59 a.m. on Tuesday, March 3, 2020 with his family gathered around him at his home following a brief illness. His family is grateful for the kind and compassionate care offered by the staff of Caring Circle Hospice at Home.
He was born on December 30, 1924 in Norfolk, Virginia to James and Mary (Wilson) Skinner. He was graduated from the Booker T. Washington High School in Norfolk, and continued his education at Howard University in Washington, D.C. and later at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana. He entered the United States Army where he served as a Surgical Technician at the Invasion of Normandy, and was Honorably Discharged as a Veteran of World War II. He came to Niles in 1945, but sadly – in spite of his education, experience, and military service – was denied an open position in a local laboratory due to his race. He took his wife and young family to California, and was employed at the Harbor General Hospital (now Harbor-UCLA Medical Center) in Torrance. Later, he took a position at the former Elkhart, Indiana plant of Miles Laboratories and returned his family to Niles.
Osie was a member of the Franklin African Methodist Episcopal Church in Niles where he also served as a Trustee and Steward, and was a member and first black president of the Berrien County Association of Churches. He was a member of the Niles Noon Club of Optimist International, again serving as the first black president and the first black District Lieutenant Governor. He had a great interest in youth with special needs, and served the boards of the Niles Association of Exceptional Citizens, Gateway Incorporated, and the Fresh Start Program, initiating black leadership at those organizations, too.
He was appointed to the City of Niles Zoning Board of Appeals in 1980, serving for three years and was elected as the first black chairman. He was appointed to the Board of Public Safety in 1981 where he served for four years. He was elected to the Niles City Council in 1985 as the first black councilman from the Second Ward, and served as the first black chairman of the Finance Committee. He won consecutive re-elections in 1989 and 1993 before resigning in 1994. He also volunteered with the Niles Riverfest.
On November 23, 1951 in Chicago, Illinois he married the former Mary J. Gay with whom he celebrated last year the remarkable Sixty-eighth anniversary of their wedding. He was tragically preceded in death by a son, U. S. Marine Corps Lance Corporal Phillip C. Skinner who died in action in 1967 in Vietnam, earning the Purple Heart; and sadly by two grandsons, Kyle Singer in 1998 and Chauncey Benjamin Tyler in 2018.
Surviving family includes his wife, Mary Skinner and their daughters, Leslie Skinner of Niles and Cynthia Edwards of Niles; and grandson, Christopher Tyler of Mishawaka, Indiana.
The funeral service for Osceola Skinner will be at Noon on Monday, March 9, 2020 at the Franklin AME Church, 811 Sycamore Street in Niles with the Rev. Millard F. Southern III of the church officiating assisted by the retired Rev. Rebecca Mitchell. Committal rites will follow at the Silverbrook Cemetery in Niles, and will conclude with the Full Military Honors by the United States Army Honor Guard and American Legion Post #51 of Buchanan, Michigan.
The family will receive relatives and friends at the church on Monday beginning at 10:00 a.m. Contributions in memory of Osie may be made to the Franklin AME Church. Arrangements were made at the Halbritter-Wickens Funeral Home in Niles. Online condolences may be left at:
Ocie lived by the scriptural golden rule to Love God and Love others and by the Optimist Creed – much longer, but a worthy read. He overcame the unimaginable challenges of battle to serve his country. He overcame the unthinkable challenges of discrimination to provide for his family. And helped some of the most challenged youth to achieve success. All with remarkable humility, a ready smile, and a great laugh.
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Franklin AME Church
811 Sycamore Street, Niles MI 49120