Rose Marie Otis, Seventh-day Adventist leader, author, and public speaker, died in her sleep early on Saturday, January 7, 2023, while living in Frederick, Maryland, United States, with her husband of 64 years.
She was born to Harlan and Grace Niesen on April 22, 1940, in Manistee, Michigan. She has three siblings, John Niesen (Kreybel — deceased), Amy Heinënan (Markku), and Eric Niesen (Barbara).
In high school, Rose was a gifted student, earning a 4.0 GPA. She sang in choir, was a leader in the girls’ club, and was elected president of the Student Association and vice president of her senior class.
She met her husband, Harold “Bud” Otis Jr., as a sophomore while attending Cedar Lake Academy (CLA) in Michigan. They got married three years later, and they had two children — Todd Otis (Kim Klabe) and Heidi Bresee — and several grandchildren.
In the fall of 1958, Rose completed a Practical Nurse Course, beginning her career as a nurse in a small Michigan hospital.
Rose did not know that being married to Bud would require a lot of moving. Within the first twenty years of marriage, they moved thirteen times for work. She saw each opportunity as an adventure to meet new people and share spiritual encouragement.
By 1977, Rose left being a stay-at-home mom to become the public relations director for the Review and Herald Publishing Association. In this role, she was responsible for public outreach and a weekly newsletter, and was a valuable partner to her husband, who was serving as the president of the Review and Herald Publishing Association.
In 1988, Adventist leaders asked Bud and Rose to serve in Russia on a full-time basis. During this time, she met many leaders of the Russian government as she worked to bring God to the people of Russia. While in Russia, Bud and Rose worked tirelessly to gain permission for a seminary, university, and publishing house to be constructed. During their 17 trips to Russia, they were able to bring these dreams to fruition, and by 1990, Adventist leaders created the Euro-Asia Division. Today, Zaoksky Adventist University houses five educational institutions, including the Zaoksky Theological Seminary.
In 1991, Rose was elected as the first coordinator of the Office of Women’s Ministries of the Adventist Church at the General Conference in Silver Spring, Maryland. It was a big challenge to start a new ministry, but Rose was determined to see women involved in mission. In 1995, the office became the Department of Women’s Ministries, with Rose as its first director. She created a women’s devotional book series that donated all royalties to create a scholarship fund to support the education of women committed to spreading the gospel. To date, the scholarship has bequeathed hundreds of thousands of U.S. dollars.
During her time at the GC, Rose was able to travel the world, which was a passion of hers. She visited dozens of countries on several continents, from the Bahamas to Germany to Madagascar to Australia.
By 1996, Rose was selected to be a vice president of the North American Division of the Adventist Church, the first woman to hold that position. While a vice president, Rose continued to create opportunities for women to worship and spread God’s word. Within two years, she was asked to become vice president of the Texas Conference, another first. “Rose balanced the unique skills of power, grace, and humility,” her family said. “Her ability to find the good in everyone was second nature to her. Her quick wit and good sense of humor got her through the dark days; having the ability to laugh at herself was cherished.”
In 2002, Rose stepped away from her work due to health challenges. Over the next twenty years, she did not once complain about her disease. Instead, she put a smile on her face and was grateful for each day she was granted. As her mind slowly faded, she could still be found dunking her grandchildren in the pool, driving go-carts, taking boat rides, racing in golf carts, and eating lots of ice cream.
“She was fierce and strong, yet tender and compassionate,” her family said. “She was so good at always saying the right thing, even in her last breath.”
“Rose was the right woman in the right place at the right time. God’s time,” current General Conference Women’s Ministries director Heather Dawn-Small said in a recent tribute. “God chose her to make a difference for millions of women of every social class, ethnicity, and ministry around the world, whether they ever heard of her or not. She was even a blessing to men in church leadership.”
Dawn-Small added, “Rose was a woman of incredible creativity, insight, sincerity, intelligence, and diplomacy. She was strong, but always feminine and willing to stand up for women and their needs in a disarming way.”
Ardis Stenbakken, who succeeded Rose as General Conference women’s ministries director, said that in her opinion, “Rose was divinely inspired to come with the foundations she laid for Women’s Ministries. Rose created our identity — our mission statement, our goals, our logo, even our colors, purple and turquoise,” Stenbakken said.
A celebration of life service for Rose Otis was held at the Frederick Seventh-day Adventist Church in Frederick, Maryland, on January 14.
The Otis family and the Women’s Ministries department of the General Conference supplied information for this article.