John Otterbacher
Author, Speaker and Adventurer

More About John

More About John

When John Otterbacher talks about “living out beyond your fears”, he is speaking from experience.

Early Life and Education

He grew up in the working-class neighborhoods of Grand Rapids, Michigan, choosing to enter the seminary at the age of thirteen.  He left monastic training at the age of twenty-one, paying for college with a series of factory and construction jobs.


After graduating from Aquinas College with a degree in Psychology, he completed Master’s and Doctorate degrees in Clinical Psychology at St. Louis University.  He has done additional post-graduate study in Urban Affairs, Human Relations, Political Process and Organizational Development prompting the Detroit Free Press to describe him as “being educated within an inch of saturation.”

John first became politically active in the efforts of Robert Kennedy and Dr. King.  Upon returning to Grand Rapids as an assistant professor and clinical psychologist at Aquinas College, he was elected to the Michigan House of Representatives at the age of 29 and the Michigan Senate at the age of 31. During his eight years in the Michigan legislature, John was a firebrand on health issues, leading successful fights for nursing home reform, the development of a statewide emergency medical service system, and passage of both a new Public Health Code and the Michigan Mental Health Code.  The Detroit Free Press described him succinctly as “a refreshing change at a moment when political thought is wallowing in stagnation.”  John ran for the U.S. Senate in 1978, losing in the Democratic primary to Senator Carl Levin.

John returned to private practice after his tenure in the legislature, spending a decade providing consultation to individuals and organizations.

Family Life and Sailing

In the mid-1980s, John took up sailing, spending three years “learning” in the Great Lakes.  He and Barbara then took their children, John Ryan (13) and Katie (8 months) on a fifteen-month cruise to the Mediterranean and the Caribbean.  During this period, he also sailed single-handed across the Atlantic, from Casablanca to Barbados.

In 1998, John and Barbara did an extended encore cruise with their girls (Katie, 9 and Erin, 5), spending the next six years sailing the Atlantic (four crossings), the North Sea, the Baltic, the Mediterranean, and the Caribbean.  During those years John began writing seriously.

Current Work

Since returning to Grand Rapids in 2004, John divides his time between writing, speaking, and a limited private practice.  He has been published in Journal of Clinical Psychology, Sailing, Cruising World and Yachting Monthly (England).  He has been published in Thin Ice (Eerdman Press).  Sailing Grace, his first full length book, has been honored as “Best New Non-Fiction Book” by the National Indie Excellence Awards, “Michigan Notable Book” and as a finalist for “Best Book” Award by USA Book News.  It was retitled and published as Outrageous Grace for the non-North American market worldwide by Adlard Coles (London).

A screen adaptation of Sailing Grace is currently being circulated in Hollywood.

With the growing acclaim for Sailing Grace, John has become a sought-after speaker to diverse groups and organizations: health care and corporate, educational, nautical, and literary.  He has recently finished a new book, titled What Remains.

John’s latest book, What Remains, is an old man’s first-person, present-tense account of touring backroad America by motorcycle, a journey which deepens his affection for people as they are and re-ignites his sense of adventure about aging itself.

John’s books and speaking are less about dying than living, about finding the adventure in even the most difficult circumstances.  Out of personal adversity and years of experience as a psychologist, he fashions a message of hope, perseverance, and love.  He confronts life’s realities – the limits of control, the bankruptcy of victimhood, the power of attitude – with a blend of forthrightness and humor one news commentator described as “an elixir for anyone tiptoeing through life.”

“I don’t get to choose everything that happens to me. I do get to choose my attitude towards life and others. I do get to set my priorities, move in the direction of my dreams, and build a life that reflects my deepest values. I don’t have to let fear run my life. I get to choose.” – John Otterbacher

Awards for Sailing Grace

Best New Non-Fiction Book, National Indie Excellence Awards Finalist, Best Book Awards, USA Book News Winner, Michigan Notable Book Awards

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