Alumna had distinguished career in federal programs, policy

Grace Ostenso, who died April 5, served with USDA, on congressional subcommittee
​Jerry Poling | April 23, 2020

A University of Wisconsin-Stout alumna, who oversaw federal programs with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and helped write policy as a member of a congressional subcommittee, has passed away.

Grace Ostenso, of Bethesda, Md., died April 5 in the COVID-19 unit of Suburban Hospital. She was 87.

Grace OstensoOstenso, a native of Tomah, was a 1954 graduate of UW-Stout in the family and consumer educational services program, a forerunner of the dietetics program.

She earned a Ph.D. at UW-Madison and taught there in the early- and mid-1960s before moving on to the USDA for almost a decade. She became director of nutrition and technical services for the Food and Nutrition Service Agency, which oversaw school nutrition, including the school lunch program.

Ostenso helped develop aspects of the federal Women, Infants and Children nutrition program, which began in 1972, and was involved with food and nutrition for the federal food stamp program. The programs she helped oversee accounted for about one-third of the USDA budget, she said in a 2012 UW-Stout interview.

Ostenso’s niece, Karen Ostenso, is an assistant professor at UW-Stout and director of the university’s dietetics program.

Grace Ostenso in 1954, when she graduated from UW-Stout“I admire my aunt for her many contributions to public health policy while a staff member (on Capitol Hill). Much of her work has influenced U.S. policy related to agriculture, food, nutrition and health, as well as supported the sciences,” Karen Ostenso said.

Grace Ostenso also has a nephew in Menomonie, Roy Ostenso.

After her work at the USDA and starting in the early 1980s, Grace Ostenso was staff director of the Subcommittee on Science, Research and Technology of the Committee on Science, Space and Technology for the U.S. House of Representatives.

At the time, the National Science Foundation was developing its Supercomputer Centers program. Grace Ostenso oversaw authorization of NSF legislation.

Grace Ostenso wrote the draft and was staff manager for a bill called the National Nutrition Monitoring and Related Research Act, which became law in 1990. Among other things, it requires the government to issue national dietary guidelines every five years.

Ostenso during her career, which included working for the USDA and a congressional subcommittee.“She became one of the highest ranking staffers who ever was a dietitian and nutrition scientist,” said Johanna Dwyer, a colleague, of Tufts-New England Medical Center, said in 2012. “Thanks to her work, many things got done in our field that otherwise would never have seen the light of day.”

Grace Ostenso retired in 1995.

In her honor, the Grace Laudon Ostenso Fellowship in Nutrition and Public Policy was established about a decade ago. The fellowship is administered by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. It was started by one of her former students as a tribute and to recognize the importance of her work.

Ostenso received UW-Stout’s Distinguished Alumni award in 1970 and was on the Stout University Foundation Board of Directors from 1988-96.

She has left an estate gift to the Foundation.



Grace Ostenso

Ostenso in 1954, when she graduated from UW-Stout

Ostenso during her career, which included working for the USDA and a congressional subcommittee.

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