Live your dream—not for fame and fortune

Lowville is a quiet village in Lewis County, N.Y. in the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains–population 3,476.
This beautiful county has 112 lakes and 2,000 miles of rivers and streams. It is sparsely populated and boasts “more cows than people.”
According to the county’s website, it is “a land where honest, friendly people go about their business with a cheerful word for the passer-by.”
And I know that’s true, because I grew up there and often have returned to visit cousins and friends.
But Lowville is hardly the place you would expect a “retired” movie star to live!
This column began when we decided to watch the 1971 movie “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.” The movie, based on Roald Dahl’s novel, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” is a children’s classic.
Willy Wonka, the owner of the factory, has hidden five golden tickets in his chocolate bars, and the children who find the tickets get a tour of the magical chocolate factory (with rivers of chocolate) and a lifetime supply of chocolate!
Charlie Bucket is a poor, kind-hearted boy who has little money. Then one day, Charlie finds a silver coin in the gutter and uses the money to buy two Wonka Bars. And wonder of wonders, he finds a golden ticket in the second bar.
We had watched the movie once before, but that was years ago–before the Internet. So this time I checked some facts about the actors. And to my surprise, I found that the boy who starred as Charlie Bucket is now a veterinarian in my hometown of Lowville.
His name is Peter Ostrum.
Ostrum was a sixth- grader in a Cleveland suburb when scouts were doing a nationwide search to find just the right boy to play Charlie. After seeing him in a Cleveland Playhouse production, they gave him a preliminary audition.
Three months later, after a screen test in New York City, he was on his way to Germany to begin the movie.
After filming, which took five months, Ostrum’s career was launched. He immediately was offered a three-picture contract. But, amazingly, the 13-year-old child star declined.
Soon after, his family bought a horse and Peter began working at the stable where the horse was kept. He loved the horses!
In a rare interview, Dr. Ostrum told the Associated Press in 2005 how impressed he was by the veterinarian who took care of the horses.
“This person really enjoyed what he did for a living,” Dr. Ostrum said. “Someone making a living from something he enjoyed so much really sparked my interest.”
As a result, he graduated from Cornell University’s veterinary school and moved to Lowville, where he takes care of large farm animals, mostly horses and cows.
Today the young man, who was a one-movie sensation and could have chosen an acting career, stays out of the limelight. But once a year, on the last day of school, he shares his story with about 120 second-graders.
He tells them what it’s like to be a veterinarian, and how one’s life changes with the decision one makes.
“Acting was fine, but I wanted something more steady,” he says. “The key is to find something that you love doing and that’s what my profession has given me.”
Marie Snider is an award-winning health care writer and syndicated columnist. Write her at or visit

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