Carol Strauss

Carol Strauss

Carol Dunham Strauss was born and grew up in Waterloo, Iowa. An early memory was of being quarantined with diphtheria, with her father climbing a ladder to peer in on her and her sister. She picked out the cello as an instrument and enjoyed playing as an amateur much of her adult life in chamber music groups and in orchestras all over the world, including Japan and Australia, Park Forest and Chicago. Her love of music lasted all of her life. She was such a long-term subscriber to the CSO that she was surprised at one concert by a staff member coming to her seat to present her with a complimentary CD!

Her family moved around the state during the Great Depression, following her father’s construction jobs. The family moved to Phoenix during World War II, where Carol finished high school (her grandfather sent her to secretarial school in the summer to get a marketable skill!). Both her parents and her grandfather had attended Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa, and Carol followed family tradition, leaving her family and living with her Aunt Dorothy in Iowa for several years. She majored in chemistry and was both a student and secretary of that department. In 1947 she graduated and went to live with her parents who were now in Glendale, California. On a tour of his projects on the Christmas season before graduation, her father “happened” to stop at all-male Caltech and suggested they were hiring secretaries. She was offered a job immediately but went back to Cornell to finish her degree. Six months later she started at Caltech in the chemistry department; after one day was transferred to physics, where she worked for Carl Anderson, a Nobel Prize winner. She worked happily with Anderson’s group of cosmic ray physicists for 3 years. In her life she met many present and future Nobel laureates on a personal level. Carl Anderson signed her wedding album, while George Beadle sent congratulations. She met her husband, Bernie, at a dance sponsored by the International Association at Caltech. It seems appropriate for a girl from Iowa and a boy from the Bronx.

Carol moved with her husband in 1950 to The University of Texas in Austin where she had her first experience with bank holidays on Jefferson Davis’s birthday and water fountains for whites only! She was not happy! Her daughter Leslie was born in Texas. During her stay Carol was active in the League of Women Voters and stayed politically active all her life. 

She moved to Syracuse University in 1952, where her two sons were born. And then in 1958, along with three young children, she traveled via the ship Hikawa Maru to live in Japan for a year. During that time she lived in a Japanese house, her children were in Japanese schools, she attended Japanese PTA meetings, played cello in the Kobe Symphony orchestra and was able to learn the Samisen, a stringed instrument favored by the Geisha with (Japanese) classical overtones. She developed a coterie of English language students, including artists and musicians who led her to understand Japan in a way not available to tourists or army personnel. Some of the people she met remained life-long friends.

Returning home, she moved to the University of Chicago within a year, settling her family first in Park Forest because of the good reputation of its public schools. As her children grew up she worked in the school library system. She played in the Chicago Heights symphony, started a girl scout troop, and  was the only female board member of the Park Forest Aquacenter. She also ran the concession stands for Little League baseball. In 1967-68 the family lived in Australia: again, with the cello accompanying. Upon returning to the United States the family moved to Hyde Park, where she lived for the last 50 years — except for a year in England and countless other trips. She traveled to five continents (possibly six) in her lifetime.

Carol went back to graduate school and received a master’s degree in library science from Rosary College (now Dominican University) when she was 45. She worked as a medical librarian at a seminal time as the switch to online library searching occurred during her tenure. Upon retiring she was able to devote more time to The University of Chicago Service League. She served as Secretary and President and was proud of being a member for over 50 years. She survived two bouts of breast cancer 17 years apart and was always available to offer support to others diagnosed with that disease.

Her last years were shared with close friends of decades, dinners, music, travel and of course, family. She is survived by her two sisters, her husband of 71 years, three children, seven grandchildren and two great grandchildren. Her end was peaceful. She will be missed. May her memory be a blessing.

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