Robert Henry Strasser was born in Chicago, Illinois, on Dec. 14, 1947. He joined his parents Ned and Margaret Strasser and his sister Barbara (Adams). Soon after his birth, his family moved to Elmhurst, Illinois due to his noisy presence as a baby which forced them to move out of their city apartment. He loved Elmhurst and told us so many stories of his childhood with an emphasis on his walks to school through a beautiful old estate that had become known as Wilder Park. He was late to school a lot and strangely his sister Barbara never was. The teachers asked Robert’s Mother why he was always late and she laughingly told Debbie many times that she replied: “He always leaves on time!”
One of his favorite childhood memories was boating on Lake Michigan in the family’s 35-foot cabin cruiser. It was moored in downtown Chicago, and they loved going out for a few hours on weekends for shoreline cruises and swimming in the cold Lake Michigan waters. And he anticipated with great excitement their annual two-week trips up the coast of Michigan, exploring the dunes and small lakefront towns and ending up at Mackinac Island. Their beloved dog Charlie always came along.
Even as a pre-teen he had a work ethic that was phenomenal and started his first business, snow blowing, at about age 13. That sort of drive and independence was a hallmark of his life.
After high school graduation, he headed to the University of Miami in Ohio where he was stimulated by the political scene of the sixties. During his two years there he managed to purchase a brand new dark green Mustang convertible. He recalled trips to Florida with his friends in that car. They drove the whole way with the top down and lived on pancakes and fresh squeezed orange juice.
He was blessedly excused from the Vietnam draft due to an eye injury and after a couple of years at school, he went to work in a smelting factory in Chicago, working long overnight shifts. He socked away every penny he could and ultimately sold his Mustang, bought a one-way ticket to Europe, bought a motorcycle when he arrived, and began the adventure of a lifetime.
For the next two years, he traveled and lived in France, Italy, and probably the most magical of all, on the island of Majorca in Spain. We never tired of hearing of his adventures which included but are not even slightly limited to meeting and talking with Jimi Hendrix on the street and wandering into the colosseum in the middle of a full moon night with his friend Paul Peters.
He came back to the U.S. and interned with a master woodworker in Minnesota working partly as a delivery guy in a van with no heater and holes in the floor. He laughed about surviving those deliveries!
After his internship, he loaded up his worldly goods and headed cross country to Seattle. He fell in love with the Northwest, the city, Puget Sound, the mountains and ultimately… the islands north.
He started a woodworking business there called Strasser Woodenworks which is still thriving today. He was following in the footsteps of his Paternal Grandfather Sylvester Strasser, who earned his living carving statues for churches and building beautiful furniture out of black walnut. We still have some of his grandfather’s tools and carvings.
In 1981, at the end of a two-week cruise through the San Juan Islands Robert and his friend Russ decided to circle Patos Island one last time before heading back to Seattle. They hit a deadhead, bent the rudder, and had to be towed to Friday Harbor for repair. He met his future wife Debbie Nash that evening and the rest is history. After a few years on the mainland she persuaded him to move home to the island where they spent their marriage focusing on their greatest treasures on this earth, their children Tyler, Caitlin, Albert, Oliver, and Peter. He never dreamed he would have so many kids and with each birth, he seemed to feel more amazed and blessed.
He taught Debbie to cook in the simplest way possible. He acted like everything she made was the best thing he’d ever tasted, including the earliest attempts at chicken soup and pie crust. Without batting an eye he tasted that soup, looked confused, then smiled and said: “Mmmm… good.”
He was the driving force behind many family adventures that included summer camping trips to Winthrop, Washington, and Sand Point, Idaho, where the family spent time rafting and swimming and being together. He also made multiple trips to Mexico and Hawaii happen. We love our memories of those warm places. In the last few years, he spent long winter months in Cambodia and Thailand with groups of his kids. He came home so lit up. And this winter he and Debbie spent five weeks on the coast of Southern Mexico which was a dream come true.
Robert felt blessed in general. He had been a part of the Transcendental Meditation movement in the ’60s and meditated every day for more than 50 years. We believe that was a primary source of his strength and beauty. He was a glowing person and a healing person to be around. He was always filled with gratitude and trust, even in the darkest moments. And his radiance lives on in his kids.
He had a rough winter in 2018. His heart was acting up and we had to skip the road trip he’d been planning. He felt weak and scared. During that time he wrote these words in a letter to his son Albert: “I have always believed in an all-powerful, ever-present entity we call God that is motivated by total infinite Love. For me, the outcome of anything is always based on the presence of this Love so there’s not too much to worry about…”
He was on the verge of retirement and was feeling happy and excited at the prospect of being able to focus his days on his amazing gardens and homestead. He was looking at boats, making plans to travel, and feeling very loved and happy. We are so grateful that he was in a good place and living fully right up until the moment of his passing. A happy Man, he had a smile that lit up a room. We will forever remember his delighted look whenever any of us came into view.
We are planning a potluck community celebration of his life on Sunday, April 28, from noon–4 p.m. at the Grange Hall in Friday Harbor. Please feel welcome.