Thursday, January 29, 2009

Judith Strasser, 1944-2009

Judith Strasser, Madison, born September 30, 1944 in New York City to Alexander Strasser and Maxine Hochberg Strasser, died at home in Madison on January 29, surrounded by family. She was raised in Pittsburgh, Pa. She received her BA in history from Reed College, Portland, Oregon in 1966 and her masters in communications research from Stanford University in 1972. She married Steve Ela in September, 1972 and they traveled the United States in a van for over a year before settling in Davis, California. Their son Jed Ela was born in California in 1975 and turned one as they crossed the Rockies to their new home in Madison. Their second son Nate was born in Madison in 1978. Judith and Steve were divorced in 1989.

Judith was instrumental in the creation of the Madison Children’s Museum, inspired by the volunteer work of her mother-in-law Janet Ela for the old Madison Art Center, now the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. Judith raised the money necessary to create the Children’s Museum’s first home on South Bedford Street and to hire the museum’s first permanent staff member. Judith has also contributed her time to WORT, the Wisconsin Public Radio Association, Madison Literacy Council, and the Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence, among other organizations. She was employed as a grant writer and grants administrator by the Wisconsin Educational Communications Board from 1983 to 1985. In 1985, she produced an award-winning documentary on women judges in Wisconsin, and for the next five years worked as an independent scriptwriter and producer for Wisconsin Public Radio. In 1990, she was hired as a producer and on-air interviewer for “To the Best of Our Knowledge,” a nationally syndicated weekly public radio program. She retired in 1999 to pursue a career as a writer. Her books include two prose volumes, Black Eye: Escaping a Marriage, Writing a Life and Facing Fear: Meditations on Cancer and Politics, Courage and Hope. She has also written two collections of poetry, Sand Island Succession: Poems of the Apostles, and The Reason/Unreason Project, which won the Lewis-Clark Expedition Award. She is co-editor with Robin Chapman of On Retirement: 75 Poems.

Judith was successfully treated for Hodgkin’s Disease from 1981 through 1982 with chemotherapy and radiation. In February, 2005, she was diagnosed with stomach cancer, probably a consequence of the earlier radiation treatment, which had enabled her to raise her sons from the ages of 3 and 6 to their adulthood -- an easy trade-off, Judith always said.

Judith’s survivors include her sons, Jed Ela of Los Angeles (and his fiancĂ©e Nazgol Ghandnoosh) and Nate Ela of Bogotá, Colombia (and his partner, Meghan Morris); her sisters Susan Strasser of Takoma Park, Maryland (and her husband Bob Guldin), Paula Strasser of Fallbrook, California and Erica Ryon of Saint Louis (and her husband Roger Ryon); and her niece Maxine Ryon. She will be missed also by her many friends: poets, cyclists, dragon boat paddlers, members of Congregation Shaarei Shamayim, the Walrus Club, and partners in her numerous other activities.

A memorial service will be held at the First Unitarian Society, Madison, on February 14, at 1:00. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be sent to HospiceCare, 5395 E. Cheryl Parkway, Madison 53711.


Rowan said...

I just listened to a piece with Judith on "To the best of our knowledge" I came over to the blog to read about her progress. Alas I am too late so I send condolences to the family will begin reading the blog from the beginning. I lost my mother to cancer to 12 yrs ago and wish we had been able to talk more about the end. My best to you all during this sad time. Know that her essence is far reaching.

Rasma said...

Ah, Judy... a light has gone out of the world.

All my love and thanks for the poetry,

dmarshall said...

Dear Susan,Paula, Erica -

You have my deepest caring during this time of your sister's passing. All four of you were such an important part of all that was the best about growing up for me and I thank you for that.

Judy and I were able to share a lovely correspondence after the publication of her BLACK EYE book. Ideas on how to maximize the publicity for that book were exchanged.

Dear Jed and Nate,and Susie, Paula and Erica,

The Eskimos believe that the stars in the heavens are places for our ancestors to look down upon us to see how we are doing. I will give Judy my very best each time I look up at the night sky.

Love, Dianne Marshall

Anonymous said...

While I met Judy only once with some bicycling friends at the Madison Farmer's Market, I was impressed with how well she was doing in spite of having a life threatening illness. Reading all of the information about her interests and accomplishments makes me realize I have missed knowing a marvelous woman. I can relate to your loss having watched my mother go through breast cancer, only to have it metasticize. She, too, developed a new cancer from the intensive radiation done back in 1950's. You have my deepest sympathy. Not many people have such an extensive, versatile, and interesting biography as your mom/sister. My thoughts and prayers are with you.

Diane Fjelstad
Chetek, WI

Joe Franko said...

Dear Jed and Nate,and Susie, Paula and Erica,

I last saw Judy when we had dinner here in LA, and the time before that was up in Yosemite with Claire. After the visit in Yosemite she sent me a copy of the Reason/Unreason project, which has become one of my favorite books of poetry. I shall always remember her, though, sitting at a picnic table in Yosemite, talking about poetry and writing, and hiking at night to see the stars...

Next summer, when I'm up in yosemite again, I will make one of her poems into a little boat and sail it down the Merced river...


Anonymous said...

(I posted a comment previously but it has not appeared. I wonder why?)

Farewell, Judy. We knew each other through poetry, the Clearing, the neighborhood, radio, and flute playing. You have shown us a great deal, not only about how to die, but how we should live.

You have faced your death with courage and class. We honor your passing, and we will miss your presence.

To the family and close friends: be kind to yourselves in the grieving time. You have suffered a great loss, but have the comfort of knowing that she did it "her way" to the end.

Fred B. said...

I shared the news of Judy's entering hospice with several of our high school classmates, who have responded to me with kind words and good memories. And others responded after I shared news of her death.

My favorite comment was this:

I always thought of you two as kindred spirits--brilliant, kind, not taken up with superficialities or Squirrel Hill materialism.

May your happy memories of Judy outweigh the grief, while making room for the grief, which is one of the faces of love.

This classmate was certainly correct about Judy, and I'll accept her impression about me.

And the word "love" is correct as well, though not in any conventional sense of the word. How could anyone who knew Judy not love and value her?

I will always grateful for our long friendship, that began in third grade.

Fred B.

Margaret Benbow said...

Judy's vital intelligence showed in her eyes, which were a sparkling wide-awake brown. She fully saw whatever she looked at. On my bike rides I often saw Judy, long after she was seriously ill, stepping with spirit into the day on walks with her good friend Robin Chapman. Judy had cancer, but did not let it define her life. She was fully present in this world, and loved this world, until her last moment.

Jim Carroll, CRNA said...

Requiescat in pace.

A gentle but widely-heard voice has been stilled but her words and her works live on.

Rasma said...

Dear family and friends of Judy,

At Susie's suggestion I'm putting links here to a poem I wrote about the poetry retreats we used to take at the Ela cabin in Door County, Wisconsin; and a short lecture I wrote for my writing class in remembrance of Judy.



With you in spirit at the memorial service,