Featured Resident – Alice Strathman
Alice was born and raised in Cleveland, OH. She was the middle of three children born to George and Alice Wilhelm. She had a happy childhood growing up right on the shores of Lake Erie. She fondly remembers spending long summer days playing on the beach and the beach parties they threw when she was in high school. She loved the socialization of high school and enjoyed her gifted classes. She loved dancing and was named “Best Dancer” of her senior class. After graduation, she worked for a year doing secretarial work at an export office before attending college at Kent State.
During her sophomore year of college, her friend, John, set her up on a blind date with his next door neighbor. Eugene Strathman was a gorgeous football player attending Case Western Reserve. They started dating and married a year later in June 1953. Eugene was a junior at Case Reserve and they lived in Cleveland until he graduated. Alice got pregnant right away and baby Gene was born in1954 and attended his dad’s college graduation.
Gene was ROTC and upon graduation, they became an Air Force family. Their first duty station was San Antonio, TX. They were stationed there for four years and where their son, Michael, was born in 1956. Their next duty station was Tokoyo, Japan, for three years, then Duluth, MN, for three years, Colorado Springs for four years (where Mark was born in 1966), Petaluma, CA, for a year before being stationed at Richards Gebaur in Belton, MO.
San Antonio was Alice’s first time away from Ohio – quite the adjustment – newly married, a new mother and a totally new lifestyle and location where she knew no one. Japan was an even bigger culture shock for Alice. She lived in a rice paddy for the first year before getting base housing. She said it would be so cold in the winter that each morning she could see her footprints in the frost on the floors. They couldn’t drink the water and had to haul it over from the base. Once they had base housing, she acquired a maid. Everyone had them. Alice felt she was on an endless vacation because the maid did absolutely everything for her. Their little family, Gene, Alice, Gene and Michael, would go exploring on weekends, wandering down the Ginza, Tokyo’s main street which was a shopping and restaurant mecca. The Japanese women were fascinated with the boys blond hair – so different from their own. Alice also had a seamstress. She loved the silks and imported fabric. She would pick out the material and a picture of an outfit, give it to the seamstress on Friday morning and by the end of the day, she would have a new outfit. The biggest shock for her was the public co-ed bath houses. The whole family went but Alice was the one staring at the ceiling while they bathed so she wouldn’t see anything she didn’t want to see. Duluth, MN, was next and very cold. The boys wore their thermals from October to April. She said, “You don’t know cold until you live in Duluth!” The snow piled up and never melted until spring. Next was Colorado Springs. They bought a brand new house right outside of The Garden of the Gods. The boys hiked the park from morning until night. While stationed there, Eugene was sent to Vietnam for a year. After Gene returned from Vietnam, they got a plush assignment in the San Francisco area. Petaluma, CA, was a beautiful country club styled base and they lived there a year before getting a new assignment at Richards-Gebaur Air Force Base in Belton, MO.
In 1969, Alice and Eugene divorced. Eugene bought her and the boys a small house in Belton and went on to his next duty station. Alice got a job with the City of Belton. Her boss was a retired Air Force colonel. After hearing her history he told her if she could pass a dictation test, he would get her a job. She did even though she hadn’t done any secretarial work in over a decade.
Soon she sold the small house and bought a new house for her and the boys in 1970. Belton was a small town and the boys were athletically inclined. So she didn’t have to worry about them getting into trouble. They went to school and sports were after school. The boys pitched in as well. They worked part-time jobs and paid for half of their wants and needs. She worked for 23 years and retired as the city clerk for Belton in 1993. In 2000, she paid off the thirty year mortgage on her house. Hallelujah!
In 2001, she sold the house and moved to The Tuilleries in Overland Park. She enjoyed the community. They would put on shows using show tunes with the words changed to tell whatever their story was at the time. Alice plays piano by ear and was their accompanist. In 2008, Alice moved to Liberty to be closer to Mark and Melinda and the new grandbabies.
In January of 2018, Alice collapsed in her apartment. She had a bacterial infection that sapped her strength and appetite. She knew that she would not be able to live on her own anymore. After two months of being in and out of the hospital, Alice moved to Westbrook. Her kids found and furnished her apartment for her. She likes the sense of community, how comfortable the facility and her apartment are, and she likes all the different interesting activities.
Alice’s faith is very important to her. While in Japan, her neighbor encouraged Alice to attend church with her. Alice believed in God but did not have a personal relationship with Him. She started attending church and was confirmed by a bishop in the Episcopalian Church. Alice loves having Bible study, Sunday School and church all available to her right here. She says because of the fellowship at Westbrook, she is continuing to grow spiritually. She says that it’s a hard world we live in and we need God. He never leaves or disappoints us.
Alice has two sons (Gene passed away at age 55 due to a heart condition), six grandchildren and four great grandchildren.