The Legend of Jon Strohl (1948-2021)

On his persona:

At every party my dad ever attended, sooner or later he’d wind up surrounded by a group of people laughing hysterically while he told jokes. The jokes he told often weren’t very good. If you read them on paper, most of them would not make you laugh. The magic was in the way he told them. It was a full-blown performance: he did voices, he jumped up and down, he snarled and bared his teeth, he leaned into the dirty parts. He had extraordinary charisma and rejected ordinary social inhibitions and their attendant shames. Jon Strohl said what was on his mind, whether it was anywhere near appropriate or not. He was entirely willing to get into avoidable confrontations. When a school principal called to complain about me or my brother, he would go directly on the attack, launching into legalistic complaints about the school’s failure to meet our needs and threatening to sue.

My dad didn’t give a fuck what anyone thought of him and he raised us to not give a fuck what anyone thought of us. He swore profusely and instilled in us the aesthetic virtue of swearing. “A well-placed ‘fuck’ makes all the difference, Matthew.” He had a big heart and a ferocious hatred of bullies and he always stuck up for anyone he saw being mistreated. He was a passionate advocate for the mentally ill and his life’s work was in mental health services. He was extremely proud of the way that he was able to deploy his forceful personality over the course of his career to make positive changes in the lives of patients.  

Jon Strohl was a brash character and he made a big impression. As my brother Josh put it, “he didn’t filter himself, and people liked that about him.” In what follows, I’ve assembled key events and important stories from his life in an effort to say something about who he was and what he meant to the people who loved him. 

On his birth and upbringing:

Jonathan Peter Strohl was originally named Gary Lee Coleman. He didn’t like to talk about the fact that he was adopted, but he always told me that he was originally the product of an illicit affair between an older Italian man and a young German woman, both first generation immigrants from the WWII era. There are conflicting accounts, but we believe his birth mother was around 16 years old when he was born in 1948. She had other children, but he had no interest in ever seeking them out. “My parents are my parents, my family is my family, and that’s that.” There was a lot of pain behind that attitude, but it wasn’t a pain that he ever wanted to acknowledge. 

He was adopted by Chester and Mary Strohl. He was their only child. Chester was a minister in the Lutheran church and a veteran of WWII, where he served as a chaplain and received a Purple Heart (“The Germans treated the cross on my back like a target,” he once told me). His mother Mary was very much a pastor’s wife. She worked alongside Chester in the series of churches they ran throughout my father’s childhood. They were both devoutly religious and very strict, and although my father loved them very much he did not inherit their religiosity. He was a defiant person who disdained all forms of authority and there’s no doubt that this aspect of his character had roots in his strict religious upbringing. 

Chester specialized in rehabilitating churches in financial difficulty, and so my father spent much of his childhood moving from place to place. The two places he talked about the most were Lake Ronkonkoma (on Long Island) where he grew up and Burnt Hills (near Albany) where he went to high school. He fondly remembered the time he spent living near NYC and often talked of his love for Coney Island and its Cyclone roller coaster. 

Chester and Mary Strohl

On his origin story:

My dad didn’t just tell jokes, he was also an extraordinary storyteller. There is absolutely no doubt about what his signature story was: The Ballad of Barry Franc(k). This is his origin story. I heard him tell it so many times. When I was in high school, sometimes when we were bored my friends would suggest we go over to my house and get my dad to tell that story again. It’s such a good story that we always assumed he was exaggerating at least a little bit, but when he started to get sick years back a couple of his old friends from high school who we had never met before came to visit and they confirmed that not only is the story entirely true, he had been underselling certain aspects of it. I could never tell it the way he does, but I can reconstruct the key events. When he told this story, though, it was more of a one-man play. It took him about a half an hour and he got so into it that it felt like he was going to break something. Here’s my best attempt. Actual lines from the way my dad told it are marked with quotes:

Barry Franc(k) was a bully. “He had greasy fucking slicked back hair and he walked around with two chickeypoos on his arms.” Barry demanded that his last name be pronounced franc, like the former French currency, and got angry when anyone called him Barry FRANK, like the hot dog. (Amazingly, my brother and I have opposite memories of this part of the story. He thinks Barry’s name was actually ‘Frank’ and didn’t like to be called ‘Franc‘. If anyone who heard him tell the story has a clear memory either way, please let us know).

My dad at the time was a short, pudgy high school freshman and Barry had taken to bullying him. My dad didn’t back down, but instead taunted him by mispronouncing his last name. Barry beat the crap out of him one day and capped it off flushing his head down the toilet and badly humiliating him in front of a large crowd.

So what did my dad do? He got a paper route. He got up at 5 every morning and delivered 120 papers and then he used the money he earned to buy a bench and a set of weights. He started obsessively weight training. During lunch breaks he biked home to lift, he skipped dances to stay home and lift. Over the course of two years he got frickin’ ripped. He was not a tall man at 5’6”, but his short stature and muscular build were perfect for wrestling and powerlifting, and he became very successful at these sports. He also played football, where his teammates called him “Sparkplug.” He set a northeastern states record for bench press in his weight class, benching 275 when he weighed 148 (as a high school student).

Having completed this transformation from vulnerable freshman to invincible beast, he confronted Barry Franc(k) yet again after the bully shoulder-checked him in the hallway. “Right up in front of his chickeypoos I said ‘Hey Barry FRANK, long time no see.’” “Didn’t I teach you a lesson already!”

They had another fight. One part of the story that he left out that we learned from his old highschool friends is that the fight was planned and even advertised with flyers made by other students. Teachers did nothing to stop the fight. The whole school wanted to see Sparkplug teach Barry the Bully a lesson. And teach him a lesson he did.

The story of the second fight cannot be captured on paper. My dad acted it out, and it would be impossible to overstate how into it he got. The gist of it, though, is that he beat the ever living shit out of Barry. “I grabbed him by his greasy fucking hair and I SMASHED his face into the urinal, and I SMASHED it again, and I flushed his greasy fucking face down the toilet, and I threw him into the fucking wall….” At the end, he dragged Barry half-conscious into the school hallway and held him aloft by his greasy fucking hair, declaring once and for all: “Here’s Barry FRANK for ya.”

Another part of the story that he always left out was that the entire school started chanting his name and they lifted him up and carried him out of the building as a hero. 

On his adventures and misdeeds as a young man:

Not all of my dad’s high school antics were so glorious. He was a rebellious pastor’s son and he raised hell. Most notoriously, he found out that his German teacher had called the cops to report him for driving his convertible around the neighborhood too fast. My dad knocked on the teacher’s door and punched him squarely in the face when he opened it. He failed German that year.

As a wrestler, he often boasted that he was “meaner than a shithouse rat.” He once bit an opponent in the testicles during a match. My brother asked, “Dad, what did this guy say to you after you bit him in the nuts?” “He said ‘fuck you!” “And what did you say?” “I said’ ‘fuck YOU!!!!”

On his John Belushi years:

My dad attended Hartwick and joined a fraternity. He showed me Animal House as a kid and told me that everyone always compared him in college to John Belushi. He has two particularly famous stories from this era. He had one frat brother who he really didn’t like. That guy was shut in his room with a girl and my dad threw a full keg of beer through the wall. He also famously drove a riding lawnmower through the building and mowed the carpet.

He loved to drink Pabst Blue Ribbon beer and smoke menthol cigarettes. He also enjoyed smoking weed and could roll a joint with one hand while driving (I saw him do it), but rarely touched hard drugs. He attended an Acid Test party in his youth without realizing it and drank a large amount of LSD spiked Kool-Aid that he mistook for a weak cocktail. I recently learned that no one else in my family had heard this story but he always told me that he woke up two weeks later in a different state with no desire to ever take LSD again. He had an epic amount of fun in his party days, but his drinking eventually became one of the saddest things about his life. I’m not going to focus on the sad parts in this remembrance, but suffice to say that his drinking was unhappy in his 50’s. For the last phase of his life he switched to non-alcoholic beer and e-cigarettes and had a pretty tame old age (much to his dismay)

On his military service:

My dad really, really did not want to go to Vietnam. He had been invited to train for the Olympics in power lifting but turned it down to go to college, and then after he finished college he promptly joined the Army reserves to avoid being drafted. He often talked about being stationed in Texas where he had a great time crossing the border to party in Mexico but was extremely bored on base. This was the era where he got interested in chess and learned all sorts of card tricks and also how to roll joints and cigarettes with one hand. 

When he visited Montana for my wedding, I found him vaping in the hotel lobby and dragged him outside, where we ran into a couple biker guys with Vietnam veteran hats on. My dad walked right up to them and was like “You’re a Vietnam vet? Cool! I’m a draft dodger.”

On his career in mental health services and his moral convictions concerning the treatment of the mentally ill:

Jon was a psychology major and after he finished his military service he moved to Elmira, NY, where his parents lived, and got a job at the Elmira Psychiatric Center. This was the beginning of a 40 year career in mental health services. He said to me many times that the two things that he was the most proud of in life were his three kids and the concrete ways that his work improved the treatment of mentally ill people in western New York. He showed me One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest as a kid to illustrate the way that mentally ill people had historically been treated and saw it as his calling in life to work to provide the best possible care for patients and to enable them to move out of institutions and live productive lives in the community. 

My dad loved his patients. He took calls any time, day or night. He loved just hanging out with them at the Psych Center (as it was called). He brought us with him as small kids and introduced us to them. He always adamantly reinforced the idea that mentally ill people are just people and we shouldn’t be afraid of them or treat them differently than we’d treat anyone else. Indeed, he taught us that people who are different tend to be really interesting and cool and they have a lot to offer if we give them the chance. We’d often run into patients and former patients when we were out doing errands and they were always so happy to see him. He’d greet them happily and introduce us to them and they’d often tell us how great a guy he was. I always had the sense that he’d much rather hang out with his patients than with people who society had dubbed “normal.” 

He started out working directly with patients, including troubled teens and inmates in the Elmira State prison. He told me that going into the state prison had been extremely intimidating. This is a serious facility and he was working with people who had been convicted of the most serious crimes. His strategy? He brought potato chips and hot sauce with him. He loved this combination and he made friends with inmates by bringing plenty to share. 

During this period, in his 20’s, he fostered a teen girl named Velvet for a period of time. She showed up at our house when I was a kid to tell him what a big difference he had made in her life. I didn’t remember this bit until my mom told me about it recently. I would be intensely curious to talk to Velvet if she ever stumbles upon this and wants to reach out. 

While working in mental health services he also nearly completed a Master’s degree in psychology. He was, sadly, kicked out of the program after insulting a professor in class who he thought had no understanding of actual clinical practices, “those who can’t do, teach!” I looked through the paperwork that he saved from this event and it’s heart-breaking. They used his low GRE verbal score to kick him out while he protested that he had a verbal learning disability and should be granted an exception given his strong performance overall. He eventually went back to school at age 40 while raising three kids and working full time. He completed his Master’s in community service, which led to him moving up the career ladder. He spent much of his career working for the state as a program analyst. The way he explained it, his job was making sure that all of the programs receiving state funding for mental health services in Western NY were using that money in the way that would be most beneficial for patients. He was, as he put it, a “ball buster,” but he saw this as a duty. He didn’t fuck around when it came to standards of patient care.

A former colleague wrote on his memorial page this week, “Jon was a brilliant policy planner with boundless energy and exceptional creativity.” Another wrote, “I will always remember him entering our office with a burst of energy, along with his amazing smile and laugh. He never turned away clients or family members in need of services or guidance.”

On his wrestling of a fish: 

To this day, there’s a large taxidermied king salmon hanging on the wall of my parents’ house. It’s like a 30 pound fish. He often told the story of its origin: he had gone up to Pulaski, NY to fish the first day of salmon season. It was a miserable affair. Men lined up shoulder-to-shoulder along the banks of the Salmon River in the freezing dead of night and waited hours for sunrise when they could legally begin fishing. A lot of drinking was involved. He had endured this a couple times before without catching anything and was just overwhelmed with excitement when he hooked his first big salmon. When he finally got it to the shore, however, it shook off the hook and flipped back into the water.

What did Jon do? He dove into the fucking water in middle of winter and wrestled the fish. He wrapped his arms and legs around it and then just started pummeling it with his fist. When it was unconscious, he dragged it out of the water in triumph and decided to have it taxidermied. 

This was another story where we thought he might be exaggerating, but one of my brother’s first jobs was working for a local hardware store that was owned by one of my dad’s old fishing buddies. When the owner realized who my brother was he was like, “You’re Jon Strohl’s son??? Did you know that he once dove into the Salmon River and punched a fish to death??? Wildest shit I’ve ever seen.”

On Strohly’s House for Unwed Boys:

My dad had an unhappy first marriage in his 20’s. I can say with great confidence that this was his least favorite topic and so I never asked too many questions about it, but it was a marriage in name only and he never let go of his anger about it (he actually even had another marriage that was quickly annulled when he was young, which none of us knew about until very recently). After his unhappy marriage ended he established Strohly’s House for Unwed Boys: an 120 year old farmhouse in Breesport, NY that he bought for next to nothing. It was a ramshackle building and the foundation was infested with snakes. He had a number of bachelor friends living with him and they partied hard and did lots of hunting and fishing.

On his whirlwind courtship and marriage to the love of his life:

My dad met my mom when he was 31 and she was 22. He saw her in a bar and begged a mutual friend to introduce him. The way he told it, “I was never faithful to a woman before your mother, but I’ve never looked at anyone else since I met her.” It turned out that they had both gone to Hartwick (though she had transferred to Cornell) and their parents knew each other. Her father was very involved in the local Lutheran church. She always said that he “swept her off her feet.” He was in extremely good shape and he was funny and charming and absolutely crazy about her. He proposed after three weeks and she accepted three weeks later. They were married seven months after they met. I was born ten months and ten days later. They remained married until his death 40 years later. Till his last day he often said that my mom was the best thing that ever happened to him.

On the early years of the Strohl family:

We were poor when I was born. We slept in the same room together huddled up under an electric blanket. The main source of heat for the house was a wood-burning stove, and then we also used a kerosene heater. The main oil heater was too expensive to run. Snakes would suddenly appear from cracks in the walls. I will never forget the day my dad and his friends tore out the old stone porch and revealed an Indiana Jones-worthy pit of snakes. Like, thousands of snakes. My brother was born in this house as well but we eventually moved into town after a freak accident where he slipped and cut the artery of his wrist on a piece of glass. We only had one car and my dad was at work, so I had to run to the neighbor’s house to get someone to drive him to the hospital. 

We owned a property on Seneca lake that he bought for next to nothing. It had a small structure but no running water. We usually slept in a camper when we were up there. He loved “pulling copper” for huge lake trout and we spent countless weekends up there fishing and swimming. Those were some of the happiest times of my childhood.

Dad, Mom, me, and baby Josh
With me

On his bittersweet ascent to the middle class:

My dad did not like living in town. He always said that he wanted “autonomy,” which to him meant being able to do what you want on your own property and not be restricted by neighbors or cops. He liked to shoot guns out in the backyard and have loud parties. 

Also at this time he started to become busier and busier at work. He mostly stopped hunting and didn’t go fishing as much. He took up golf, which he was terrible at but enjoyed. What I think he enjoyed about it most was getting day drunk and riding around in a golf cart with his buddies. 

Sadly, these changes did not make him happier overall. He had obsessive compulsive disorder and didn’t cope very well with stress. There were still lots of good times, but he missed his old life, when he was poor and free and happy and his neighbors lived further away.

On his parenting:

My dad’s resistance to authority carried through to his parenting style. He was adamant about letting us become our own people and not trying to mold us into any preconceived image. He supported us in whatever we were interested in and set few limits. As Strohltopia readers know, my brother Josh and I became avid movie buffs. From a very young age he exposed us to grown up movies and let us pick whatever we wanted from the video rental store. There was never a time when we weren’t allowed to watch R-rated movies. It was awesome. We were very well-developed cinephiles before we even got to high school. 

On his favorite movies

My dad liked to watch the same movies over and over and over again. He had a small set of perennial favorites and then there were two other categories he was interested in: “movies with T&A” (this was how her referred to the erotic thrillers that were popular in the 90’s), and “rock ‘em sock ‘em action.” 

Throughout my childhood, he was obsessed with the movie Dirty Dancing. He had visited a similar resort in the Catskills as a kid in the 50’s and it was extremely nostalgic for him. We must have watched it 200 times. We kids would get super embarrassed when Jennifer Grey took her shirt off but then we would become animated and dance around the house during the big finale. “No one puts Baby in a corner.” God, he loved it.

But without a doubt the movie that he watched the most was My Cousin Vinny. I would make a hefty wager that no living person has seen the movie My Cousin Vinny more times than my dad. For years and years you’d find him watching it multiple times per week, always laughing hysterically. One of my fondest memories of him, as silly as it is, was the time that I came home to visit from college and found him STILL watching My Cousin Vinny. I was like “DAD, do you seriously still find this movie funny?” He didn’t answer my question directly, he just started doing an impression of Marisa Tomei and laughing hysterically: “You’re gonna shoot a deer?? A sweet, innocent, doe-eyed little deer?”

He also loved big historical epics (e.g., Spartacus, Ben Hur) and movies where the underdog makes good (e.g.,The Bad News Bears, Sister Act). Pretty much any time you’d ask him if he wants to watch a movie he would propose Ben Hur. 

On his pool game: 

My dad was a great pool player. I honestly have never seen a better one in person. I never once saw him lose a game of pool. He certainly never let me win. When he was in college his parents sent him 10 dollars a month to live on. He used that as a starting point for betting on games and essentially paid his way through college by hustling. “I had a misspent youth,” he always explained when people marvelled at how good he was. He preferred to play straight pool (like in The Hustler) and disliked 9 Ball (and partly for this reason didn’t like The Color of Money as much), but he typically settled on 8 Ball because the mechanics of straight pool led to everyone else sitting around watching while he ran the table. He often talked about how on one occasion some old timer had taught him a lesson and hustled him good, which made him so angry that he broke his beloved ivory pool cue over his knee and stopped playing for serious money. 

In a favorite example of his off-color sense of humor, on one occasion he was teaching my brother and his friends how to handle a pool cue. He slowly demonstrated the motion and explained with evocative inflection, “It’s like stickin’ your dick in something smooth… it’s like stickin’ your dick in something smooth.” My sister Alexis interjected, “DAD!!!” Surprised that she was in the room, he immediately corrected himself, “Sorry, Alexis. It’s like buttering your corn… it’s like buttering your corn.” 

My dad with his best friend Tom Tuite. Tom was a true friend who stuck with him all the way to the end.

On his evening ritual:

Once my dad settled into the trudge of middle class life, he had a very funny nightly ritual of changing out of his suit, putting on ripped jeans and an old flannel shirt, and standing around in the kitchen for a couple hours in his underwear, smoking, drinking, and watching cable news while he made these weird and meticulous little notes on pieces of ripped up paper that he kept in a neat little stack and carried around with him. These notes were an expression of his OCD and one of his only strict rules was that no one was ever allowed to disturb them or get them out of order. 

Another strict rule was that no one else was allowed to touch his grapefruit soda. He switched from beer to a cocktail of grapefruit soda and cheap vodka, and he was infuriated by the notion that anyone else might drink any of his soda and he might run out in the middle of the night or something. We (of course) loved to mess with him and take swigs of soda when he wasn’t looking. He started drawing a line on the grapefruit soda bottle with a sharpie to make sure no one could get into it without him knowing. Since we actually did like grapefruit soda we tried buying our own, but he simply commandeered it and wouldn’t let us have any. The rule was very clear: no one but Jon Strohl gets any grapefruit soda in this house.  

With Alexis

On his transplant and declining health

My dad’s years of hard drinking and an earlier bout with Hepatitis B caught up with him in his late 50’s and he was diagnosed with terminal liver problems. He had extremely good health insurance from New York State, however, and my mom fought hard and somehow got him a liver transplant. This is a difficult topic for me, because as a recovering alcoholic myself I am vividly aware of how many people die of alcoholism without ever having a chance for a transplant. Indeed, I don’t know if I’ve ever heard of another example of someone who had liver problems due to alcohol use getting a transplant. 

By all reasonable expectations he had no chance of surviving this first terminal illness, but survive it he did. I am profoundly grateful for the extra years he got as a result, but I also feel tremendous sorrow for all the people who have died without getting the same opportunity. The 13 years that my dad lived after his transplant were a gift. 

Unfortunately, his health never fully rebounded. He had several years of complications from the transplant and we nearly lost him several times. Eventually his transplant stabilized but he started to develop other health problems: Alzheimer’s, congestive heart failure, a stroke. He had many, many brushes with death but proved to be incredibly resilient.  

My wedding was out in the woods. My brother-in-law Mickey gave my dad a lift.

On his dementia:

Dementia is a heartbreaking thing and I know that it’s a brutal experience for many familes. However, I hope I can offer some comfort to those with loved ones in the early stages of dementia by reporting that in my dad’s case it really wasn’t all that bad and there were even some good things about it. My dad had become a pretty cantankerous person in his 50’s and he actually became much nicer and less angry as dementia set in. He turned into a silly old guy who smiled a lot and struggled with benign confusion about what the fuck year it was. He would come into the room with a bow tie and a t-shirt on and say he was getting ready for the high school dance. When he watched his The Godfather late in life he remarked “this is a fantastic movie, how have I never seen this before?” “Dad, you’ve seen The Godfather.” “No I haven’t. I’d remember.” It really didn’t seem too bad to me: I wouldn’t mind getting to see The Godfather for the first time again.

Dementia-era dad being absolutely hilarious, roasting a strawberry in a restaurant.

He was very funny during these years. He’d vape in inappropriate places and then when his vape pen ran out of batteries he’d try to light it like a cigarette. It was dangerous but it never stopped being funny (and all of his vape pens had melted ends). 

One of the funniest stories from this stage of his life was the time he shaved his head. He was left alone at the house and decided to shave it himself. He didn’t do a great job. My mom walked in and found him with a few bloody spots on his scalp. He grinned, “Hey Patti, you want some strange?????” 

On his love of dogs: 

Late in life, my dad had our pit bull Roxie as his constant companion. She watched over him in his sickbed and slept beside him. She was one of many dogs he dearly loved in his life. There’s no question, though, that his greatest canine love was a German Shepherd named Cassandra (Cassie) who he had for 14 years. The first time I ever saw him cry was the day he had her put to sleep. He actually took her in twice. The first time he dropped her off and went out to the car because he couldn’t be there to watch it happen. He couldn’t do it and ran back inside to take her home for one last night, then brought her back the next day. God, he loved that dog so much. She was very smart and understood complex commands and he took her everywhere with him off leash. He’d walk into the bar with her and when the bartender said no dogs allowed he’d point to a barstool and she’d jump right up and sit there politely. He’d say “that’s not a dog, that’s a paying customer. I’ll have a beer and she’ll have a beer.” And the dog would drink an entire beer directly from the glass.

With Roxie

Today, my sister has a German Shepherd named Kassie. She doesn’t drink beer but she’s a very sweet dog. 

With Kassie

In one particularly unpleasant ordeal, we had a Rottweiler named Zoe who was big and excitable but basically just a lovemonster. By that point we had moved out of the suburban wasteland and lived on top of a hill where we had a little more of the autonomy my dad valued so much. People liked to jog up the hill for exercise, and there was one woman in particular who jogged with some sort of club (or was it even a cattle prod?) that she brought to protect herself against dogs. We never knew for sure, but we always suspected that Zoe (who was restrained by an electric fence) had run near the end of the driveway and barked at her and she had attacked the dog with her weapon. For whatever reason, Zoe absolutely hated this one woman and would get very riled up whenever she ran by. On one occasion, she burst through the electric fence and bit her. Her husband came to the house to complain. My dad was never very responsive to complaints about his family or his animals and he basically said, “Oh, does your wife like to jog up here? Get her exercise? Stay in shape? Well FUCK you and FUCK her. She can jog somewhere else and leave my dog the hell alone.” “If you won’t agree to keep your dog restrained, I’m going to call animal control.” “Go ahead, you miserable prick.”

An agent from animal control did come, and Zoe jumped up on his lap and licked his face while he cooed “oh you are not a vicious dog are you? Oh you cutie you’re not a vicious dog!” He remarked that the woman was singularly unpleasant and that it seemed to him like the dog had her number. He concluded that she must have done something to provoke Zoe and we suffered no consequences. 

On his happy last years and the birth of his grandchildren:

The greatest gifts of my dad’s extra years were that he got to see all three of his kids get married and he got to meet his three grandchildren. My wife Angela adored him and he adored her. He would always forget that we were married and then when we reminded him he would congratulate me on having married such a wonderful woman. My brother Josh and his wife Izzy have a three-year old girl named Sky and a baby boy named Charles Bronson. My sister Alexis and her husband Mickey have a baby boy (born one month after Charley) named Lachlan. 

Given the health troubles he had, we all consider it a tremendous blessing that he got these last few happy years. Sky loved her Baba so much, and was always checking on him to make sure he was okay and bringing him blankets to make sure he was warm enough. She wrote a little “letter” to him after he died and I can’t think about that without tears flowing. 

With Charles Bronson
With Alexis and baby Lachlan
With baby Sky
With Josh and Sky
With Sky

On a silly memory:

When I think about the happiest times with my dad, I remember something extremely silly, and that’s note I want to close on. One night, when I was around college age, he and I were hanging out alone watching Saturday Night Live. My mom didn’t allow pot smoking in the house but we freely ignored her (she just yelled and yelled about it and no one really paid any attention– sorry mom hahaha). We smoked a great big joint and laughed our asses off. There was one particular sketch with Norm Macdonald as Lou Gehrig that really wasn’t anything spectacular but that made my dad laugh just about the hardest I ever saw him laugh. Here it is:

I can still picture his face. We laughed for what felt like 15 minutes. We were rolling around in stitches. He just couldn’t stop laughing. Eventually my mom came down and was like “what the hell is going on down here? IS THAT POT I SMELL?????” which made us laugh even harder. She didn’t understand what was so funny. “You had to be there, Patti.”

I remember that silly moment because it was maybe the purest happiness I ever felt in just being with him. I miss you, dad, and I always will.

6 thoughts on “The Legend of Jon Strohl (1948-2021)”

  1. What a wonderful story in honor of your Dad❤️…and yes he was a character and told the best Johnny Johnny jokes!


  2. Oh man, that was a five-tissue read for me. Thank you for sharing your stories and photos. I can tell how much your dad loved and was loved.


  3. What a beautiful memorial, Matt. It’s very safe to say that anyone that met him has a few unforgettable stories. Thank you for sharing the history behind the legend. He was a great man that will never be forgotten. Thinking of you all often. I’ll be watching My Cousin Vinny and Sister Act this week. ❤️


  4. What a beautiful memorial, Matt. It’s safe to say that anyone that met him has a few stories. Thank you for sharing the history behind the legend. Thinking of you all often. I’ll be watching My Cousin Vinny and Sister Act this week. ❤️


  5. Well that is one of the most beautiful love letters I have ever read. You’ve come a long way since that Joan of Arc manifesto you wrote senior year. It fills my heart to witness your love for your dad. I guess, perhaps unsurprisingly, your dad and mine had quite a lot in common: over the top-ness, charisma, a disdain for authority, a penchant for drinking, a really beautiful affection for babies and small children, and a habit of smoking in places where smoking was not allowed. A few other interesting connections: I did my student teaching at Burnt Hills-Balston Lake High School. My first teaching job, aside from summer school at BH-BL, was in Horseheads. And, not a connection to place or dad to dad, but my son has OCD–has likely had it since kindergarten. We are just now at a point of beginning to help him manage it well. I imagine there are some interesting conversations we could have about the ways OCD impacts/impacted people we love. Thanks for having a heart and mind big enough to send this out into the world. Please send my love and condolences to your mom and your siblings, and save some for yourself as well.


  6. Matt, this memorial is so beautiful! Thank you for sharing this. Your Dad was a remarkable person and cared for so many people. I’ll be thinking of you and your family, and will never forget the fond memories I have of spending time around your Dad. Jon Strohl is truly a”Legend”.


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