Richard “Joe” Strobel was born on April 9th, 1940. He grew up in Long Island at Freeport. He had a brother Roger three years older, and a sister Gretchen who was six years younger. They lived near the water and enjoyed boating and swimming. (Of the three children, Joe alone was adopted, but he was loved every bit as much as the others.)
Joe’s father left the family early on, and so it was his mother who raised him, to whom Joe felt a great love and affection throughout his life. She worked as a nurse, often taking double shifts to be able to pay the bills. When Roger and Joe were older they took paper routes and other odd jobs to help out.
Roger and Joe shared a room. Roger was a neat freak, and Joe a good deal more laid back, and the contrast caused some degree of brotherly strife. Gretchen remembers Roger tying a rope across the room and hanging a blanket over it so he would not have to look at Joe’s mess. Throughout their lives the brothers were close, but their personalities and view points often clashed, and they seemed to like to spar.
Joe had close friends, Angelo and Wheeler being two in particular. He also had a 37 Ford upon which he spent countless hours — it was his pride and joy.
When Joe graduated from high school the family moved to Denville, New Jersey where Joe worked various jobs before enlisting in the army. He spent his time in the service first at Fort Meade in Maryland, and for a year at Okinawa. He offered to go and serve in Vietnam, but fortunately he wasn’t taken up in his offer.
After returning from the service he eventually got a job working for Jersey Central Power and Light as a line man. He loved his work, but one thing he didn’t like was climbing those polls in the winter cold. He had some falls and his knees took a beating, but he worked for JCP&L for 35 years, often working the late shift from four to twelve.
When he met Mary, like his own mom she was raising her kids without a husband, and also like his own mother, was working two jobs – one at the hospital by day and another at a nursing home at night. She was determined to provide well for her two children, which she did, raising Susan to go off to Rutgers and Charles to Seton Hall.
Having had an unhappy experience with stepfathers herself, Mary was determined not to get married until her two children, Melanie and Charles were grown up. But nonetheless, Joe took Melanie and Charles into his heart, and they took him into theirs as well; they would come to call him Dad, and he to call them son and daughter. Joe and Mary were a couple for three years before breaking up for two years, and Melanie and Charles were really happy when they got back together.
Mary remembers that when Charles was in high school, still waiting to get his license, Mary bought him an old car, but the engine was shot. So Joe found another used engine and bought it for Charles, and then Joe and Charles spent an entire day installing the new engine together.
Joe was very generous by nature. Before Mary and Joe had tied the knot, while she was still living in an apartment in Morristown, Joe called her up one day and said,
“I have something to show you.”
“What is it?” she asked.
“It’s a surprise; let me show you.”
He drove her to Lake Parsippany and they walked down a long driveway and over a little bridge so that Joe could show Mary this cute little old house on a small island out in the lake.
“What do you think?” he asked.
“Oh I love it,” said Mary.
“Well it’s yours.” He had put down a 500 dollar down payment that day.
Together they began fixing the place up.
Over time they redid the kitchen, the family room, the little room they called the “flower room”, and the bedroom. The old house had personality. A lot of happy memories with family were formed at this house.
The happiest memory was the day they held their wedding there. They had gotten engaged at Christmas time, the same time that Melanie got engaged.
So on September 5th, 1989 all their family and friends gathered on their patio, and Joe and Mary took their vows standing under the beautiful old weeping willow tree.
There was a DJ and lots to eat and drink, and a whole lot of joy and love.
As I said, there were a whole lot of happy memories formed in that old house, and so it was heart breaking when the big storm came and the house got flooded, making it uninhabitable. They were forced to live elsewhere for seven years as slowly a new house was built on the island.
They would go on vacations together. Their daughter Melanie got them tickets for a cruise from New York to Canada, and when they got on board they were surprised to discover they had been bumped up to a beautiful suite with a balcony, with a bottle of Champaign waiting for them. Melanie had talked to the president of the ship company and told him what a hard time her parents were going through with their house, and he thought they could appreciate such a treat, and they did.
Joe and Mary took a trip to San Francisco, and two trips to Hawaii, and one to Aruba. Having gotten frost bite working up on those ladders out in the cold, Joe had grown to dislike winter so he appreciated these respites to warm beaches and sunshine.
Joe always had a way with children, and when the grandchildren came alone, he and Mary threw themselves into their roles as grandparents. Joe was Pop Pop to Charles and Angela’s two boys, Andrew and Michael, and to Melanie and Nick’s three girls, Nicky, Calli and Carissa. The grandchildren would come for visits and often stay over night, and Joe and Mary really got to know their grandchildren; they knew what came easy for them in school and what was hard. They paid attention.
The grandchildren loved to work in the garden with Pop Pop, and going fishing with him. He was their knight in shining armor.
Joe and Mary loved each other very much. Mary called him “love” and he called her “honey.” Mary referred to Joe as her rock, her best friend. He went with the flow, and didn’t get up set. He was so giving. “If you want it,” Joe would say to Mary, “we’ll get it.”
They enjoyed their dogs together. Their last dog, Snoopy, the beagle, liked to sit in Joe’s lap on his favorite chair and watch TV together.
He would give anything to anyone. As his sister Gretchen said, he had a “heart the size of America,” and as Mary put it, he had a “heart of gold.” He loved being with family and friends,
His knees gave him a lot of pain, and the surgeries he had for them didn’t go very well. He was sick the last three years as a result of wound from a knee surgery that never fully healed. He had a heart problem, and the heart kept him from having further knee surgery and the knee kept him from getting heart surgery.
This past week, with Mary and Gretchen there at his side, Joe went home to be with the Lord.