Barb Strom has an appreciation for all of life, humans, animals and nature, and is a champion good neighbor to all. So much so that Harry Jestor, one of Strom’s neighbors, says, “In the tough real estate market today, if I were considering selling my home, I might want to include the statement: ‘You would live just down the street from Barb Strom.’”
“When you meet Barb, you come away appreciating your own life more,” says neighbor Susan Shira.
“Barbara’s zest for life is infectious, and her door is open to all, always. She exemplifies hospitality. There are no strangers to Barb; anyone would feel right at home in her presence. She’s the glue and the heart of our community of Baby Island, but her generosity extends beyond our neighborhood.”
Shira recalls how this month’s Hometown Hero opens her home freely to many, and her eagerness to volunteer for numerous local organizations.
“She’s non-judgmental, listens deeply, is generous and truly cares about humanity and nature,” Shira says.
Walking into Strom’s home, she greets you with open arms, and once inside, somehow she makes you feel more significant than you were outside her door.
She serves coffee, and homemade cinnamon rolls made by her youngest daughter, Mary, who lives with her along with one dog and four cats. One can tell Strom has an appreciation for nature by the many pieces of crow and wildlife art displayed in her home. On her ledge is a large mammoth molar that is at least 12,000 years old, and an Indian artifact — both found years earlier on her property.
She says, with genuine humility, “Here I am 87 years old, and I haven’t done anything remarkable in my life. I should have done more while I had the energy. If I have any regret, it is that I didn’t do more to help the world.”
Strom says, “If I would have any advice to give, it would be that when you want to do something worthwhile that will help the world or one person, or a even a simple kindness for someone, do it now. Don’t wait.”
It’s advice she’s taking herself.
“What I really have inside of me now, is to help the birds and wildlife of Holmes Harbor,” Strom explains. “When I first moved here in 1983, we could walk the beach and see rafts of otters, and colonies of sea lions. Now there are just a few.”
“Where are all the birds and ducks that used to be here?” she asks sadly. “There were every kind of duck, and so many birds that every day we could watch and hear the roar of a flock flapping their wings in formation. It was a huge cloud of birds.
“I’m afraid the off-island hunters that come to shoot the birds just for sport have diminished the wildlife by killing many and scaring off others.”
Saving Whidbey’s wildlife is her main focus now, she says, adding that maybe we all could appreciate one another more if we lived in formation together like the birds.
Yes, she says, we will have our differences of opinions in the world, with our communities and with one another. That is nature.
“It’s painful when we live divided because of our differences of opinions,” she says. “As hard as it is for me to understand how someone else can view life so differently or ‘nutty,’ I remind myself that it’s equally as hard for them to understand my view.”
“Mom has always been a peace-maker,” her daughter Mary jumps in. “She even insists that her four cats get along.”
“You know, my whole life everyone has been jealous that I got her for a mom,” Mary adds. “My siblings will all tell you the same thing, that she is the best mom in the world. Our childhood was like a fairy tale.”
Strom’s husband Arthur died of cancer in 1977. When asked about the difficulty of becoming a young widow, she remarks, “but that’s the way we go, so I appreciated the years we had together.”
The most inspirational person in Strom’s life was her aunt, Dr. Miriam VanWaters.
“My aunt’s entire life was about giving to others; I admired her so much. For instance, when she learned a teenager named Sarah didn’t have family, she adopted her,” Strom recalls.
“I was 12 at the time, and my aunt invited me to live with her for a year. My aunt ran and lived in a woman’s reformatory called Framingham Prison in Massachusetts. Rules were much different then, and Sarah and I had the run of the prison. We were able to talk with the interns who worked there, the prisoners themselves, and spend time in the nursery with the prisoners’ babies. It was a time of learning, and an adventure.”
Those who know this month’s Hometown Hero have seen Strom’s sense of compassion firsthand.
“Barbara is one of the most remarkable folks I know. She has a wonderful heart, full of compassion and love for those around her. She’s generous both in her time and also her resources,” says Nigel Taber-Hamilton, rector of St. Augustine’s in-the-Woods. Episcopal Church. “I know of times, upon hearing someone is in financial need, she simply hauled out her checkbook and wrote them a check.”
“Barbara is a person of real spirituality, a staunch supporter of her church community and a participant of much that happens here,” he adds. “Her humility is striking — she prefers to be behind the scenes. Positive things happen, and unless you dig a little you never know that Barbara is behind them. You know from the moment you see Barbara’s broad, beaming smile that you have met someone very special.”
Strom is a person with a natural reverence for life and shows an appreciation for it. And as Sue Wicklund says, “Barbara put the ‘neighbor’ in neighborhood.”
Barbara Strom bio
Born: Oct. 27, 1922 in Seattle; one of three children in the family.
Education: Bush High School in Seattle; nursing degree from Seattle University.
Family: Husband, the late Arthur Strom. They married on Feb. 27, 1943. (He passed away in 1977.) Children: (one adopted at age 11) Bobbi, Van, Suzanne, Gretchen, Marcia and Mary (Marcia passed away in 2008 from cancer at age 55). Thirteen grandchildren, and 14 great-grandchildren.
Years on Whidbey: 28.
Hobbies: Gardening, bridge.
What do you wish people would understand about you?
“Nothing really, I think it’s more important that I try to understand others.”
What is something you would like readers to get out of this article?
“That people will be inspired to help the wildlife on South Whidbey.”
If you could have the power to change anything in the world, what would it be?
“No more wars anywhere.”
If you could ask God one question
“Why did you make animals so beautiful and furry, and us humans with just skin and kinda ugly.”
What beliefs are important to you?
“Freedom to search. I think most of us have this freedom to search out ideas and challenge our beliefs. If we don’t feel we have this freedom, it could be self-imposed.”
What do you feel is the best way to deal with loss and grief?
What book would you most like to write?
“The history of the 1900s. What an interesting time of life.”
Books you are currently reading?
“‘Crow Planet’, and ‘A Distant Mirror.’”
What two words would you eliminate from the English language?
“Two words I never use, ‘boredom’ and ‘old.’ I do say O.L.D., however.”
Your favorite song?
“‘Hail Thee, Festival Day’ and ‘Panis Angelicas.’”
What others say about Barb Strom
“Neighborhood wellness is one of Barb’s priorities, and she has worked hard in that area. She has always been deeply involved within the community, including the water association and the beach club, neighborhood work parties, community picnics and her warm open and welcoming annual holiday party at her home. All of these and others show not only her hard work, but also her warmth and welcoming nature.
Generosity, caring and giving back to the community, everything from fighting on a position at a meeting to pulling weeds at the community beach, that’s who she is.
And I have never enjoyed disagreements as much as I have with Barb. In this time of nasty politics, more Barb Stroms are needed.”
Harry Jester, neighbor
“When Mike and I moved to the Baby Island community, we kept hearing about Barb, the fun-loving, spunky spirit who’s quite revered and loved as the matriarch of this neighborhood. And so she is! Barb and I bonded immediately through our deep love of nature. In our first meeting, I was absolutely delighted and tickled by her as she joyfully, with a sparkle in her eyes, told me all about the critters of the neighborhood that she’s been living with for the past 30 years or more.
She’s so appreciates the resident seals, eagles, migratory birds and more, and is quite passionate about us as a community protecting the gift of nature that we live with. She especially loves the migratory birds, and has noticed their numbers diminishing over the years and doesn’t know why. This saddens her, and what saddens her even more is witnessing ducks being picked off by off-island hunters. That’s a hard one when you love nature as much as she does.
Barb is a huge soul, a beacon of bright light, who feels love and joy for all life, and I’m so happy to have had the opportunity to get to know her. We love you dearly, Barb, and so appreciate your strong, passionate presence in our neighborhood!”
Barb Nichols, neighbor
“This lady is absolutely wonderful. And I don’t say that lightly at all. She’s generous, she’s warm and she’s a true peace-maker. She is what holds our community of neighbors together. If anyone needs help financially, or a place to live she lends a hand. She takes stray animals into her home, and needy people too. Her door is always open to everyone. She always has a smile. If there is a scale to 10 for kindness, she’s a 10.”
Judi Vickland, neighbor
“Barbara’s calming demeanor helped to create the Baby Island Heights Water Association and see us through all the upgrades needed to become a community-supported effort. She is the host to almost all of the meetings, charity dinners, holiday parties, church socials.
When I directed ‘Cemetery Club,’ she hosted a cast dinner and had T-shirts made for the cast and crew. She helps with the ‘little things’ that make life better. I am so fortunate to have her as my neighbor and friend.”
Sue Wicklund, neighbor
“She truly is a Hometown Hero! Barb has that spirit of community that makes Baby Island a most special place with a true feeling of ‘home.’ She has gathered neighbors together for years so that we all know and support each other. Her annual Christmas party for the neighborhood is anticipated by all every year. Gathering around the tree and singing carols at the piano is such a childhood Currier/Ives memory, and the food — Oh MY! She sparkles, and it is not just her blue eyes. It’s Barb all over.
But even with all that, I mostly think of Barb at the beach. Always with a granddog or two, a perpetual smile and a greeting of ‘What a glorious day!’”
Linda Fauth and Dave Briggs, WAIF and community volunteers
“Barbara is a force, she listens to your point, even though she won’t give in and agree to it. Her home is warm and welcoming, and reflects its owner.
She may not be a party girl, but her Christmas party for the neighborhood and her Advent tea for St. Augustine’s church are legendary, as well as great fun. She works in and for her community. And she quietly is a good friend to all of us, and especially to lost souls who need help. If someone needs transportation, she helps them, or if they need money, she helps there, too. And if they need to talk, she is there to listen.”
Isabel Neddow, neighbor
“Barbara is an amazing woman. She has been a reading sister for many years, and a beloved book group member. I find her beautiful spirit and positive energy toward all of life both inspirational and enduring. I consider her friendship a precious gift of the highest value.”
Debra Waterman, volunteer
“She practices hospitality in the true sense of the word. She has everyone in the neighborhood over for Christmas celebration, and anyone else is welcome too. And it’s magical, we eat and eat and sing carols. It’s the heart of Christmas.
She’s a good listener, always interested in the other person. Her generosity has spread to all of our Baby Island community, and all the neighbors exhibit generosity I believe because of Barb. When my daughter was getting married, Barb offered to host the family dinner, and that was 80 people!
Barb is the heart of our neighborhood community.”
Karin Watson, neighbor