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8/30/10

Tribute to a Classmate - from Terry Sutherland




             We got news today of Mike Stroop’s declining health from his son, Pat, via Will Croom’s email to the Class.  As in the case of the death of Larry Shumaker, Don Walsh’s XO in Trieste, I feel compelled to remark on my friend and classmate for whatever benefit or comfort it may bring to his friends and, in doing so, to my own remembrance of The Stroopster as I knew him.

Yet this is not about Paul D. Stroop, Jr. as a Midshipman or as a Naval Officer or even as a recently retired contributor to industry at Redstone Arsenal.  Although we had seen Mike frequently at Navy football games (we had Stroop on one side and Linda and Chauncy Sweet on the other, since that was the way the USNAAA assigned seats, alphabetically) Mike heaved up over my horizon in earnest when he rounded me up for a new Alumni Chapter whose membership was drawn from those who had hit the road in their recreational vehicles at or near the age of retirement.

That was about twelve years ago, say close to 1990 or earlier.  Our first Come Around, as we call them, was in Mike’s home town of Huntsville, AL at Monte Sano where Mike showed us what was expected of a “Firstie,” the meeting host.  It was not long before the Recreational Vehicle Chapter had signed up about 100 members, a number that has held fairly constant over the years.  The Chapter served those USNA alumni who were on travel so often that they could not do justice to a Chapter associated with a fixed geographic location, e.g. Pensacola.  Through his charisma and natural leadership, Mike continued to develop our nationwide organization and when it was time to elect new officers, Mike became the President Emeritus of the Chapter, continuing to support those of us who preferred week-long meetings in the woods and on the lake, coming together an average of seven or eight times a year.

So it was that Mike and I, as friends and classmates, got to know each other very well.  Deanie and I had developed a small tree farm near Chipley, Florida.  With a full service RV pad, we were hosts to many a classmate, much to our joy.  One day Mike, who had visited often, heard that we were planning to sell the farm and move to a life care community, Azalea Trace, here in Pensacola.  Deanie answered the phone when Mike asked if he could come and visit from Madison, AL.  “Why, sure,” Deanie told him.  “Come and stay as long as you want, Mike.”  A few weeks later Mike drove up on the RV pad in his snazzy Born Free motorhome.  “Well, Terry,” he announced.  “Here we are (him and his beloved Maltese dog, Cricket) for the next two years until we all go to Pensacola to that retirement home.”

         As soon as I could corner Deanie in the kitchen I asked, “What did you tell that guy?  He is going to stay for two years.”  Deanie told me her exact words on the telephone and I gulped and gave Mike a hearty “welcome aboard, classmate!”

         In those days Mike was having trouble with his knees, a common thing for a lot of us, yet he was on the spot when it came to doing chores around what we had called “Quittin’ Time Farm.”  I set him up for internet in our little art studio and he was able to make frequent trips to town for business and supplies.  As a born-again Christian, Mike signed up with the local prison farm and faithfully counseled the inmates, many of them Hispanic.  We could always count on Mike having supper with us every evening and we could see he was what we call a happy camper.

         One day about six months later, though, Florida started heating up around in the first days of May, so Deanie and I packed our RV for our annual trip out to the Pacific Northwest as we had done for ten years running.  I guess when Mike realized he would have no company until September or October, he decided to move back to Huntsville and found himself a nice townhouse in Madison, a town where he had earned his tickets as a master gardener at the local arboretum.

         As one season has led into another, our contact with Mike has become less and less.  When his sons moved him into a retirement village a few years ago it became apparent in our phone conversations that Mike’s days as an RVer were to be remembered rather than actively pursued.  We were not surprised to hear the announcement of his illness yet were very, very saddened because we just loved the guy.  A great spirit and his own kind of chip off the old block his dad provided, Mike will be receiving a note or two from time to time from the Sutherlands and, we hope, from those who knew and loved him when his was a bright star and, along with Gordy Dunn, a sand blower of mighty strength.

         As all can tell, I would rather write this tribute to Mike now than being called to do so later.  A number of us have opted to get a great waterfront view of the chapel at the columbarium on the creek.  That is where Mike will join his wife, Marlene, someday and we will see them there.

With great respect, 
Terry Sutherland, 5th Company

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