Stephen Straus, 88, was remembered Friday morning, July 8, at the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation in Evanston, just four days after his brutal murder at the Highland Park Fourth of July parade.
“The beauty of this person came to an end in ugliness…we aren’t going to try and make sense of this because it makes no sense,” said Rabbi Rachel Weiss. “[But] his spirit will live on for as long as we are alive…we will never be the same but we will carry him with us…we are not alone.”
Weiss spoke to family and friends during a 75-minute service celebrating Straus and remembering his life. The audience included Governor J.B. Pritzker, who did not speak.
Amid glowing tributes, there was also laughter, poetry, a song sung by his granddaughter and a call for political action to protest gun violence. The family tried to reflect Straus’ humor, such as the burial earlier that morning.
“When we lowered him to the ground, we played the opening theme from 2001 and it was beautiful,” said his son, Peter. “He would have loved it.”
Peter described his father as a “true mensch,” who read “voraciously,” especially poetry, biographies of interesting people and history. He loved the arts and recalled how his dad had introduced Peter and his brother to James Bond, Captain Kirk and the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Stephen Straus, a financial advisor, was gentle with a zany sense of humor. He loved Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks’ The 2000 Year Old Man, music by Tiny Tim and a well-worn, scratchy copy of The Farting Contest. Peter described his dad’s laughter as somewhat “naughty” and shared a story told by one of his dad’s friends: whenever Stephen would walk through a revolving door, his signature move was to press his nose against the glass, leaving his nasal imprint.
Jonathan Straus described his father as “unusually sweet and kind…he loved to share who you were and what you did. He was the consummate joke teller…fun, playful, a little eccentric with a very warm smile. He was a truly sweet and genuine person, a great father, grandfather and family member, a pillar in our family.” His father regularly enjoyed visiting the Art Institute of Chicago, attending concerts by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and birdwatching from his leafy backyard.
Stephen Straus’ brother, Larry, younger by two years, said that Stephen was “a really good guy” and the world would be a better place if more people were like him. Straus’ daughter-in-law Elizabeth read Remember Me by Margaret Mead. The poem’s final line, “For if you always think of me, I will never have gone,” seemed especially apt given Straus’ role within his family.
Toward the end of the service, one of Stephen’s grandsons, Tobias, read the poem, In Flanders Fields by John McCrae. It’s an anti-war poem, which Tobias said was fitting since his grandfather had been killed with bullets in “a political battle.”
According to Tobias, “more than 220 people were killed over the long July Fourth weekend…and now names of cities like Highland Park, Buffalo, Uvalde, Newtown are indistinguishable from one another.” He repeated the first lines of the last stanza of McCrae’s poem as a call to action for those listening in person and virtually:
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.