Oakville volunteer helps those with Parkinson’s disease

By BILL MILLIGAN

For people diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, Jack Strosnider may be the only light at the end of the tunnel.

Strosnider, 84, of Oakville is among 20 “Ageless-Remarkable St. Louisans” who will be honored Nov. 1 by St. Andrews Resources for Seniors.

“This is embarrassing. I’m not used to this. I don’t do this stuff to be recognized, but if you stand around long enough …,” he said.

“To me, he’s Mister American Parkinson’s Disease Association,” said Debbie Guyer, director of the St. Louis APDA Chapter.

Strosnider has been active with the organization since his first wife contracted the disease in the 1970s. He still leads a support group for Parkinson’s patients, conducts weekly exercise groups and actively volunteers to help those suffering with Parkinson’s.

“There’s no cure for Parkinson’s Disease,” Strosnider said. “I got so much out of that group with my first wife. It’s not payback, but I became part of that group. They’re my people. I have a hard time speaking about that group because it’s too close to me. Old men do silly things.”

Guyer said it is a privilege to be associated with him.

“For the past few years, he’s funded a dance for Parkinson’s patients with his own money,” she said. “Parkinson’s treatments are limited to making someone comfortable. Jack wants them to know they can still live. People just love him.”

Of the 35 support groups for Parkinson’s patients, Guyer said Strosnider’s are the most popular. Since the early 1990s he has served on the APDA Board of Directors and acts as a greeter at fund-raisers and socials.

“Everybody thinks if people shake they have Parkinson’s,” he said. “Well, Parkinson’s is a resting tremor. We have people in our group who still work power tools because it doesn’t give them any trouble.

“Over the years, I’ve seen that the worst thing that happens to them is swallowing. Their speech goes down and that affects their swallowing. Their handwriting just gets so small you can’t read it. That’s what happened to my first wife.”

He has 75 people enrolled in his support group and always is ready to welcome more. Part of the group’s popularity stems from Strosnider’s attitude toward life.

“He’s the most ‘glass-is-half-full’ person I’ve ever met,” Guyer said.

On the back of Strosnider’s support group business card is the inscription “good for one hug.”

“I get a lot of mileage out of that,” he said. “We don’t dwell on sickness. We have a joke period. I tell them if you don’t feel better when you leave, we’re doing something wrong.”

After the death of his second wife, Strosnider joined Friends of Jefferson Barracks. He volunteers as a concession worker at events such as the annual Fourth of July fireworks at the park.

He volunteers as an attendant at the Powder Room and Old Ordnance Room museums in the Park. And he spends an hour every day as a trail watcher.

“We’re the eyes and ears for park rangers,” Strosnider said. “They have only seven rangers for all the county parks. They call us docents at the museum. They’re training us to give presentations, but really we’re attendants.”

Strosnider served in the Navy from 1943 through 1946 and was stationed in the Leyte Gulf when America dropped the atomic bombs on Japan. In the 1960s, he returned to that country working for computer design programs at McDonnell Douglas.

“We took design software to Japan and Mitsubishi for six months,” he said. “That was an experience.”

His daughter Kathleen Sanders lives in Lakeshire. She works with autistic children in the Special School District.

His sons Jack and Dan live in San Diego and Denver.

“My grandson says he’s the third Jack in the deck,” Strosnider said. “His dad’s name is Dan and he says: ‘Yeah, but I’m the King.”’

“I’m the luckiest guy in the world,” he said. “Oakville is one of the best places to live in the world. I’ve had setbacks, but that’s part of it, you know?”