Jessie Parker Strauss '59

2009 Distinguished Citizen Award

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If there exists someone who has managed to do it all, it might be Jessie Parker Strauss. After Macalester, Strauss earned a master’s degree preparing her to do recreation therapy in nursing homes and mental hospitals. She and her husband John have been happily married for 46 years and raised three children together. Thirty years after earning her first master’s degree, Strauss earned a second, this one in engineering from the University of Washington. For the last ten years she was employed, Strauss worked with large, downtown Seattle firms to encourage and enable their employees to discontinue driving alone to work, thereby also reducing congestion and improving air quality.

Since 1997, Strauss has volunteered with Habitat for Humanity, organizing trips to areas in desperate need of affordable housing. She has worked on "builds" in 11 countries. She also organized a Habitat build/reunion in Brookings, South Dakota, with fellow Brookings High School Alumni. Classmate Kathleen Osborne Vellenga nominated Strauss after she and her husband joined Strauss for builds in Brookings and on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota. Vellenga wrote, "She provides the appropriate tone of trust with the new homeowners, so that on the Rosebud Reservation or with maintenance workers in Brookings, everyone feels comfortable working side by side."

Strauss plans and organizes the trips, working with Habitat affiliates in the destination countries. In March she went to Zambia and in August will make two trips to Guatemala, bringing her to a total of 24 trips. As a result of her work — all volunteer work — some families on four continents have simple, decent homes.