Family recalls Stephen Straus’ hysterical zest for life, ended by Highland Park parade shooting
“He taught us the art of laughter and the value of being downright naughty,” Peter Straus said of his father.
Peter Straus had a secret to share about his dad, Stephen Straus, killed Monday in the Highland Park Fourth of July parade massacre.
“My dad, who worked in the Loop for six decades, made a point of pressing his nose, the side of his nose, against the glass of every revolving door he encountered, leaving a naughty, nasal signature,” a smiling Straus told those gathered for his father’s funeral on Friday at Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation in Evanston.
Straus, 88, was curious, zany and immeasurably fun and funny, with a playful, childlike curiosity about life.
He loved surreptitiously snapping pictures on his phone at the Art Institute and sending them to his sons with captions like “Your mother’s new haircut,” Peter said.
“He taught us the art of laughter and the value of being downright naughty,” recalled Peter, who noted he and his brother, Jonathan, were raised on a steady diet of Mel Brooks, James Bond, Captain Kirk and “2001: A Space Odyssey.”
“When we lowered him to the ground, we played the opening theme from 2001 and it was beautiful. He would have loved it,” Peter Straus said.
In 1969, Straus woke his sons up in the middle of the night to bring them downstairs to watch as astronaut Neil Armstrong walked on the moon.
“A true mensch” is how Peter described his dad, who also loved sitting in his yard and watching birds eat seeds. He was a voracious reader, as well, and enjoyed starting conversations with “I’m reading the most interesting book about ...”
Peter said he had written his funeral remarks at 1:30 a.m. Friday, “as sleep evaded me once again. Hopefully I’ll sleep again one of these days.”
His brother, Jonathan, had tried putting his thoughts down on paper, but got bogged down trying to weave in something about the country’s gun problem.
So he winged it.
He described speeding to the hospital to see his dad and hearing the blunt news from a doctor.
“It was the worst moment in my life, without a doubt .. . my best friend ever,” he said. “I know he had a few more good years in him.”
His father, a financial adviser, still took Metra from his home in Highland Park to his office in the Loop five days a week.
“I hope that somehow the country can pull itself together and end this type of violence,” Jonathan said.
“He lives on in my heart and always will, and, anyways, that’s all I have to say.”
Stephen Straus’s granddaughter, Maisy Straus, flew in from the West Coast after hearing the news, but said the gravity of the loss didn’t hit really hit her until she stood in her grandfather’s closet.
“I grabbed a shirt of his and it smelled like him. I looked up and there were all photos of me and my brother, and that comforted me. He had such a big heart and didn’t deserve to die like that,” she said.
She said she was comforted knowing a parade bystander stayed with her grandfather so he was not alone after he was shot.
“I love you Papa,” she said.
Tobias Straus, one of Stephen Straus’s three grandsons, said it felt like the scene of his grandfather’s death, and the deaths of schoolchildren in Uvalde, or grocery shoppers in Buffalo, were “indistinguishable from a battlefield.”
He described standing in his grandfather’s study after he was killed, feeling the familiar “green carpeting that felt good in your toes” and picking up a book by John McCrae, a Canadian poet and World War I veteran.
On Friday, he read one of McCrae’s poems, “In Flanders Fields,” which describes red poppies growing amid the graves of fallen soldiers.
“It’s really awful to think that poppies are growing in Highland Park as well,” he said.
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