When Cherie Paulissen moved from Los Angeles to Petaluma in 1965 and started fifth grade at McDowell Elementary School, a sixth-grade teacher noticed she was not settling in comfortably at the close-knit school where many children in what was still a small town had been friends for years.
The teacher's name was Walter Strom. Paulissen has never forgotten him.
“He took me under his wing,” she said. “And he had a way about him, the way he dealt with children, with all of us, he eased my way with the other kids.”
Walter Hopkins Strom died Jan. 17 at Golden Living Center in Petaluma of complications from pneumonia. He was 91.
He was born to Virginia Hopkins and Carl Edward Walter Strom in Minneapolis on June 8, 1922. Soon after, his parents divorced and he and his mother moved to Petaluma, where his grandmother and grandfather lived.
Strom graduated from Petaluma High School in 1942 and joined the Army Air Corps, the precursor to today's Air Force. He served during World War II on active duty as ground crew in New Guinea, the Philippines and the North Solomon Islands.
His wartime experiences remained with him in at least one noticeable way, said his daughter, Virginia Strom-Martin of Duncans Mills.
“I remember him howling with laughter in his bedroom,” Strom-Martin said. “He was reading Joseph Heller's 'Catch 22,' a satirical scissoring of military bureacracy and rules.”
Out of the service in 1945, he attended Santa Rosa Junior College and then San Francisco State University on the G.I. Bill, where he earned his bachelor's degree in sociology.
In 1947, Strom married Marilyn Buck, whom he met at SRJC, and the couple moved to San Francisco's Sunset District while he finished his studies.
After a few years with the state's Department of Social Welfare, he launched himself on the career that would occupy the rest of his working life.
As a teacher first at Two Rock Union School and then at McDowell Elementary school, Strom earned a reputation as a lively, engaging teacher who wore well-shined wingtips.