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Barry Schrader
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I have been writing a column for the Chronicle most of the time since December 2007, with two breaks, one in 2016 and the other in 2017 when my wife Kay suffered a stroke. They are all archived here.

 

If you've missed any please follow the links on the dates to catch up.

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Growing up Gay in Sycamore

By Barry Schrader Senior Columnist....................................July 19, 2019

Joel Strack grew up on a farm south of Sycamore, one of eight children of Jeff and Mary Lu Strack. He went through Sycamore schools, a member of the Sycamore High School Class of 1978. He was an outstanding student, taking part in music, theater productions and even public speaking, earning awards at competitions in 4-H and FFA. He went to the National 4-H Club Congress where he was awarded a college scholarship by Reader’s Digest for his leadership skills.

Entering the University of Illinois, he intended to major in drama, but decided he might be more successful majoring in public relations. One summer he took a job at Disneyland in California and enjoyed it so much he applied for an internship at Disneyworld in Florida. He was hired after graduation. Joel was a natural at acting and relished portraying the different Disney characters in costume, his folks told me.

His parents said he was popular in school and did not come out as gay until college when he came home to tell them. His father, Jeff, said he wasn’t as shocked as he might have been because the year before a nephew also had came out as gay. Both parents and his siblings were supportive of his “unapologetic approach” to being gay.

Joel died of complications from diabetes at age 59 this month in Orlando, where he had retired after a 32-year career with Disney. I learned from an article in the Orlando Sentinel and a number of tributes about him online how much of an effect he had on the community.

He had stepped up to organize the first Gay Day at Disneyworld’s Magic Kingdom, somewhat to the dismay of his employers. He had to stand outside the gates with a sign alerting other visitors that this was happening, but nothing went wrong. In fact it was so successful Disney management permitted it to become an annual event.

Over the years, he became a leader in promoting gay rights, organizing and serving as president of the Rainbow Democratic Club, founding the Orlando Gay Chorus, leading Gay Pride marches and helping create the Gay and Lesbian History Museum.

Joel Strack showing off his culinary skills in this 2000 photo (Provided by his family)

Parents Jeff and Mary Lu Strack stand outside their DeKalb home with the community art project Huskie they purchased with the rainbow they had the artist paint on its side. Jeff said it represents the diversity in their family (Schrader photo for Shaw Media)

Just before his death, a celebration of his life featured him as guest of honor, attended by more than 300 people from all parts of Orlando, not just the LGBT community. A city proclamation declared it Joel Strack Day and the resolution concluded with “Joel is known for his positive message ‘Treat Yourself Right.’” It further stated “Joel Strack champions a lasting legacy of love, devotion, friendship and smiling in the face of adversity and never giving up.”

That was June 23. He passed away 22 days later.

Jeff and Mary Lu shared a video of Joel when he was keynote speaker some years ago at the national convention of the Country Women of the World. Having never met him, I was impressed with his enthusiasm, speaking skills and spirit in delivering his talk. I could see why he was such a success at Disneyworld, holding several positions over his long career there.

His parents continued their support of gay rights by joining the DeKalb area group Parents and Friends of Lesbians And Gays (PFLAG), organized by the late Mildred Eychaner, the mother of two gay sons.

They have marched in several Gay Pride parades, including those in Chicago and Washington, D.C. Jeff told me they carried a banner that read “Proud Parents of Gay and Straight Children.”

There is a celebration of Joel’s life planned for Aug. 31 in DeKalb.

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The columnist can be reached via email at :

barry815sbcglobal.net

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Barry Schrader
PO Box 851
DeKalb, Ill 60115