John N. Strommen

John N. StrommenJohn Newell Strommen died of heart failure and complications of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease on Oct. 5 at an assisted-living facility in Lancaster where he and his wife Val had lived since August. He was 84.

His services will be Friday, Oct. 25, at 11 a.m. at the All Faith Chapel, Naval Air Weapons Station, with a reception following in the chapel’s East Wing.

Born June 24, 1929, in Halstad, Minn., he was the second child of Orville Joseph and Lily Forde Strommen, the first being his sister Donna followed by three younger brothers, Richard, Paul and Gordon.John’s formal education started at Halstad Public School and continued there for eight years before the family moved to Fargo, N.D., where he entered Agassiz Junior High School, then graduated from Fargo Central High School in 1947.

In high school, John was belonged to the Civil Air Patrol, which may have sparked his interest in later taking a job with the Civil Aeronautics Administration. His musical abilities landed him positions in both the Boy’s Glee Club and the prestigious A Cappella Choir.

Continuing his education, John attended North Dakota State University in Fargo where he majored in civil engineering and belonged to the Sigma Phi Delta engineering fraternity, serving as chaplain for the group during his senior year. He also served on the publishing board of the North Dakota State Engineer as well as being a member of the campus division of the American Society of Civil Engineers. He continued his love of music by singing in the Mixed Chorus.

John graduated with a B.S. degree in civil engineering on June 4, 1951. After graduation, John was employed in Minot, N.D., with the CAA and was there for six months before marrying Valorie Marie Farnham in the First Presbyterian Church of Fargo on Jan. 25, 1952.

Immediately after their marriage, John and Val “honeymooned” by driving to the Naval Ordnance Test Station, China Lake, where John had accepted a job as a civil engineer in the Engineering Division of the Public Works Department. John worked on various construction and design projects on base, then left Public Works in 1967 to take on a supervisory position in the Engineering Department, overseeing the branch that performed the configuration and data management functions critical to any weapon system.

Toward the end of John’s career, because of his background in civil engineering and public works, he was asked to take on the responsibility of overseeing the FY-83, Military Construction Program of the Engineering Department’s $5.64-million Engineering Laboratory. John worked on this program until his retirement in February 1985 but came back to witness the building’s dedication by the director of Navy laboratories in April 1985.

At China Lake John and Val started out by living in the infamous trailers. If you survived those and the “termination winds,” you’d probably stay at China Lake for your whole career.

John, Val and their growing family of three children moved several times on base before moving “out in town” in 1976 to one of the popular Deeter homes that had been built in Ridgecrest to attract civilian employees off the base and into more permanent housing. John and Val lived in this home until they relocated in August 2013 to an assisted living facility in Lancaster.

John’s love of music and singing took him from singing in various choirs in high school and college to singing in the chapel choir at the All Faith Chapel for 61 years. Choirs played a significant part in John’s life. During the period that he and his daughter, Terri, both sang in the chapel choir, his daughter fell in love with the choir director’s son, eventually marrying him and blessing John and Val with four of their seven grandsons.

John’s abilities in civil engineering and construction continued with him beyond his work at China Lake. He was continually designing and building additions to his homes as well as various pieces of furniture within. He also worked on larger projects in his spare time, such as surveying the property and helping in many of the construction efforts for his daughter and son-in-law’s home.

The last major construction project that John undertook was during his volunteer time on the board of the Ridgecrest Regional Hospital. There he oversaw the planning and construction of the multimillion-dollar Ridgecrest Regional Hospital Outpatient Pavilion. This was a fitting end to John’s work, as the Outpatient Pavilion was a major expansion of what was once the Drummond Hospital where Dr. Thomas Drummond himself had delivered John and Val’s three children during the beginning years of John’s career.

John loved to share his enjoyment of woodworking with his kids and allowed them to take on some of the efforts of sanding, staining and painting particular pieces. John’s daughter, Terri, has fond memories of these times with her dad. Learning from him was of great benefit to her, as she would later spend five years of her life helping in the building of her family’s home with her husband Bob.

John also enjoyed golfing and one year even won the local division championship. After retirement, John looked forward to the times when he could share a round with his son Mitch, who shared his love of golf.

John and his family traveled every summer for their annual trip to South Lake Tahoe, where they enjoyed fishing and playing cards with friends who also vacationed there. After retirement, John and Val enjoyed taking more diverse RV trips or cruises with longtime friends and family.

John is survived by Val, his wife of 61 years, and their three children: Craig Strommen of Santa Maria, Terri Leonard of Ridgecrest and Mitch Strommen of Santa Barbara. John is also survived by seven grandsons and three great-grandchildren.

In lieu of flowers, a memorial gift to either the American Heart Association or the Alzheimer’s Association would be appreciated as John’s wife, Val, is suffering from this debilitating disease.

Submitted by the family of John Strommen

Story First Published: 2013-10-23