Our continuing search for Loveland’s kindest, sweetest people and what they’re made of. What is our DNA match?
Loveland, Ohio – Life presents opportunities in the most unexpected ways. The opportunity could display itself at work, in nature, through another person or while you are simply enjoying an intense session of Netflix. What’s important is when an opportunity presents itself, you run with it because that opportunity may never present itself again. This is one of the many life mottos, former Loveland Prince of Peace Lutheran Church (POP) Pastor, Tom Stroeh lives by.
Tom Stroeh became very active in a church congregation at a young age as he was growing up with his sister in Wisconsin.
“My parents were very important. Hospitality was really important to them. They were very welcoming. All of that kind of carried over into my involvement with the church congregation,” Stroeh explained.
Both of Stroeh’s parents went to church on a regular basis, but his pastor at the church he attended took a particular interest in Stroeh telling him on multiple occasions that he was going to be a pastor when he grew up.
My hometown pastor was very influential in getting me to where I wanted to be as a pastor,” Stroeh said, “At the congregation, when the choir was singing or the offering was taken up, the pastor would leave after the sermon and go visit Sunday school classes. The next thing that would happen would be the prayers of the church. One Sunday I was the acolyte and I was sitting near the organist and the pastor didn’t come back! I said, ‘The pastor’s not here yet,’ and they said, ‘Well then you go lead the prayers!’ I was 13 at the time. It was what I call an ‘Isaiah’ moment. So with a quivering voice, I led the prayers from the service book.”
That one moment inspired Stroeh to follow his heart and work towards becoming a part of the Ministry. After graduating with an English degree from St. Olaf College, a small Lutheran college in Minnesota, Stroeh went to the Northwestern Lutheran Seminary in Minneapolis. He then conducted his internship in Lancaster, Pennsylvania where he met his wife Joan, who was a member of the church congregation Stroeh was interning at. Shortly after meeting the love of his life, the couple married and moved to Northern Texas, where Tom got his first opportunity to start a congregation.
“We started a ministry in Denton, Texas of basically knocking on doors! There were two universities in town so there was definitely a ministry to students,” Stroeh said.
As Stroeh and his wife worked hard, using their church congregation to unite a divided community that was affected heavily by racism, another opportunity arose. The Stroeh’s took in an African American boy named Alan and raised and nurtured him for 6 months.
“There was no one to take care of him at the time,” Stroeh explained, “So we took him in until they found good care for him. We didn’t think we could have any children, then we had 3 in 18 months!”
During The Stroeh’s time in Texas, they had twins, Dave and Kristen and their son John. In 1971, unfortunate events brought some very fortunate opportunities for Stroeh in the “Sweetheart of Ohio.”
“My wife and I were having health problems at both ends of our family. Joan’s dad had serious heart problems and my mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer,” Stroeh said, “I felt the need to try and get close to both parents so we could travel to see them when we needed to. Turned out there was availability in greater Cincinnati. We took John and the twins, who were at the time 1 and 2, and drove through the night from Denton, Texas to Loveland, Ohio. We moved into Loveland Heights in a fairly small house, but with an expanding family, we moved a year later to another subdivision. Things in Loveland were really quite different then! Loveland was a great town to raise our kids in,” Stroeh added.
Immediately upon arrival to Loveland, Stroeh was welcomed by the POP congregation as their new pastor and by the Loveland community as their newest family member.
“I knew I was a welcomed member of the community back in the summer of 1971 when Mayor Viola Philips invited me to ride with her in a red convertible in the 4th of July parade and throw out candy to the kids along the parade route,” Stroeh said, “One time I even got the opportunity to play the part of Reverend Kemper. It was the bicentennial for Loveland. I came riding in on a horse in a reenactment of Loveland’s first wedding!”
As Loveland and the POP congregation welcomed Stroeh with open arms he began to give back the love and support to the community in more ways than anyone could have ever imagined. Stroeh, the POP congregation, and other Loveland area churches formed Loveland Inter-Church Youth. Every Thursday at 6:30 AM the group would meet at POP for breakfast, listen to a speaker, worship, then the group would walk down to the high school. Stroeh and the POP team also led Bible study, tutoring, and parent support groups at subsidized housing
complexes in Loveland as well as lead worship at the Loveland Health Care Center. Stroeh continued the trend of always taking advantage of opportunities given to him by surveying the neighborhoods that surrounded Loveland and asking those people how he could serve them. By doing that, POP Kids School, a Christian Pre-School, was established. Stroeh and the POP congregation, along with St. Columban Church and Loveland United Methodist Church, also sponsored a family with 6 children from Laos.
While doing so much for the Loveland community and POP, the Stroeh’s added a 4th child to the family and the Loveland Community. Joan then returned to her passion teaching. She taught first grade at Loveland Elementary School and retired in 2005. “Joan made quite the impact on the Loveland school system,” said Tom Stroeh.
“Our youngest son Dan has quite a story. When he was freshman at Wittenberg University he was diagnosed with Neurofibromatosis, which is where tumors form around the nerves. Sometimes the tumors are external but his were internal. We were told they were inoperable.
One of the things about Loveland that I appreciate so much is that we are close to a lot of things especially medical facilities. Dan was a participant in a drug test through the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda Maryland and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital was instrumental in getting him accepted into the program, hoping that maybe it would decrease the size of the tumors and decrease the amount of pain. Along with the tumors against nerves you can imagine what it would do with the pain level. He went back to school and was on this drug for 28 days, then would be off it for 2 weeks and come back to get examined. He continued that cycle for a whole year.
Dan was a creative writing and drama major. For his senior thesis he decided to write a play and he called it ‘‘it is no desert.’ He performed it himself as it was a one person play. By this time he has a brace on both legs and walked with a cane. Every once in a while he had to use a wheelchair but now he is mostly in a wheelchair.
His theater professor called him over summer break and said ‘I think we should enter your play into the Kennedy Center Theater competition.’ It’s a national competition for student playwrights. During Homecoming weekend for the school he performed his play and the judges for the competition were there. We found out a few weeks later that he made the next round. He performed his play again in Milwaukee and then after Christmas that year he found out he won the competition.
He performed his play at the Aronoff Center a couple of times. Again I appreciated the support from the Prince of Peace congregation the Loveland Community. He also to perform it at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in D.C. People came all the way from Loveland to the Kennedy Center!
The play is about him being an athlete on the soccer team and then he got this disease – and the whole diagnostic process and sort of what he had to do to adjust to it. It was sometimes gut wrenching but other times it was actually really funny. One of the rewards for winning was that he got his play published by Samuel French.
It’s quite something for a parent to watch something on stage that’s a story you know all too well.”
“My wife Joan went through cancer in the ’80s. She was a real inspiration to me,” Stroeh said. “She also inspired a lot of her students, so when she got sick, the Loveland community was great. The Loveland teachers brought us food and of course, the POP congregation was there too.”
Stroeh retired after being a pastor for 34 and a half years at POP. During that time Stroeh gave everything he had to his church congregation and to the community of Loveland.
“I loved to hear people’s stories,” Stroeh said, “I think one of the needs we have these days is that we need to truly listen to what drives a person and what has shaped and molded that person. What value system do they have? What gives them joy or a sense of accomplishment. We don’t hear each other enough. I remember one story in particular about a Vietnam veteran. He would come to my office at night usually drinking. When he was drinking he would often reminisce about his experience in Vietnam,” Stroeh explained. “Unfortunately he had a friend in Vietnam who would take pictures of the people this guy had killed. So he had this stack of pictures that when he would drink he would go through and become filled with guilt. There were adults and children in those photos. It was terrible. We talked many times about it and finally one night when he came in and it was obvious he had been drinking, I said ‘Come to the sanctuary with me.’ We knelt at the altar and we prayed. Then I said
“Will you give those photos to me? I want to put them on the altar and after you leave I’m going to destroy them.”
‘Will you give those photos to me? I want to put them on the altar and after you leave I’m going to destroy them.’ And he did. Every time he looked at those photos he was reliving the experience. It was destroying him. He probably had those photos for 6 years. Eventually, the family moved from Loveland and I haven’t heard from them since, but it’s my hope that by letting go of the past he was able to find some peace.”
If you ask those around the community about Tom Stroeh many will say that during his career as a pastor he was instrumental in helping those less fortunate and in welcoming diversity into the community of Loveland.
“One of the things that came out of the ministerial association when I was still working was the Loveland food pantry. It was one of the things that I felt was very important for those less fortunate in the community,” Stroeh explained, “It was important to me that the church provided a space for the food pantry and so now the life food pantry is still at Prince of Peace. Loveland has always had a variety of incomes. It’s my hope that we could continue to become more diverse and anything that I can still do to encourage that I want to do,” Stroeh said.
Since retirement Stroeh has been staying heavily involved in the Loveland Community as well as the Prince of Peace congregation.
“I am still singing in two choirs at church. Music is a ministry to me. The fellowship of singing in a group is beyond words. We just started an all men’s choir a year ago that goes to a nursing home once a month and it’s just a really fun experience,” Stroeh said, “I also go to a senior group where we talk about our medications. I also visit retired pastors and their spouses and that’s really fun visiting them. A couple years ago I got involved in local politics as well. My two biggest passions are teaching and preaching,” Stroeh added.
Just last year the Loveland community got their turn to show Stroeh their appreciation for what he has done for them.
“Last May, I had a stroke and when I was at Good Samaritan Hospital I went blind. The next day I was able to see and when I woke up my family was surrounding me. All of my kids were there so I knew that what happened had to have been serious,” Stroeh explained, “I stayed a week in the hospital and then I was told I would need bypass surgery. In July, I had quadruple bypass surgery. It gave me the opportunity to reappropriate the gifts that I have been given. What was truly amazing was what the Loveland community and POP congregation did for my family and me. The church brought us food and of course prayers. They visited and just did everything they could to support Joan and me.
“Gratitude is a prominent theme and motivator for me.”
Gratitude is a prominent theme and motivator for me. I don’t take things for granted like I used to because it could be gone,” Stroeh said.
Stroeh successfully recovered from his bypass surgery and is now focusing on living every day like it’s going to be his last.
“I now take every opportunity that I can to get outdoors and enjoy creation,” Stroeh said.
A note from Pastor Stroeh:
Of course, after I got home from our interview, I thought of some things I wished I had said. For what they’re worth here they are:
• I knew I was a welcomed member of the community back in the summer of 1971 when Mayor Viola Philips invited me to ride with her in a red convertible in the 4th of July parade and throw out candy to the kids along the parade route.
• Prince of Peace Church has a long history of outreach and service to the community:
a. Back in the 1970s as an alternative to the prevalent drug culture in the area, we and area churches formed Loveland Inter-Church Youth (ICY — Cool Christians!) — the group would meet in our building for breakfast, a speaker and worship every Thursday at 6:30 a.m. and then walk down to the high school which was on Lebanon Road at that time.
b. A.A. and Al-anon have been meeting at POP since the sixties.
c. We once housed the Hamilton County Well-baby Clinic.
d. For many years: a team from POP would lead worship at the Loveland Health Care Center; a team would lead Bible study, tutoring and parent support groups at the subsidized housing complexes
e. After surveying the surrounding neighborhoods and asking people how we could serve them, it was decided to establish POP Kids School – a Christiian pre-school.
• In the 1980s we helped (with St. Columban and Loveland United Methodist) to sponsor the Sinanthas – family of mother, father and six children from Laos.
• In the 1990’s we established a partnership with a Lutheran congregation in the state of Mecklenburg, in the former East Germany, just after the wall came down.
• Now POP supports the Haitian TImoun Foundation. Each year a number of our members spend time in Haiti.
• Among the things I like about Loveland is the school system.
• A watchword for me in life is “Where God guides, God also provides.”
• We have on our front lawn a sign (which was distributed by our church) that says: “HATE HAS NO HOME HERE.”
If you think you know someone in the community that has made a huge impact on Loveland and would be a great candidate for our Loveland’s DNA segment feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read MORE about the people who make up Loveland’s unique DNA…