Florence Helen Strange of Petaluma led a varied life that included teaching as a Catholic nun, researching tropical fruit in far-flung countries and leading Sunday school at a Unitarian Universalist church in Petaluma — but underlying it all was a life-long love of learning and education.
The longtime Petaluma resident died Oct. 9, two days after having a stroke during a trip to San Diego. She was 85.
Strange's love of learning was born when she was just a girl, attending Holy Rosary Elementary School in Medford, Wis., the town where she was born in 1928. She developed a respect for the nuns who taught her and decided to join the convent and become a teacher.
She did so at 16, eventually becoming a nun and earning a master's degree in education.
She taught several ages of children in elementary schools in <NO1><NO>California, Wisconsin and Indiana over the years, but her favorite grade was kindergarten, her husband, David Strange, said. Her background in the convent gave her "highly individualistic" ideas about things, he added, and she encouraged ingenuity and creativity in her students. Later<NO1><NO>, she was chosen to instruct other teachers at the Laboratory Campus School at Alverno College in Milwaukee. While a faculty member there, she edited a children's publication, Mime Magazine, and wrote and illustrated a series of publications for elementary teachers.
Then, in 1969, after studying the Catholic faith and considering her core values, she decided to no longer be a nun, resigned from the School Sisters of St. Francis and moved to San Francisco, where her brother lived.
Four years later, she met David Strange at a line dancing class in San Francisco.
"I remember seeing her across the room and thinking, 'There's a lady I'd like to know better,'<TH>" David Strange said. "We weren't in the class a very long time before we decided to start dating." They married in 1974 and moved to Petaluma from Marin County in 1987<NO1><NO> when Florence Strange was looking for more room to garden.
There, Florence Strange remained active after she retired<NO1><NO> in the early '80s. She and her husband attended the Unitarian Universalist church in Petaluma for about 10 years. For a few of those years, Florence Strange taught Sunday school there.
She had an inclination to teach herself, David Strange said. After she attended a lecture on tropical fruit, she became fascinated by it. She educated herself mainly through library research, becoming well-regarded in the field. With her husband, she traveled the world in search of rare fruit, flying to places like Borneo and Thailand to gather seeds. She would then try to grow them in her Petaluma yard, though the exotic seeds didn't always take to the California climate.