Lieutenant Commander Walter F. Strobach, US Navy (Ret.) passed away peacefully on June 7 at his home in Mechanicsville, VA surrounded by his wife of over 60 years and his five adult children. He was 84 years old.
Walt was born in Jamaica, NY on March 8, 1939, the son of Walter and Catherine (Keenan) Strobach. He grew up in the St. Albans neighborhood of Queens, where he acquired an accent with a hint of New York that he kept his entire life despite leaving his hometown at the age of 18 to attend the United States Naval Academy.
Before leaving Queens for the Navy, Walt was a tri-sport athlete at Brooklyn Technical High School. He excelled particularly in football as a running back known for his grit, determination, and refusal to back down on the field. These traits served him well his entire life. During his senior year at Brooklyn Tech, Walt led his team to an undefeated season, winning the Public School Athletic League City Championship of 1955. During this remarkable season, he was the league’s highest scorer, with 127 points from touchdowns and extra points.
Walt’s gridiron exploits earned him a coveted appointment to the United States Naval Academy and a spot on a Navy football team that was a perennial top-10 NCAA Division I squad. His senior year, they finished ranked No. 4 in the country, including an appearance in the Orange Bowl. During his college years, he was also a starter on the Navy baseball team. He maintained ties with both teams via Alumni events throughout his life.
Walt’s time at the Naval Academy forever marked his life. It made him who he was thereafter. He constantly reminisced about his days at the Academy and the way it shaped him. His love for his alma mater was undeniable. A big part of this love was that he associated his time there with the most important introduction of his life: it was at a Naval Academy mixer that he met his wife of over 60 years, Cookie Shea, herself the daughter of a Naval Academy grad (John D. Shea ’32). She was 17 and he was 19 when they first met. Cookie was in very high demand as a dance partner that night, and as was the custom of the day, he politely cut in with her by offering the memorable line which she never forgot, “would you like to step off the merry-go-round to dance with me instead?” Together, they had six children and a lifetime of memories.
Those shared memories began on September 1, 1962 when the young Ensign, fresh from his successful interview with Admiral Hyman Rickover, took a break from his Navy Nuclear Powered Submarine training to marry Cookie. They settled in Groton, CT where they immediately started a family.
One of Walt’s best traits was his love of his children; his playfulness, patience, and genuine affection for his young children and later his grandchildren provided lasting fond memories that any of them will instantly recall. Whether it was playing in the waves at the beach which he loved so much, or throwing a football in the yard, or wrestling in the family room, Walt clearly found much joy acting like a kid himself as he played with his kids.
Walt’s Navy career took Cookie and him and their brood to many places after Groton: Charleston, SC, Honolulu, HI, and Pascagoula, MS before settling into Virginia Beach, VA. Along the way, Walt served aboard various nuclear submarines, including the USS Aspro, USS Ethan Allen, USS Simon Bolivar, and USS Henry Stimson.
Walt retired from the Navy in 1981, but he never quite walked away from it. He was always a Navy man. It gave him much pride and satisfaction that his son and three of his grandsons followed him into the Navy, and it provided him endless subject matter to pepper them with questions. Walt was very inquisitive.
He worked in Real Estate and Finance after his Navy years, as well as stints teaching business courses and instruction in the emerging computer technology sector. Eventually Walt and Cookie departed Virginia Beach and made their way to Mechanicsville, VA to be closer to family. Departing Virginia Beach was bittersweet for them, having lived there for over 30 years. They left behind lifetime friendships and ties to the area and did their best to maintain them.
Walt spent his final days enjoying his retirement with Cookie at their home in Mechanicsville, characterized by frequent visits from their adult children and their grandchildren, a daily cigar on the back porch, and an occasional hearty meal of nachos and light beer at the local sports bar.
Most importantly to Walt, he spent the largest portion of his last years on his deep Catholic faith. As well as being a daily Mass attendee, he was extensively involved with the Richmond Diocese Prison Ministry, served on the Parish Council and as a Religious Education Instructor, and participated in the Knights of Columbus. He was blessed to receive final sacraments and apostolic pardon before passing peacefully at home in hospice. During this graceful transition, all 17 of his grandkids either called him on his final days or were present to tell him that they loved him and were praying for him. He heard everything they said.
Walt is survived by his wife of over 60 years, Sharon “Cookie” Strobach; their children, Walter F. “Rick” Strobach, Jr., Sharon “Sweetie” Hoioos, Susan Fisher, Stasia Strobach, and Commander Michael Strobach, US Navy Reserve; as well as 17 grandchildren. He was predeceased by his son Michael “Michael the First” Strobach.
Walt’s Funeral Mass will be June 23, 2023. His ashes will be laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery on a date to be determined.