Strawn carved a niche for himself in the Wittenberg family tree by finding the “Triple B’s” of his life — “Bio, Band and Beta,” he said with a laugh. Melding together elements of his family legacy with his own light, Strawn described his experience so far as the “three most fun years I’ve ever had.”
With his choice for college narrowed to Wittenberg, the College of Wooster and Miami University, Strawn was especially drawn to his family’s alma mater because of its Lutheran heritage and the “kind of students Wittenberg attracts.”
On his grandmother’s side of the family, Strawn’s great-grandfather, Clarence Portz, and his brother, Harvey Portz, attended Wittenberg in the decade between 1910 and 1920. John’s grandmother, Lois Ann Portz Strawn, followed, and she had three children who also became Wittenberg alumni.
John’s father, Scott Strawn, class of 1976, met Carol Pfeiffer, class of 1975, on campus around 30 years ago. He was the treasurer of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity, and she was the president of the Kappa Delta sorority. The couple married in August following Scott’s graduation, and they have maintained a strong connection to the university ever since. Currently, they serve as co-chairs of Wittenberg’s Parents Committee.
A third-generation member of Beta Theta Pi, Strawn followed in the footsteps of his father and great-grandfather. But he made it very clear that this was not the only reason he was attracted to the Beta brotherhood.
“They wouldn’t leave me alone,” he joked. “I always felt, very much, that this was the place I belong.”
He chose not to rush with the freshman class of 2007 but rather during the informal fall recruitment during his sophomore year. He described his decision as his way of easing expectations – he just wanted to keep his dad and uncle guessing. Today, he is the recruitment chair for Beta Theta Pi.
Strawn was quick to carve out his own niche on campus. An active member in his high school marching band, this new generation of the Portz/Strawn families decided to bring the funk with him to Wittenberg.
“Once I got here, I really wanted to continue playing the trumpet, and I wanted to have fun with it,” he explained. During his freshman year, Strawn co-founded the university’s pep band with Silas Burdick, class of 2004, and he served as president of the pep band his sophomore and junior years. This year he stepped down from his executive role to show the next generation of musicians the ropes.
The personal touch is a Wittenberg specialty, and Strawn experienced that from the moment he arrived on campus for a tour as a prospective student. One of the first active members of Beta Theta Pi he met when his father took him to the fraternity house that day was Jason Bixler, class of 2006. Bixler gave the Strawns an impromptu campus tour, and he later became John’s big brother in the organization. In addition, former Director of Admission Ken Benne was an acquaintance of Strawn’s father and was well aware of John’s involvement in his high school band.
“He always signed ‘can’t wait for you to get here to start the pep band’ at the bottom of his letters,” Strawn said.
Now nearing the end of his college career, and with pre-graduation jitters on the horizon, the biology major and potential music minor is focused on his busy class schedule.
“Biology runs my life,” he said, referring to four-hour laboratory classes he knows he has to get through this year. “I’ll be walking around like the woken dead.”
In addition to science, the band and the Betas, Strawn loves baseball, another long-standing tradition in the Strawn household – one that began with his grandmother. To satisfy that love, Strawn teamed up with Josh Cohick, class of 2007 from Erie, Pa., and other students to form the first-ever student sports broadcast team at Wittenberg’s radio station, WUSO 89.1-FM. Since last spring, Strawn has participated in announcing several athletic events, and he plans to be the radio play-by-play announcer in 2007 for the Tiger baseball team.
After graduation, Strawn plans to return to the Cleveland area and prepare to become a paramedic.
“I’ll get an apartment downtown and walk to Indians games,” he said, adding that it might be a while before another Strawn continues the Wittenberg legacy. “I’m the only one from my generation here.”
Despite the family tradition, he said his children will make their own decisions about college, much as he did.
“I’ll be happy for them wherever they go,” he said. “But I’ll have kids until one comes here.”
- Written By: Christi Lue ‘09
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