THROUGH HER ROLE IN SIUH’S SERVICE AUXILIARY, THIS HEALTH PROFESSIONAL HAS DEVOTED MORE THAN THREE DECADES TO HELPING OTHERS IN NEED
BY AMANDA McCOY PHOTOS © AMESSÉ PHOTOGRAPHY
It’s a Thursday afternoon at the peak of rush hour, and Valerie Strange is on Bluetooth, navigating through traffic and casually conversing about everything other than what she’s supposed to be talking about: herself. “It’s difficult to focus on me,” she laughed, amicably steering the conversation from her 30 something years of charitable work for the Staten Island community. “Maybe you want to hear about my family instead?”
She is driving from Staten Island to Philadelphia for the second time that day to pick up her son, who is taking his medical boards. After dropping him off at 7 a.m. that same morning, initially intending to Christmas shop at King of Prussia Mall to pass the eight hour wait, Strange opted to return home and tackle a list of important errands and tasks.
It’s evident that for Strange, family comes first. She is the wife of Theodore Strange, MD (who was appointed Northwell Health’s vice chair of primary care in March of 2016 and who has deep roots in the local community) and mother to John (the board taker), Mark, Victoria and Elizabeth.
“John is a wonderful student and we’re all praying for him as he takes this important test,” she said. “Mark is married to Jennifer and works in finance, and Victoria lives in Virginia and works as a teacher; she’s coming home for the holidays and I’m so excited for that. My youngest, Elizabeth, graduated from Penn State with a degree in hospitality. My husband and I are just so proud of each and every one of them.”
She detailed Elizabeth’s fervor for fundraising spearheading charitable efforts for groups like Project Hospitality and the American Cancer Society during her high school career at St. Joseph Hill Academy, then described Mark’s high profile job. Fifteen minutes into the conversation and she’s covered considerable ground about her husband and family. At last, we get to some background about her.
She was born and raised in Bay Ridge her father a politician and businessman, her mother a school teacher. Strange attended Visitation Academy, a private all girls grammar school, before graduating from Bishop Kearny High School. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in art with a minor in education from Marymount Manhattan College and received her masters in special education before taking a job as a special education teacher with the New York City Board of Education.
“Ted” was her childhood sweetheart; they lived across the street from one another and dated for 10 years before marrying. They moved to Staten Island in 1985 after Dr. Strange matched at Staten Island University Hospital.
“We’ve been married for almost 34 years and our relationship works because we are so supportive of one another,” said Valerie. “We both studied for our degrees at the same time and supported each other during the early stages of our careers.”
And as the couple started their family three decades ago and Dr. Strange started building his practice, Valerie began fostering her relationship with the Staten Island community
“I was new to Staten Island and wanted to branch out and meet new people,” she said. “I became involved with the Staten Island Children’s Museum, Snug Harbor, and the Staten Island Zoo. When I attended a spring luncheon hosted by the Richmond County Medical Society’s Ladies Auxiliary, I found my niche.”
Strange said she was immediately impressed with the organization: “It gave me an opportunity to meet others doctors’ wives, who then became my mentors. There were five of us who were new to the group that particular year, and we became close friends.”
Strange did a considerable amount of fundraising for the Auxiliary including helping to collect for an annual scholarship given to medical students. After a few months of involvement, she joined the Rainbow Society, which at the time was the name of the Ladies Auxiliary for Staten Island University Hospital’s South Campus.
“The work the Rainbow Society did was locally focused. We helped host Mike Fortunato’s Make Believe Ballroom, collected “Pennies from Heaven” for Staten Island children’s organizations, and raised money for a range of other organizations who needed the help.”
When SIUH merged both campuses, the Rainbow Society joined forces with the hospital’s main Auxiliary, and Strange devoted her time and efforts to the group the oldest continuous auxiliary in the United States.
“I took on the role of treasurer and sat on the board for seven or eight years,” she said. “My husband and I co-chaired the hospital’s Golf and Tennis Outing for 14 years and I co-chaired the Charity Ball twice. I also sat on committees, hosted the Auxiliary’s Spring Luncheon, and introduced a ‘Stay at Home Tea’ event.”
Strange was also heavily involved in fundraising for the YMCA, going door to door to help collect donations for the construction of its facility on Richmond Avenue. When her children enrolled in Our Lady Star of the Sea grammar school, she helped raise funds for its preschool and new gymnasium.
“My activities progressed based on my children’s ages and activities,” she noted. “I even went back to work for a short time, teaching 11th grade literature at St. Joseph by the Sea when they reached high school.” But the bulk of her work has focused on, as she terms it, “giving back.”
“My husband and I always felt so fortunate because we were blessed with four healthy children,” Strange said. “I wanted to help others who were not as fortunate.”
She has hosted numerous coat and food drives, planned galas for the March of Dimes, and assisted the Maffeo Foundation in its endeavors to renovate the hospital’s pediatric unit and raise funds for a state of the art neonatal intensive care unit. In March, that Foundation, which provides financial assistance to those in need (in tribute to Joseph Maffeo, a firefighter who lost his life on September 11, 2001), will honor Strange with its Angel Award.
“I am honored to have been chosen as this year’s recipient, but I don’t need to be awarded for this work,” Strange concluded. “I’m happy to help in whatever way I can… guiding individuals and groups through difficult times is something that seems natural to me. And I hope to continue doing this work for many years to come.”
Staten Island University Hospital / Northwell Health
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