Saturday, April 3, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Karin Stromberg, graduate-student adviser at UW

Seattle Times staff reporter

More than a few University of Washington alumni can thank Karin Stromberg for their doctorate degrees.

Confidant, motivator and guardian angel, Ms. Stromberg was, above all, an advocate for students, although that was never her official title during her 12 years as a UW employee.

As a graduate-student adviser in the Department of Political Science and the School of Music and curriculum coordinator in the Law, Societies, and Justice Program, she helped students get financial aid, talked them through personal crises and alerted them when free food was available at a university event.

She created so much goodwill that the Law, Societies, and Justice Program established an award in her name after she died from ovarian cancer on March 16, one month short of her 50th birthday. It will go to a student who combines outstanding academic work with contributions to social justice.

"She walked the walk, rather than talked the talk. One of her missions was to help people who had more obstacles in their way," said Judy Aks, a former graduate student who became friends with Ms. Stromberg. "She cared about minorities and made sure they got financial assistance."

Norma Rodriguez, another former student, said that when her mother died unexpectedly, Ms. Stromberg helped in a number of ways. She filled out leave-of-absence paperwork for Rodriguez, kept her focused on coursework and came to her graduation ceremony when her own family was unable to attend, said Rodriguez, now an assistant professor at California State University, Chico.

"She would advocate for us as applicants for grants. She was on top of big paper and conference deadlines. She would send us an e-mail if wine and cheese were left from a faculty reception," said Diana Pallais, who is now a political consultant for Microsoft.

Despite all the attention she gave to students, Ms. Stromberg was foremost a mother, and a single mother, who raised two sons while getting her bachelor's degree in her mid-30s.

Her son Casey Foubert, a musician who has played with the Seattle band Pedro The Lion and other groups, said she refinanced her house and worked at Starbucks to get her degree. Foubert said his mother always encouraged his interest in music and gave him Rainer Maria Rilke's "Letters to a Young Poet" for inspiration.

She also put up with his rock bands practicing in her Bellevue home, even when she was ill with cancer.

"I'm sure it was all sorts of annoying," Foubert recalled, "but she said 'No, it's fine.' "

Friends and family members said her compassion came from several sources.

Her brother Kurt Stromberg said their father, Rolf, a sports reporter and drama critic for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, stressed the importance of empathizing with others.

"One of his favorite quotes was that 'Abraham Lincoln could feel the lash on the other person's back,' " Stromberg said.

Church was another important influence on Karin Stromberg. As a youth she was active in Bellevue Congregational Church, which brought in Black Panther Party members to discuss race issues in the early 1970s, according to Foubert. In the late 1980s, she chaired a social-justice committee at the East Shore Unitarian Church.

Her Swedish heritage was another factor, said David Olson, a UW political-science professor and friend. "It's hard for a Norwegian like me to say it, but those Swedish care about social justice," Olson said.

Ms. Stromberg is survived by her sons, Casey, of Bellevue, and John, Norfolk, Va.; her stepdaughter Sarah Kermgard, of Seattle; her mother, Martha Speelmon, and stepfather Robert, of Redmond; her brothers Erik, Wilmington, N.C.; Kurt, Bellingham; Alf, Federal Way; and Kris, Kirkland; and seven nieces and nephews.

A memorial service is scheduled for Ms. Stromberg in Brechemin Auditorium at the UW School of Music tomorrow at 2 p.m.

The family has requested that all contributions be directed to a student award fund named in Ms. Stromberg's honor. Donations can be made to the University of Washington Foundation, designated for the Stromberg Award Fund, and sent to: Law, Societies, and Justice, Box 353530 University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195-3530. Inquiries about this fund can be directed to the LSJ office, 206-543-2396.

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company


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