Mitzi Strenger didn't write the great American novel. But her life could have been one.
She spent a lot of her youth in that classic American setting, the West. Young Mitzi LeVine's father was a doctor for the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, so his patients were on a series of reservations from South Dakota to Arizona.
And even though this was the 1940s, not the 1880s, she had some real Wild West tales. When she was 14, in Arizona - living by herself, 100 miles from home - she found cougars climbing on her cabin.
Mitzi had to live on her own to go to the nearest high school. She was so far from home that she got a job in a library.
When work got slow, she started reading through the biography section - every book, in alphabetical order. But she only made it to names starting with P before it was time to move again.
"You didn't get in an argument with Mom about any ... historical figures, unless their last name started with Q or above," as her youngest son, Dr. Keith Strenger, put it after his mother died last month, at 81.
Mitzi, a 50-year Margate resident, had doctors all over her life. Her husband was the late Dr. Lawrence Strenger. Two of their three sons are doctors - the oldest is Dr. Scott Strenger, 57, of Margate; Keith, 52, lives in Linwood. The middle son, Jonathan, died last month at 53, two weeks after his mom.
Mitzi's own college major was organic chemistry, at the University of Chicago.
She then taught chemistry at that famed institution - and "was invited to join a laboratory group of Nobel Prize winners, but she turned it down because she was getting married," said her brother, Dr. Morris LeVine.
Mitzi had great chemistry with Larry Strenger, a medical student in Chicago who worked as a medic in the city's stockyards.
But the first time he proposed to her, right outside his job, she said no. He asked why, and she said she never could tell a future daughter she got engaged at the stockyards. So Larry drove them to the scenic lakefront and asked again. She said yes.
Once Mitzi got into something, she got all the way into it.
When Larry decided to buy a computer - a new office tool at the time - Mitzi offered to help pick it.
She took a basic computer course at her local college, then Stockton State. She kept studying until she had a computer-science degree, and a job creating air-traffic-control software.
Mitzi retired in 2000, after raising her boys and being caretaker to her parents, her in-laws and her husband. Larry's battle with cancer ended in 1988.
"My mother was an extraordinary individual," Keith Strenger said, "a brilliant woman - at a time when it was not politically correct to be a brilliant woman."
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