Pharmacy alum leaves planned gift that's quite a page-turner

Henry and Joan Strauss

Henry Strauss and his wife, Joan

Henry Strauss' generosity to CU focuses on the education of future health leaders and their impact on communities. And it started with 10 books.

What is now known as the Strauss-Wisneski Indigenous and Integrated Medicine Collection has grown to 4,000 volumes and other materials. Funded initially in 1995 by an endowment in memory of Henry's first wife, Florence, the collection will continue to expand at CU Anschutz, thanks in part to a planned gift by Henry, a 1951 School of Pharmacy graduate whose interests blend traditional Western medicine with therapies from across the world.

"I really didn't know much about universities because I was the first in my family to go to college," he says. "So I turned immediately to the best university in Colorado, and that was CU."

Born in Germany, Henry and his family lived in Hamburg until 1933, when his father decided to take his family and flee after Adolf Hitler and the national socialists came into power.

After living in Spain and Denmark, the family immigrated to the United States where they were eventually placed in Denver in 1939. Henry attended Denver public schools and later served in the U.S. Army until 1947.

The GI Bill allowed him to pursue a pharmaceutical degree at CU. Henry worked as a pharmacist for a few years before making a distinguished career in business and government, as a real estate investor and developer, and active politician in Colorado.

Book collectionFrom 1975 to 1990, Henry made 26 trips to China to promote Colorado-Hunan relationships and seek trade opportunities. It was during these trips he began to purchase books about Chinese medicine, a personal interest of his. In 1987, he donated his book collection to CU's medical campus to create a scholarly base for people studying non-Western medicine and alternative medicine.

"While I'm very fond and supportive of American medicine, when I traveled elsewhere overseas I looked at what other countries were doing differently with all these remedies, such as acupuncture anesthesia, distinctive pharmaceuticals, etc.—and I realized we were missing the boat. The CU medical library at the time didn't even have one book on chiropractic therapy," he explains.

Book roomThe collection now has thousands of books that CU faculty and students and scholars from around the world can access and enjoy.

A few notable items in the collection include: a 1949 edition of a book about traditional Indian medicine with both Sanskrit and English translations; the memoir of a female medicine healer from the Crow Nation, described as perhaps the first record of the women's side of Native American life; and a scholarly book, first published in 1930, about worldwide trends and developments in mushroom biology.

In 2018, the CU Anschutz Medical Campus named the Health Sciences Library in honor of Henry and his wife, Joan.

Melissa De Santis, library director, says the couple's philanthropy will allow the library to continue to acquire new materials, access digital materials like databases and online journal subscriptions, and partner with the Library of Congress and other universities on sharing books about these unique topics in medicine.

"Medicine changes, and health care changes, all the time. There's definitely an increase in the public's interest in alternative medicine, and there's still so much to learn," Melissa says.

She says health care providers and medical students, whether or not they offer treatments like medicinal plants and herbs, Reiki or acupuncture in their practice, can turn to this collection in order to educate themselves and their patients about the best possible treatments.

"There's definitely a need for more opportunities to learn about this," she adds. "I think it's pretty impressive that Henry was interested in and curious about these topics long ago, and look at where we are now."

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