Cover photo for Barbara Ellen Strong's Obituary
Barbara Ellen Strong Profile Photo
1938 Barbara 2024

Barbara Ellen Strong

December 6, 1938 — April 12, 2024


Barbara Ellen Strong, an undying presence of love, passed away on April 12, 2024, in her hometown of Madison, Wisconsin. Born on December 6, 1938, Barbara's life was a rich tapestry of unique experiences. Raised in Madison, she attended Highlands Mendota Beach Elementary and Wisconsin High School.  She occasionally played hooky to ride horses at the Stock Pavilion and spent endless summer days swimming in Lake Mendota. Barbara pursued her higher education at Iowa State University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she earned a Bachelor's in Art Education and a Master's in Sociology and Southeast Asian Studies. Her academic achievements were both personal milestones and a reflection of her deep appreciation for different cultures and traditions.


Throughout the 1960’s and 70’s, Barbara traveled through 55 different countries with only a rucksack and an insatiable desire for adventure. Guided by the underground backpacker’s network, her greatest joy was immersing herself with indigenous people and cultures. She paid her way by teaching English, art, and swimming instruction with the U.S. Army Special Services, living two years at the U.S. Army base in Baumholder, Germany; two years at Camp Humphreys in South Korea; eight months at Sofia University in Japan, and two years in the south Pacific Islands.  In the late 1960s, using Sidney, Australia as a base, she explored Indonesia, New Zealand, Java, Borneo, Sumatra, and New Guinea.  After a brief return to the University of Wisconsin for graduate school, Barbara traveled to India for two years where she volunteered in Mother Teresa's orphanages, which later inspired the adoption of her Indian daughter, Laura. Barbara was a prolific writer, recording the sights, sounds, emotions, and experiences of her extensive travels in dozens of handwritten journals. She also captured 5,000 images with a 35mm Nikon, highlighting the unique experiences of an intrepid solo female traveler during this period.  Following her world travels, NPR did an in-depth interview with Barbara to share her story.


Upon her return to the United States, Barbara's focus shifted to her children and family. Despite the challenges of being a single parent, she showered her three children with activities, experiences, and love. Annual camping trips to Door County, Boy and Girl Scouts, Little League, YMCA day camps, and countless backyard picnics were among the highlights. An entrepreneur at heart, Barbara founded Babes in Toyland Child Care, bred Labrador puppies, and organized massive garage sales. She instilled her passion for travel in her children through cross-country trips to visit her brother Doug and overseas journeys to Europe and India.


The last chapter of Barbara’s life was marked by years of slowly progressing Alzheimer’s.  Honoring her wish to remain at home, ‘Team Barbie’ - a loving group of family and friends - was formed and provided her with around-the-clock care for over a decade. ‘Barbie Brunch’ at Mickey’s Tavern was a cherished tradition that occurred every Saturday for many years.  Barbie was also a frequent visitor of the Adult Day Center, where she was often seen leading dances and singing along with the guest musicians.  Her primary caretakers, Machele Christian, Kayla and Josh Ryman, provided 12 collective years of uncompromising love and support. Her sons, Paul and Eric, cared for her on the weekends and – while she was still able – took her to many local festivals and on a few international trips.  Despite the progression of dementia, Barbara's radiant smile persisted, creating an instant bond with all who knew her.  Barbara died in the embrace of her sons, surrounded by the love and grace she showed the world.   Barbara’s legacy is carried forward by her three children, Paul Strong Schechter, Douglas Eric Strong, and Laura Hemalatha Strong, her brother the Rev. Douglas Morgan Strong, and ten nephews and nieces with numerous great nieces and nephews.


A private burial took place on Thursday, April 18 at Natural Path Sanctuary with a Celebration of Life event to follow later in the Spring, where friends and family will gather to honor the remarkable journey of Barbara Ellen Strong, who leaves an indelible mark on the hearts of all who knew her.  Please join us in remembering Barbara, not just for the life she lived, but for the lives she touched, the beauty she created, and the laughter she inspired. Her story does not end here; it continues in the memories we cherish and the love that endures.

Please share your memories here on Barbara's tribute page.


Cress Center

6021 University Ave. Madison

(608) 238-8406

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