New man at the top

ASHLAND — Like so many newcomers, John and Jane Stromberg moved here rather suddenly, falling in love with the town and finding a home they just couldn't resist.

The house they bought eight years ago on a ridge overlooking both the town and the watershed once belonged to Jerry Turner, a former artistic director for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Turner and his wife, Mary, frequently hosted play readings and ACLU meetings in the house, and Mayor-elect Stromberg still envisions the home as a community gathering place, one he used to launch his campaign and will continue to work from as the city's leader.

Stromberg captured 39 percent of the Nov. 4 vote in a field of seven candidates, with the next closest challenger, George Kramer, 12 percentage points behind.

Stromberg has a road map of sorts spread across one end of his dining room table — a giant sheet of graph paper taking up a third of the space — with his goals, strategies and promises he made during the election staring back at him.

"I can assure you that the people I made promises to are going to remind me," he said.

While his list of goals and promises is at the center of his house, it is surrounded by his other passions: his poodle, Marco, books on science and technology and the organic garden out back.

Marco is the fifth standard poodle Stromberg has owned and the first he has taught to maneuver through agility courses, something he admitted he once found "silly," until discovering how challenging it can be.

"Having animals is one way you keep from getting old too fast," said Stromberg, who is 68. "You have to respond to them and take care of them; you can't just get caught up in your favorite things."

One of Stromberg's other favorite things is reading about science and technology, a love that began when he was young. He purchased his first car, a Packard, when he was 13, and he earned his bachelor's degree in physics from the California Institute of Technology before switching to statistics and business administration for his graduate degrees. His two daughters also inherited a bent toward technology, and both work in the dot-com world in Southern California.

While his first dream was about a car, he now sees the ideal in transportation differently: a better-designed community, easily accessible to walkers and bikers, with alternate transportation like a shuttle from retirement communities to popular spots around town.

Localized agriculture is another of his goals, and his own organic garden behind his house has convinced him community gardening is a step up in quality of life.

He grows Romano pole beans, a wide, flat Italian bean that reflects his Tuscan heritage, along with zucchini, squash, tomatoes, broccoli, chard, raspberries and strawberries.

"It tastes so different," he said. "It feels different to eat it. That's an enlivening experience. My standard of living didn't go down; it went up."

Although he and his wife are not the kind of gardeners others come to for advice, he said, they have had fun swapping vegetables with their neighbors and are considering becoming more specialized next year.

"Sustainability is not going back to some primitive existence; it's going to a different kind of existence of a better quality," he said.

For now, these hobbies have taken a back seat to local politics. His involvement began with city discussions on the budget process and community policing, and in 2005 he was appointed to the Planning Commission, where he grew frustrated with "how hard it was to get things to happen," he said.

He lost a bid for City Council in 2006, but when his fellow commissioners chose him to be the Planning Commission chairman, he realized being mayor was the "pivotal position" for change, he said.

He still lists his priorities as protecting the Shakespeare Festival-based economy and the water supply, managing fire risks and moving toward sustainability. And with a slumping economy, managing city spending will become even more important and more difficult, he said.

Julie French is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. She can be reached at 482-3456 or

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