31 has worthy foe: mom in a minivan
Initiative's backers have 3 million reasons to fear her
By Rebecca Jones, Rocky Mountain News
October 12, 2002
She's an heiress with a fortune estimated at nearly $1 billion. Yet she
describes herself as just a mom who drives a minivan and cares about her
When Pat Stryker gave $3 million two weeks ago to a group formed to fight
Amendment 31, which would limit bilingual
education, she made state political history. Multimillion-dollar checks don't
often land in the bank accounts of citizen initiative groups.
But handing out checks is a big part of what Stryker, 46, is all about. During
the past six years, her family foundation - recently renamed the Bohemian
Foundation in honor of the free-spirited creativity of the Bohemian movement in
Paris in the early 1900s - has given grants of more than $6 million. The
recipients are nonprofit organizations for youths, the environment and the arts,
mostly in Larimer County, where Stryker lives.
Her philanthropic activities won her an Exemplary Citizenship Award from the
Fort Collins City Council last fall.
But the $3 million contribution to the English Plus group came not from the
foundation, but from her personal funds.
The Bohemian Foundation does not support or oppose political or legislative
issues, she said.
"Amendment 31 is a political issue, and one I personally feel very strongly
about," she said. "That's why I chose to make a personal donation to the
campaign to defeat it."
The constitutional amendment, which will appear on the Nov. 5 ballot, would
require non-English-speaking students to be placed in one-year English immersion
programs unless their parents obtain a waiver for bilingual education. Backers
of the amendment say existing bilingual programs have failed, and that immersing
non-English-speakers in English-only classes will help them learn the language
But Stryker, whose daughter attends Harris Bilingual Immersion School, a K-6
school in Fort Collins that teaches its 285 students in English and Spanish,
sees it differently.
"I don't want limits placed on my daughter's educational opportunities, or on
those of any other child in Colorado," she
said. "For me, the issues are simple: Amendment 31 takes educational freedom of
choice away from parents. It threatens
teachers. It's bad for education and bad for the children of Colorado."
Stryker said she first learned of the issue last May when her daughter came home
from school and said, "Mom, they're going to try to close my school."
"When I learned who 'they' were and what they intended with this ballot issue, I
became active, along with other parents, in working to defeat it," she said.
In any case, she sure got "their" attention. Rita Montero, chairwoman of English
for the Children, proponents of Amendment 31, called Stryker a vampire.
"You've got this rich, liberal woman who wants to educate her kid off of the
backs of our kids by having our kids teach her child how to speak Spanish,"
Montero said recently. "She's sort of like a vampire sucking blood out of our
kids and walking away with a smile on her face."
Stryker refuses to respond to the criticism. She notes that the rest of the
world seems to accept bilingual education. "In Europe, it's a no-brainer. You
get more than one language," she said.
"She regards it as irrelevant to the work she's doing," said Tom Hacker, a
one-time Fort Collins journalist now serving as Stryker's spokesman. A very
private person, she's not keen on giving interviews or having attention focused
on her or her family.
Stryker said she doesn't speak much Spanish, but as a child, she had a pen pal
in Mexico. "My dad learned Spanish, and he would translate for me," she said.
A divorced mother of three, she lost her father, Lee Stryker, 26 years ago in a
plane crash. It was her father and her grandfather, Dr. Homer Stryker, who built
the family fortune, which she now shares with a younger brother and older
Homer Stryker was an orthopedic surgeon who invented and patented a number of
medical devices, including a cast cutter. He formed Orthopedic Frames Co. to
market the devices. Lee Stryker took the company global. In 1964, the name was
changed to Stryker Corp., with headquarters in Kalamazoo, Mich.
Pat Stryker says she knew her grandfather well. "(He) helped all of us
understand the responsibility to leave the world a better place than you found
it. He did wonderful things, and he left the world a better place. That's all I
want to do, and that's why I'm doing this now."
While Stryker's father came from wealth and privilege, her mother was the
daughter of educational missionaries who worked in China for many years. Her
mother was a social worker who also stressed the importance of making the world
a better place.
For Stryker, helping children is her No. 1 goal in life. "I'm passionate about
most things that affect the lives of children,"
she said. "I want to help give people who are under 18 and can't vote a voice. I
want to be a champion for children."
jonesbe@RockyMountainNews.com or (303) 892-5426.