The community will have the opportunity to honor the life and work of former Middle Way House director Toby Strout at a Monday memorial.
The Strout family and Middle Way House are presenting the Celebration of the Life of Toby Strout at 5:30 p.m. Monday at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater. Doors will open at 5 p.m., and no tickets are required.
Strout, who served as the executive director of Middle Way House for 30 years before her retirement in 2016, died in February. During her time at the organization, she helped more than 60,000 survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault in the Bloomington area.
The program will feature poetry and musical performances. Family members, friends and coworkers will share stories about Strout’s life.
Anna Strout, Toby’s daughter, said the Bloomington community is still grieving after the death of her mother.
“I think that, as well as grieving, we should celebrate the great woman who shaped a community of caring and action because that is the best way to honor her,” Anna said.
Bob Arnove, who was married to Toby Strout for 29 years, said she would have wanted a memorial service that would both celebrate her life and advocate for the causes she believed in.
Many people in the community want a sense of closure after Strout’s death and this event will allow them to share their grief and rejoice in her example, he said.
“Many people really find it incredible to believe she is no longer present,” Arnove said. “She is present in the organization she built up to be a national model program for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.”
Middle Way House executive director Debra Morrow said this celebration of life is important to the Middle Way House staff members who worked with Strout.
“She wasn’t just our boss or our co-worker,” Morrow said. “She was our friend.”
Morrow said Strout built the foundation of Middle Way House’s services for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, and the celebration will include information about the progression of Middle Way House under Strout’s leadership.
Arnove said the songs at the celebration were selected for their personal and political importance to Strout. The performances will feature local musicians who were friends with Strout.
Janiece Jaffe and Curtis Cantwell-Jackson will perform “Over the Rainbow,” which her family members sang to Strout in her final hours at the hospital, Arnove said.
The event will also feature a number of songs related to social justice and labor activism.
“We’re going to have these musicians perform songs that were important to her and have marked her work and messages that she wanted to convey,” Anna said.
The celebration is also taking place on International Workers’ Day to honor her mother’s life of activism, she said.
Attendees are also invited to gather at the courthouse square after the program to demonstrate support for legislation that supports Middle Way House, including the Violence Against Women Act.
This is a way for members of the community to stand in unity in support of Middle Way House and Toby Strout’s legacy, Morrow said.
“It’s all of us standing there symbolically, representing the things that she believed in,” she said.
Anna said she wants the community to continue her mother’s work and keep her spirit alive.
‘The work was never done,” she said. “I think she put everyone else before herself, and she influenced so many people from all backgrounds and all spectrums, and she really transformed the community.”
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