Strong, Woody | Purdue University Libraries, Archives and Special Collections
Woody Strong received his bachelor of science degree in Electrical Engineering from Purdue University in 1940.
Strong was a businessman and an engineer, but he made his mark helping the poorest of the poor half a world away. Strong dedicated himself to bettering Nepal, the country between Tibet and India. He made 32 trips there in humanitarian efforts that produced nine schools, three health posts, two libraries and a 25- bed hospital. He shipped tons of books, medical supplies and clothes to the country every year. Through speeches and an infectious personality, he inspired hundreds of people to donate supplies and money to people they would never meet.
Motivation was his creed. Even his motto, printed on stickers and business cards, was a challenge: "Be a doer... not a talker."
Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Gary Snyder called Strong a living Buddha. The Dalai Lama asked for a personal meeting. His true fans - the children, disabled and elderly of Nepal - may never know another like him.
Strong's tale began in 1972 on his first trip through Nepal. He was an electrical engineer from Denver, trekking through the Himalayas and falling in love with the country and its people. He saw the poverty and knew he could make a difference. He returned every year to help. When he wasn't there, he talked about Nepal to the extent that he jokingly cautioned people to avoid his home if they did not want to hear about the country.
His enthusiasm inspired a friend, Penny Lewis, to visit Nepal. She began traveling with him and his wife. Later, after both of their spouses died, they married and continued the trips.
In 1982, Strong met Sir Edmund Hillary, credited as the first person to reach the summit of Mount Everest. Hillary had built 25 schools in Nepalese villages, which intrigued Strong. He asked how he could help. Hillary said the schools could use books. Strong collected and shipped 1,000 pounds of textbooks to Nepal. A year later, Nepal paid him back. Doctors diagnosed prostate cancer in 1983, giving Strong a year to live. He underwent chemotherapy and scheduled one last trip to say goodbye. Strong visited a Buddhist monastery near Mount Everest where a monk prayed over him for more than four hours and pronounced him healed. "He said, 'The gods have taken your cancer away, and you'll live to 108,'" Penny said. Later, Denver doctors confirmed the cancer was gone.
"We felt Nepal had given Woody his life back and we wanted to give back to Nepal," Penny said. Strong and his wife formed the Pennwood Charitable Foundation, raising money and supplies through talks to churches and civic groups. They moved from Denver to a log cabin near Lake George and stored supplies in two barns. They returned to Nepal twice a year to distribute the items, bring medical aid and open clinics and schools.
They raised $60,000 to help build a 25-bed rural tuberculosis hospital. Strong was supposed to lay the cornerstone but was too sick. The president of the Nepalese Congress and the former prime minister took his place. "His real love was the children," said Dr. Fred Feiler, a retired Colorado Springs orthopedic surgeon, who visited the region with Strong several times. "He often went to the crippled children's hospital in Kathmandu and adopted these deserted children. He would always say, 'What these kids need is not material things. They need someone to love them. They just got involved in their lives, and that made all the difference."