John Q. Stranahan
Former Mercer County, Pa., Common Pleas Court President Judge
John Q. Stranahan, who believed there was no higher calling than
public service, died September 1 of cancer. He was 79. For the
previous two weeks, he had been a patient at Buchanan Commons
in Grove City, Pa., where he died.
A lifelong resident of Mercer, Stranahan served two decades on the court, retiring to become a senior judge in 1985. He continued to hear cases until his illness was diagnosed in January. Even then, he regularly went to work.
For 17 of his years on the bench, Stranahan was president judge. It was a time of rapid growth in litigation. To ensure that caseloads remained current, he instituted a number of administrative reforms that ultimately were adopted by other judges around the state.
Stranahan served as president of the Pennsylvania Conference of State Trial Judges in 1974-75, and as a board member of the American Judicature Society. He contributed to professional journals and lectured on judicial procedures and issues. His judicial opinions were often required reading in Pennsylvania law schools, notable for their lucidity, logic and brevity.
In 1979, Stranahan was appointed to the newly created Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency. He served for 10 years.
Although he generously gave time to statewide duties, Stranahanís first love was making Mercer County a better place. He was a long-time board member of the George W. Wright Student Aid Fund, a philanthropic organization that provides interest-free loans, enabling hundreds of area students obtain college educations. He was a director of the Urban League of the Shenango Valley, and at the time of his death was serving on the county's bicentennial committee.
His greatest civic passion was providing a chapel for the State Regional Correction Facility at Mercer. Stranahan had been an early backer of the new prison, believing it would allow area inmates to remain close to their families and to obtain education and rehabilitation. When the facility opened in 1978, his support was recognized: The complex's educational and vocational building was named for him. Stranahan's involvement at the prison only grew over the years. Concerned that inmates had no place to worship, he spearheaded a community campaign to provide a building for religious services for all faiths. After several unsuccessful attempts to locate a structure that could be donated and moved to the prison grounds, he happened upon a shuttered Stuckey's restaurant along Interstate 80. He knew he had found the perfect chapel.
The chapel committee bought the building for $20,000 and then fanned out over northwestern Pennsylvania, soliciting contributions from churches, private donors and anyone with a spare pew, pulpit or hymnal. In 1989, the chapel was dedicated. He remained active in the prison chapel committee until his death.
Stranahan attended the College of Wooster in Wooster, Ohio, graduating early to join the U.S. Navy, where he served from 1943 to 1945. Much of the time was spent in the Pacific. He was discharged with the rank of lieutenant and was awarded the Silver Star for safely transporting troops from ship to shore through hostile fire.
After the war, he attended Western Reserve University Law School (now Case Western Reserve University) in Cleveland. After graduating, he returned to Mercer to join his father, and later his brother, in the law firm of Stranahan and Sampson, which had been founded in 1912. The firm eventually became Stranahan and Stranahan.
In 1956, at age 33, he was elected District Attorney and was re-elected four years later. At the time of his re-election, a Herald editorial praised his service, noting: "He was as zealous in the protection of the innocent as he was in the prosecution of the guilty."
In 1966, when he took the judicial oath, Stranahan told the audience filling the courtroom: "It is my hope that with the help of God and with a lot of hard work and with the desire to do those things that are right, I can fulfill the trust and confidence placed in me by the people of Mercer County." Within an hour after his swearing-in, he began hearing cases.
For the past 30 years, he spent his summers on Chebeague Island, Maine, where he had a summer home. An avid golfer, he was a member of the Great Chebeague Golf Club. Despite failing health, he was determined to spend at least a portion of his summer on Chebeague, and did so until he was hospitalized at Maine Medical Center in early August.
He was an active member of Trinity Presbyterian Church and a member of the Mercer County Bar Association for more than 50 years.
He is survived by his wife, Carol, and three daughters, Susan Q. Stranahan of Wynnewood, Pa.; Patricia L.. Stranahan of Pittsburgh, and Kathleen S. Eichner of Gibsonia, Pa.; a sister, Sara Elizabeth Miller of Erie; a brother, James A. Stranahan 3d of Mercer, and a granddaughter.
A memorial service was held at September 6 at Trinity Presbyterian Church, Mercer. Burial was private.
Memorial Contributions may be made to the Chapel Committee, % Rev. William Crooks, Trinity Presbyterian Church, 110 East Market St., Mercer, Pa. 16137, or the Mercer Area Library, 145 North Pitt Street, Mercer.
Gerald Colbeth, Lewis Ross, Judge Stranahan, Bob Lessing