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The American Morris Newsletter

July, 2007 -- Volume 27, Number 2

 

David McCauley Stryker, Jr.
December 24, 1958 -- June 6, 2007

Stew Stryker

The following obituary was written by Dave's twin brother, Stew.

A memorial service for Dave is planned on August 12, 2007, from  1:00 to 4:00 p.m., at St. John's United Methodist Church, 80 Mount Auburn St, Watertown, MA.  

 

David McCauley Stryker Jr. may have carried no official or professional title, but for many in Greater Boston and beyond, he was unquestionably King of the May -- at least, of the annual May Day celebration that has been held in Cambridge, Mass., on the banks of the Charles River every May 1 for the past three decades. Amidst dancers, singers and onlookers gathered around the traditional Maypole, Stryker -- unfailingly attired in white tails and a top hat festooned with flowers -- would serve as de facto master of ceremonies for the event, exhorting all present to welcome the change in seasons. When he wasn't playing accordion to accompany the dances performed during the celebration, he was dancing himself, or leading various folk songs associated with the May.

Dave Stryker died a little more than a month after this year's May Day, on June 6, having battled cancer for the last year and a half.

Born in Amherst, Massachusetts, Stryker and his family also lived in California and Connecticut. He took an early interest in the theater, working as a stagehand and artistic contributor for a number of high school productions. He also had an interest in farming, doing post-high school study at the Sterling School (now Sterling College) in Craftsbury, Vermont, where he first encountered folk music and contra dancing, art forms that he embraced enthusiastically. In 1980, he earned his Associates Degree from the University of Massachusetts, studying Fruit and Vegetable Crops on the rural Amherst campus. It was there that he found his true love, which would last the rest of his life -- Morris Dancing.

Morris Dancing is a traditional English seasonal custom, with roots in medieval courtly dance and street theater. Nearly extinguished by the industrial revolution, the dance was revived in Britain in the early 20th century, and has become remarkably popular in North America in the past 35 years. Stryker joined the Juggler Meadow Morris Men, a stylistically seminal dance team in Western Massachusetts, where he readily absorbed the choreographic influences of older, more experienced dancers. A tall, lean, well-built man, Stryker developed a dance style that was profoundly athletic, precise, and passionate - an impressive amalgam of upright dignity, innate grace, and raw, masculine strength.

Stryker's singular dancing and personality were well known throughout the US, Canada and UK. A long-time member of the Binghamton (New York) Morris Men, Stryker also performed with teams in Connecticut and Vermont. In Boston, he served as teacher, dancer, musician and "fool" for the Newtowne Morris Men, as well as musician for Ha'Penny Morris. He served as an instructor at the Country Dance and Song Society's Pinewoods Camp near Buzzard's Bay. For several years he mentored and taught for Banbury Cross, a children's dance team. Dave made several trips to England to perform and research the dance. His last visit was in the summer of 2006, with the American Travelling Morrice, a rarefied collection of talented dancers drawn from across the US and Canada. Though weakened by the side effects of chemotherapy, Dave performed a grueling schedule with vitality, dignity and courage.

While Morris dancing was his primary passion, and the button-accordion his main instrument, Stryker also enjoyed playing American folk music on fiddle, banjo, upright bass and guitar -- performing everything from English drinking songs to Zydeco to rock 'n roll classics with friends at pubs and parties. He was an extremely gifted chef as well, specializing in a wide array of ethnic and gourmet cuisines. He deeply appreciated good food and good wine, and he was always delighted to share them with good company - sometimes preparing excellent meals for 50 or 60 people. Dave's cooking talents were highly acclaimed and appreciated by all the communities in which he played a role.

Dave worked as a painting contractor. His early work in Western Massachusetts as a steeplejack taught him the intricacies and concerns of historic preservation and restoration. Many historic homes and public buildings in New England came under his brush. Dave also participated in the fabrication and installation of several museum exhibitions in upstate New York. Fearless in the face of tough jobs, his work was impeccable - clean, seamless, quick and diligent, always done with extreme care, high standards and a tremendous attention to detail.

Dave Stryker was a man who was truly larger than life. He danced, played, cooked, worked and lived with enormous energy, enthusiasm and passion, always on a heroic scale. His courage, humor and love in his final days are an amazement and an inspiration to those who were with him. He touched the lives of many thousands of people, directly and indirectly. His presence will be sorely missed.

Dave is survived by his twin brother Stew, of Windsor, Vermont. He was predeceased by his parents, David M. and Jeanine (Platt) Stryker.

Memorial donations may be made to:

  • Development Office, Fenway Community Health Plan, 7 Haviland Street Boston, MA 02115
  • AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts, Inc. Development Office, 294 Washington Street, 5th Floor Boston, MA 02108
  • A Dave Stryker Send-a-Young-Dancer-to-England Fund is being established. Until a formal fund is established, please send donations to: DS-SaYDtEF, c/o Stew Stryker, 502 Moonrise Hill, Windsor, VT 05089