Florida State family reacts to passing of Larry Strom

Florida State lost a friend, former basketball player, Hall of Fame member, major donor, father figure, mentor, fundraiser and recruiter in the person of Larry Strom.

Strom died last week in Tallahassee at 86 of Parkinson’s disease.

A Jacksonville, Fla., native, Strom was a 6-foot-6 forward for Florida State basketball coach Bud Kennedy (1956-58) and averaged 9.7 points and 9.3 rebounds. 

Hugh Durham, who was a teammate and later FSU’s head coach, was a life-long friend who enjoyed watching FSU basketball games throughout the years.

“I used to tell Larry he needed to treat all those missed shots of mine as bounce passes to him,” Durham told the Tallahassee Democrat’s Jim Henry. “We’ve been close over the years. He loved Florida State.”

Strom’s career at Florida State never really ended as he impacted FSU in profound and diverse capacities, influencing FSU’s students, athletes and coaches, gave freely of his time and money and even made arrangements for future FSU football and basketball facilities with a generous estate gift. 

“We lost a true Seminole with the passing of Larry Strom. He will truly be missed,” said men’s basketball coach Leonard Hamilton. “Everything he loved in life centered around Florida State University and Seminole basketball team. He was the biggest fan of FSU basketball that I have met during my time at Florida State. We do know this: Larry will be in heaven rooting for our basketball team every time we play a game.”

Shared his time and treasure with FSU

A longtime Golden Chief, Strom was also a major gift donor, giving millions in cash and estate gifts to fund basketball and football facilities. He made leadership gifts to the first major campaign in FSU history, the Dynasty Campaign, and was the volunteer chairman for the Seminoles’ fundraising campaign to build the indoor football practice facility. His friendship with Al and Judy Dunlap was an influence in the Dunlap’s gifts — more than $10 million — which is named in their honor.

“Larry was totally involved. I don’t know of anybody who loved it more than him,” said Tom Carlson, senior vice president of Seminole Boosters, Inc., and a former assistant basketball coach under Pat Kennedy.

Strom went into the auto industry following college, eventually purchasing a dealership in Sarasota, Fla. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, when the NCAA allowed alumni more contact with high school coaches and players, Strom was a volunteer in the Sarasota area, where he came to know many Sarasota-area players, some of whom he mentored in life.

“More than anything, he’s always been like a father figure for me,” said Herb Gainer, who lost his own father at age 4. “He owned the car dealership that backed up to my high school football stadium and would come out to watch Rosey (Snipes) play.”

Gainer worked at Strom’s dealership as a kid and later in Tallahassee, where his son, current FSU linebacker Amari Gainer, was raised.

“He just kind of took me in like a son,” Gainer said of his youth. “He introduced me to Florida State. It was more of a father-son relationship after a while because we became close.”

Well into their relationship, Gainer developed into a good prospect and committed to Ohio State while on an official visit.

“Oh, wow, just to see the look on his face when I had to tell him I’m going to Ohio State,” Gainer said, laughing at the recollection. 

Strom pleaded with him to take an official visit to FSU and see the entire campus. “I was like, ‘No, I’m good,’ ” Gainer said. “I have been up here in Tallahassee. I’ve seen it all. And he was like, no I just need you to take an official visit. So that last weekend before signing day, I made the visit.”

Gainer said the official visit went well and he committed to FSU after his mother and he learned Strom was moving from Sarasota to Tallahassee.

Organized FSU’s recruiting efforts leading into Dynasty Years

Strom did move to Tallahassee, where he volunteered to work in the football office assisting linebackers coach Gene McDowell, who was also responsible for recruiting at a time before FSU employed a full-time coordinator.

With Strom’s volunteer help, FSU put together a more intentional recruiting process, Bobby Bowden’s assistant Sue Hall said.

“Those guys were so busy coaching, recruiting on the road, and helping their players, they really didn’t have a lot of time to put into organizing the recruiting process and he could see that need,” Hall said. “So he worked for us for a whole year for free. He shaped the recruiting program and I think they still use it today. Just a very smart man. The respect we had for each other, for the jobs we each did.” 

Hall had started the Garnet and Gold girls, a group of FSU students who volunteered time to host players and their parents on campus visits. Among other projects, Strom scheduled the official visit weekends so that a small group of recruits and their parents — guided by the Garnet and Gold Girls — would meet with professors and advisors on campus while another set of Garnet and Gold Girls took a second group of recruits and parents on a campus tour and another group to meet with their coaches. The groups rotated, maximizing the time the recruits and their parents had while on campus.

Hall also credits Strom with Friday Night dessert at Bobby Bowden’s house.

“He scheduled Friday night where (prospects and parents) would go to dinner and then to Coach Bowden’s house, where they could meet the coaches’ wives and have time with the coaching staff. They would play pool at Coach Bowden’s house, just making it seem like a family.”

Larry’s wife, Hilda, was very involved too. “Hilda made most of the cakes, did it all herself until the Extra Point Club got involved. The lady was amazing. It was a team effort started by him.”

Years later, after Hall retired, her husband, Charles, became sick and needed nursing home care and Strom noticed.

“Larry has been like a big brother taking care of a lot of things that I needed to handle while Charles was so sick, giving me a job again after I retired because the nursing home was so expensive,” Hall said. “He was just a big brother there to help out, that’s some of the things he does. He’s always helping people in need, and somehow he just picks up on your need and just stepped right in, just like he did when he came to help football for a whole year.”

Hall continued to help the Stroms, which has given her an appreciation for others he has helped.

“In addition to being very involved with the Seminole Boosters, he was the Tallahassee Memorial Hospital’s President for a year and just did a lot of different things in the community,” she said. “He was very involved in his church, the Bradfordville Baptist Church, and very generous with his time and his money for his church, (funding various construction projects).”

Legacy of mentoring former players 

Strom loved watching FSU sports, where he was a mentor to players and coaches, who admired his influence in the community.

“There wasn’t a person that didn’t know, Mr. Strom,” Gainer said. “I got a lot of people reaching out to me (after his death), including old teammates who knew our relationship.”

Gainer was able to spend time with Strom in the days prior to his passing to let him know what he had meant to him.

“I got a chance to spend that Sunday evening over at the house with him for about five hours and he seemed at peace. He was ready to go,” Gainer said.

Strom and Gainer talked about a lot of the former players over the years including Rosey Snipes, who Strom kept in contact with during his incarceration. “He always asked about Rosey. How’s he doing? Have I heard from him?” Gainer said.

Gainer said Snipes calls the Stroms periodically and, according to Hilda, the conversation always begins with, “Hello, Mom. Hello, Pops. I’m doing alright.”

Among the many former players who attended the funeral was former FSU baseball player Jack Niles, who came to know Strom after his Florida State baseball career and when his tenure as a volunteer coach was coming to an end. “I needed a job my last year, so Eleven (Mike Martin) sent me to see Larry Strom, and Larry gave me a part-time job to get me through that season.”

It was the first of three jobs Niles would take with Strom, jobs that would lead to a career.

“I don’t have what I have today without him,” Niles said. “As a young kid, you think you know the way things are and I didn’t want anything to do with the car business but seeing Larry and the type of person he was changed that. When he said something, he meant it. He made sure we never took advantage of anybody, which I thought was incredible. I saw what he gave back to the community, the church, Florida State. And I saw his love for the employees.”

Niles, who is a Key West native, was working with a public accounting firm in Clearwater when Strom called to offer him another opportunity to work together.  

“Something inside me said, ‘He’s a great man. You need to go.’ And I did,” Niles said.

In 2002 while attending Niles’ wedding in Key West, Strom got a call from a good friend who owned the Chevrolet dealership in Key West. He had a terminal illness, wanted to sell, and thought Strom and Niles were a good fit. 

“He wanted to know what (Larry) knew about the young kid from Key West he had working for him. It would make a great opportunity if Larry would move forward,” Niles said. “I was 29 years old at that time and (Strom) thought we can make it work. He took a chance on a kid he’s only known for three or four years at the time. Who does that?”

A smart man. Niles Sales and Service has now been in business 20 years.

Strom is survived by Hilda, his wife of 62 years, two daughters, two granddaughters, a great grandson and countless appreciative Seminoles.