Though it is not typically referred to as such, the planetarium in Grant Science Center is named for a very popular professor. George B. Strait, a professor of mathematics, biology, botany and agriculture, was known to students as “Daddy” Strait. During the dedication of the room on May 1, 1975 a former student of Prof. Strait explained the moniker. “We knew him as Daddy Strait. The name was especially appropriate since he was just that to us – and we liked it,” said Dr. Myron Webster, himself a former professor at Mansfield.
Daddy Strait was born Jan. 27, 1865 to O.C. (also identified as Cole) and Harriet Strait. He grew up in the Troy area and graduated from Troy High School in 1884. Strait then attended the nearby Mansfield State Normal School. At Mansfield, he was a member of the Delphic Fraternity. He graduated in 1887 and passed the mantle on to the junior class. In those early days, classes were small and commencement activities spanned the final week of the term. The Mansfield Advertiser ran lengthy articles detailing all of the activities.
Strait married C. Bertha Sucese, a 1886 graduate of Troy High School. The couple had two children, Julia and Bennett.
George Strait later attended Syracuse University and graduated in 1903. He did further study at the University of Michigan, earning his master’s degree in 1921.
Strait taught in rural schools and high schools in Pennsylvania and New York for many years. He was teaching at Johnstown High School in June, 1912 when he learned that his father had died, leaving his mother a widow in Sylvania, near Troy. According to articles from the Troy Register-Gazette posted on Tri-Counties Genealogy and History by Joyce M. Tice, Strait visited his mother quite frequently in the years following his father’s passing.
In July, 1912 the principal of Mansfield State Normal School, Dr. Andrew Smith, visited Sylvania and offered Strait a job teaching science on campus. Strait accepted the position and the Register-Gazette commented “We are glad he has a position so near home.”
Strait went on to teach at Mansfield for the next 22 years, retiring in 1934. At the time of his retirement, he had been promoted to the position of dean of men. He saw the institution’s transformation from a normal school to a state teacher’s college. He also served as a director in the College Alumni Association and co-sponsor (advisor) of the local YMCA chapter.
The 1918 normal school yearbook, The Carontawan, had this to say about Prof. Strait: “A man, whom we hold in the highest esteem; a teacher, of things more vital to us than facts found in books; a friend, who we trust and love; an example of truthful living and nobleness of character; Professor Strait.”
In addition to his work on Campus, Prof. Strait was very active in the community. For many years he served as a trustee of the Mansfield Methodist Church and taught the men’s Bible class. He was also a past master of the Friendship Lodge 247 of the Free and Accepted Masons.
Strait passed away Dec. 9, 1944 at the Troy home of his daughter, Julia Williams. He was 79 years old.
When the state college dedicated the new planetarium, three generations of Strait’s family, including Julia Williams, attended the ceremony. The dedication was the highlight of an Educators’ Professional Day, designed to show other teachers the potential uses of the planetarium.
Today, the room allows Mansfield to offer courses in astronomy with the luxury of showing the night sky at any time of the day.