Isaac L. Strouse, distributor of wines and liquors

December 14, 1992|By Staff Report

Isaac L. Strouse, who as president of Churchill Distributors built it into the largest wine and liquor wholesale operation in Maryland, died Thursday at Greater Baltimore Medical Center after a brief illness. He was 90.

Services were to be conducted at 2 p.m. today at Druid Ridge Cemetery Chapel, 7900 Park Heights Ave.

Mr. Strouse and his associates founded Churchill in 1946 and made it the state's premier operation in just 16 years, carrying many of the best-known names in the wine and liquor field.

Mr. Strouse was known for foresightedness and marketing skill. He saw the wine explosion of the last generation coming as early as 1948, when he commissioned an advertising agency to create a wine marketing program.

In the 1950s, he foresaw the impending growth in vodka consumption 20 years before it surpassed Scotch in sales, and in that period built Churchill's sales of Smirnoff from 20 cases a month to a quarter of a million a year.

During his tenure he also led the industry in Maryland in a number of practices that subsequently became common. He was the first to set up separate liquor and wine divisions within his company, saying, "Most liquor salesmen can't sell wine, and vice versa."

He was known as a man of unimpeachable integrity, great generosity and everlasting good will, who inspired tremendous loyalty in employees, associates and friends. He started Churchill with a staff of eight salesmen, all of whom stayed with the company until they retired.

Universally known as Mike, Mr. Strouse was a lifelong devotee of baseball. Later, he gave the Maryland Professional Baseball Players Association a place to meet at Churchill, and the association made him its first honorary lifetime member.

Born in Baltimore in 1902, the son of clothing manufacturer Eli Strouse, he graduated from Friends School, attended the Johns Hopkins University and worked for the Hub department store (which later became Hecht's) and the Finance Company of America in Baltimore, of which he became treasurer.

In the 1930s, along with three associates, he started the Baltimore Pure Rye distillery and bought two other distilleries in Kentucky. All were sold during World War II, during which Mr. Strouse served in the Adjutant General's Corps of the Army. He rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel and was awarded the Legion of Merit.

He remained president of Churchill until the company became a division of the McKesson Wine and Spirits Co., part of Foremost-McKesson Inc., in 1971.

He remained as a consultant with the parent company until his retirement in 1984.

In 1950, he married the former Ruth Sisk, who died in 1989. He is survived by two daughters, Mary Strouse Pabst and Judy F. Strouse, both of Baltimore, and four grandchildren.

The family suggested memorial contributions be sent to the Johns Hopkins Children's Center, 1620 McElderry St., Baltimore 21205, or the Kennedy Krieger Institute, 2931 Biddle St., Baltimore, 21213.

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