THE STRAUS FAMILY by Kathy Lamore McManus / Foothills Living

THE STRAUS FAMILY by Kathy Lamore McManus / Foothills Living 

“I dream in Genesee,” mused Topher Straus, family man and fine-arts painter. “I live a three-minute walk from the house in Genesee I grew up in––and where my mom still lives. I’m now raising my son here. We love nature and the mountains, so I couldn’t imagine a place I’d rather be.” Topher imagines for a living, so if he “couldn’t imagine” a better place, he’s probably right. An artist for just four years, Topher’s work is already acclaimed by gallery owners and recognized by international collectors.

As a teen, Topher acted on a kids’ show and in commercials for Denver’s KWGN (“Stay close to your TV! Woody Woodpecker is coming up!”). Acting planted his desire to learn directing, so he attended Syracuse University for a film arts degree; as a freshman, he begrudgingly took the required “art” class––and found that art “called to his soul.”

Not long after graduation, through tenacity and luck, he realized a long-held dream to direct films for Academy Award– winning filmmaker Robert Altman. Topher’s films won awards

at international film festivals. He later produced video games for Electronic Arts for their best-selling PC franchise, Sims 3.

After a decade in Hollywood, Topher landed in New Zealand, where his son was born. Oliver Viking Straus is now twelve years old and––fun fact––holds three passports: one each from the United States, Sweden (his mother is Swedish), and New Zealand. At home in Genesee, Oliver and Topher’s companion is seven-year-old Spanish water dog FinLee.

“It’s a gift to raise my son in Genesee,” Topher continued. “Being the best father I can be is my most important job.” Father and son paint together, and Oliver has had three shows in galleries in Denver. “As my ‘executive director,’ Oliver made his own business cards,” said Topher proudly. Oliver also enjoys biking, nature, and video games. Topher’s mom, Jean Dennis, is an integral member of the family. They all enjoy playing rummy cube together. “My mom makes a great impact on Oliver’s life—and on the lives of all who know her,” Topher said. “For example, she helps people register to vote, and Oliver helps her send postcards for that.”

Jean worked for 43 years as a flight attendant, “a perfect fit for me,” she enthused. “My favorite cities were NYC, San Francisco, Portland, and Chicago. When I flew internationally after 25 years, I loved Paris and Hong Kong.” Although at the time she didn’t appreciate the Association of Flight Attendants, she is now grateful that the union had foresight to plan for flight attendants’ retirement security.

“Mom worked hard,” Topher recognized, “so she is now having the best life ever. She loves to garden and hike now––and travel as much as possible.” The three have traveled to Japan and Hong Kong.

Topher and Oliver often travel to Maui and Kauai since they love swimming and diving in the ocean–– almost as much as they love the Rockies, according to Topher. “But we are so lucky to live in the Colorado foothills,” he said.

“Here, we are connected through love for the outdoors. Colorado means so much to us all,” Topher emphasized, speaking of his Genesee neighbors. “And, while I am a multi- generational native, I find that the people moving to our great state add so much culture and intellect. I’m a proud Colorado native, but I don’t rock the bumper sticker!”

Jean chimed in: “It’s wonderful to see young families moving into Genesee. Their ideas and vitality add so much to the community. I moved here in the eighties; I was thrilled to discover Genesee because it offers everything I need to bring joy in my life.” During the eighties, Jean said, the community emphasized keeping properties natural: no mowing, and planting only native flowers and trees. “We even collected seeds from wildflowers to send to a nursery.”

Oliver loves Genesee too. “I love growing up in the foothills because it’s fun to be around nature. The elk are really huge and cool, but sometimes they eat my dad’s garden. I plan to live in Genesee when I grow up so my kids can experience mountain living.” Topher smiled. “We need to preserve this gem of a community for future generations,” he said.

Finding purpose in fostering community by donating his time and skills, Topher doesn’t hesitate to help. He’s donated over $75,000 in just four years; beneficiaries include BGoldn, which aims to increase food security, and Ralston Elementary’s PTA. Leadership Golden, a series of seminars that encourages and educates emerging community leaders, is also a beneficiary: Topher is designing this year’s Leadership Golden holiday ornament. Topher has also recently collaborated with local merchant Yo Colorado to produce a hat that features a reproduction of his Golden Sun painting (proceeds to benefit BGoldn).

Original work by Topher as well as limited editions (Topher does not do prints) are at several Colorado galleries, including Vail International Gallery and Topher Straus Gallery by Breckenridge Gallery; closer to home, Topher’s paintings have been displayed at Launch coffee shop and Guido’s pizza. For more information on Topher’s art, visit www.topherstraus.com.

Topher draws inspiration from Matisse and other masters whose work he was exposed to while he was a child under his mom’s roof. “She’s a pretty cool woman!” Topher says. “My mom has believed in me no matter what and always knew I had a gift to share––even when I couldn’t see it. The greatest part of my success is that my mom is able to watch it happen... and smile to herself.” When Oliver comes into his own, no doubt Topher will smile to himself that very same way."

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