Steelworker's life embodied spirit of giving

| Sunday, Oct. 28, 2012, 8:44 p.m.

James Strohm wore several hats during his life, but his central role was always the same: a giver.

Whether he was picking tomatoes and handing them to neighbors or playing Santa Claus and handing out presents, Strohm was happily in his element, family and friends said.

James R. Strohm, a lifelong resident of Dorseyville, died Friday, Oct. 26, 2012, in UPMC Presbyterian Pittsburgh hospital in Oakland after a heart attack. He was 65.

Mr. Strohm retired from Union Electric Steel, Carnegie, in 2009 on his 62nd birthday, said his wife, Catharine Strohm. The two met in January 1968 while she attended Point Park University, when a classmate who was Mr. Strohm's cousin introduced them. He joined the company the next June, and the couple married in 1971.

“He was an excellent gardener,” said his wife. “He planted heirloom tomatoes, watermelon, zucchini. ... I think he had 400-some squash.

“He used to supply the neighborhood, and neighbors said, ‘Why don't you open up a vegetable stand?'” Mrs. Strohm said. “And he'd say, ‘Oh, I like to just give it away.'”

Mr. Strohm also volunteered countless hours in playing Santa Claus. His full white beard and cheery round face made him well-suited to play the role at different venues.

“He loved doing that. He just loved it,” his wife said. He portrayed Santa at Amber Woods at Harmar Village nursing home in Harmarville, where his late mother had been, and at Fox Chapel Presbyterian Church, where one of his daughters taught pre-schoolers in Sunday school.

“He'd come be Santa every Christmas,” said daughter Erica Strohm of Dorseyville. “He'd even study the toy commercials, so he'd know the latest toys' names and could talk to the kids about them.”

When he wasn't giving away toys and vegetables, Mr. Strohm spent 40 years in steelmaking at Union Electric Steel. He retired as a “draw furnace engineer,” monitoring and operating the more than 25 tempering furnaces for making forged steel rolls. The company was acquired by Ampco-Pittsburgh Corp. in the 1980s.

“We came up through the ranks in the machine shop and got to know each other when we got involved in the credit union,” said Ron Bittner of Kennedy Township, a former machinist.

“He was a great guy to be around,” said Bittner, adding that he never recalled Mr. Strohm without his Santa Claus beard.

In addition to his wife and daughter, Mr. Strohm is survived by another daughter, Gretchen Nay of Greenfield, and a sister, Alice Jean Brosius of East Liverpool, Ohio.

Visitation will be from 2 to 4 and 6 to 8 p.m. Monday in Herbert R. King Jr. Funeral Home at 2841 Woodland Circle, Allison Park.

Funeral services will be at 11 a.m. Tuesday in Trinity United Church of Christ, 3712 Saxonburg Blvd., Dor-seyville. Interment will be in Lakewood Memorial Gardens, Cheswick.

The family asks that memorials be in the form of donations to Trinity United Church of Christ.

Thomas Olson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached a 412-320-7854 or

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