Chuck Booth remembered for his commitment to the Alle-Kiski Valley
Long-time New Kensington resident Chuck Booth may have been one of the most influential people in the Alle-Kiski Valley, but many never knew the full impact he made because he often worked behind the scenes without notoriety.
“He worked hard every day of his life trying to make the Valley a better place to work and live,” said Bob Weil, his son-in-law. “He was generous in his contributions of money and time and energy to help make a difference.”
Booth, a businessman and philanthropist, died Sunday after battling pneumonia. He was 99. At his request, funeral services will be private.
He made his living running and growing Burrell Construction and Supply, the business his father started in 1935, and later Burrell Group Inc., which provides consulting and business services.
Booth attended Washington & Jefferson College before joining the Army Air Corps and serving as a bomber pilot in Europe during World War II. He flew more than 30 missions and received multiple awards and recognition for his service, including the Purple Heart, the Distinguished Service Cross, the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal with five battle stars.
“He was a very modest guy given all of his accomplishments,” Weil said. “He never wanted to be the center of attention.”
Booth continued to work until just before he became ill, going to the office and out to lunch somewhere in the Valley every day.
His lunches often turned into a giving opportunity.
“If he were in a restaurant and he saw a military (member) in uniform, he would call a waitress over and say, ‘I want to pay for a dinner or lunch,’” Weil said. “There were lots of service folks from the Valley who had free meals because of his generosity, but he didn’t want any acknowledgment of that.”
Booth was a big proponent of getting the Penn State New Kensington campus built. He was a member of the original founding committee and was influential in getting residents on board with the project. He continued to support the campus through multiple scholarship funds and other initiatives.
“He helped create Penn State New Kensington and, through the generosity of he and his family, he transformed the lives of hundreds of students who would not have been able to get a degree without him,” said Kevin Snider, chancellor of Penn State New Kensington.
Snider said it wasn’t Booth’s wealth or success that made him such an influence in the community. It was his kind and respectful personality that made him who he was, someone always willing to listen and help.
“I will miss Chuck in many ways — as a friend, a supporter of students and the campus, and someone to truly look up to with a sense of awe and wonder,” Snider said. “But Chuck has left us with something that will last our lifetimes and hopefully beyond — an example of what it means to be a legend.”
Long-time friend James Kopelman, who also served as general counsel for Burrell Group Inc. for decades, said he was honored to be Booth’s friend.
“A man of Chuck Booth’s caliber that would say I was his best friend really was a personal honor to me,” he said. “Chuck went out of his way to just treat people right.”
Kopelman said Booth wanted everyone to be happy and move forward with their lives after he was gone instead of mourning.
“We’ll just do our best without him, but he is irreplaceable,” he said. “They only made one Chuck Booth and the mold was gone. And it was a mold made out of solid gold.”
New Kensington Mayor Tom Guzzo said he feels lucky to have met someone as accomplished as Booth.
“He really cared about the city of New Kensington,” Guzzo said. “He was just really genuine and respectful. He was of that generation.”
Local artist Charles “Bud” Gibbons knew Booth since 1975, when he taught one of Booth’s daughters at Penn State New Kensington.
Booth later asked Gibbons to illustrate the cover of a book of jokes Booth had written and was an ongoing supporter of Gibbons’ work.
“It’s impossible to think about the loss of not having that intellect and that personality in our world,” Gibbons said.