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Bethel Park veteran shared love of people with all he met

| Friday, May 18, 2007

David Backstrom's understanding of and loyalty toward people helped him to build a successful career in the retail industry.

"My father was a people person, who never forgot his high school friends, the men he served with during World War II and the hundreds of men and women who worked for him," said his son, Dan Backstrom.

David R. Backstrom, of Bethel Park, formerly of West Newton in Westmoreland County, a retired district manager of the Ames Corp. (formerly the G.C. Murphy Co.) died on Wednesday, May 16, 2007, at Jefferson Regional Hospital, Jefferson Hills. He was 82.

"My father was a tail gunner on a B-17 bomber during World War II, while stationed in Italy," his son said. "He flew 35 missions as a member of the 514th Squadron/376th Bomb Group. Dad bonded with the men he served with, and throughout the years he kept in touch with several of them.

"Although Dad seldom talked about his wartime experiences, he recalled the sadness that came over the group when a bomber failed to return from a bombing raid. These were the men, Dad would say, you shared your hopes and your fears with. And losing one of them was like losing a member of your family."

In 1946, following his discharge from the Army Air Corps, Mr. Backstrom began his career with the G.C. Murphy Co., working at the company's McKeesport warehouse.

"Although Dad didn't have a college degree, he had the personality to advance once he was given the opportunity to join the company's management group," said his son. "Dad had the knack to deal with the company's employees, and with the G.C. Murphy customers.

"He was also willing to relocate and, by the time he retired, Dad managed stores in California, Pa., Connellsville, McKeesport and Beckley, W.Va. In 1976, he was sent to the Downtown store on Fifth Avenue in Pittsburgh, prior to being named Pittsburgh district manager.

"My father's employees respected him. Although he could be demanding, he was also fair.

"If you worked for my father and were interested in making the company your career and had the ambition, he'd go out of his way to help you. If he didn't think you had the ambition or desire, he would not support you."

Born and raised in West Newton, Mr. Backstrom was one of three sons of railroader Walter Oscar Backstrom and his wife, Jessie Everett Backstrom.

It was while attending West Newton High School that he met Esther Hand. "My parents communicated during the war," said Dan Backstrom, "and were married in 1947.

"My mother, who died in 2003, was also very much involved in the communities where we lived or where my father was assigned. In our hometown of West Newton, Mom was very active and involved with the group that built a new community swimming pool. And as busy as Dad was, he made time for us. We had a picnic almost every Sunday."

Even in retirement, Mr. Backstrom, a member of the Peters Creek Baptist Church in Library, was asked to use his managerial skills to arrange church trips to historic sites, especially Gettysburg.

Mr. Backstrom is survived by four children, David, of West Newton; Dana, of Castle Shannon; Danny, of Peters, and Darlene Deem, of Morgantown, W.Va.; eight grandchildren; and a brother, Robert Backstrom, of West Newton.

He was preceded in death by a brother, Charles Backstrom.

Visitation will be from 2 to 4 and 7 to 9 p.m. today at the J. William McCauley Jr. Funeral Home Inc., West Newton, where services will be conducted at 11 a.m. Saturday, with Pastor Keith Emmerling officiating. Burial will be in West Newton Cemetery.

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