George Studen, a tough Serb from Midland who served with Gen. George Patton in World War II and returned home to devote himself to work and family, died Saturday.
He was 87 and had spent the last five years living in Oakland with his daughter Sara Jane Studen after suffering a stroke.
Mr. Studen was part of that generation hardened by the Depression and war.
He worked for decades as an electrician at Crucible Steel in Midland while running a construction business on the side during the summers, when he had 13 weeks off from the mill. He also later ran a scrap business.
His hard work allowed him to send his two daughters to college, a source of pride for him.
"He always wanted to be a provider. His whole life was working," said his other daughter, Deborah Studen-Pavlovich, chair of pediatric dentistry at the University of Pittsburgh.
"He was working all the time," said her husband, George Pavlovich. "He was an extremely strong person. He was a tremendous powerhouse of strength."
Despite the decline of Midland, where he built his own house in 1955, he never wanted to leave. But he suffered from dementia and could no longer take care of himself.
"Every morning when I'd wake him up and ask him how he was, he'd say, 'Grateful. I'm still here,' " said Ms. Studen. "He really loved life. He was so thankful."
Born in 1926, one of six children of immigrants from Yugoslavia, Mr. Studen grew up poor and went to work in the mill part time as a 10th-grader during World War II.
When he turned 18 in 1944, he enlisted and served as a truck driver for a tank destroyer battalion, part of Patton's Third Army as it pushed into Germany.
"He said, 'I thought I would get killed any day,' " said Mr. Pavlovich. "But he didn't really talk about it much."
At Remagen, he encountered the Messerschmitt 262, the world's first jet fighter, and later helped guard the Merkers Salt Mine, where the Third Reich hid plundered gold and art treasures.
He also allowed that the Sherman, the main U.S. tank, was a "piece of crap" compared to the German panzers it faced.
"They outgunned us," Mr. Pavlovich recalled Mr. Studen telling him. "They had longer range and more power."
Mr. Studen came into contact with the famous Patton several times during the war and revered him. On a return trip to Europe in 1999 with his daughter and son-in-law, he visited the cemetery in Luxembourg where Patton is buried.
"He cried at his grave," said Ms. Studen-Pavlovich.
After the war, Mr. Studen followed the same path as millions of other veterans: He went to work and started a family. He married Mary Paich Studen in 1949 and raised his daughters in a small colonial house he built on Beaver Avenue, near the St. George Serbian Orthodox Church, where he was a charter member.
His family said he saw opportunity everywhere after the war and lived by the motto, "Always be more than you appear." Besides building garages for homes, his company built a larger commercial garage and leased it to a local trucking company. He also constructed a hangar at Beaver County Airport as well as water tanks, sewers and other projects around Midland.
When he suffered a heart attack in 1982 at age 55, he had to retire from the steel mill, but he got a generous pension and continued his construction business. He also started a new business buying and selling scrap iron, steel and copper.
"If he put his mind to something, he did it," said Deborah Studen. "He had a lot of fortitude."
He had few hobbies that weren't work-related, but he loved newspapers, reading several every day throughout his life.
After his wife died in 1993, Mr. Studen remained in the Midland home until his stroke five years ago. He died surrounded by his family at UPMC Presbyterian.
Besides his daughters, he is survived by a sister, Marcia Blount of California.
Visitation is 10 a.m. Thursday, followed by a church service at St. George Serbian Orthodox Church.
Military tribute and interment will be in the mausoleum in Beaver Cemetery.
Torsten Ove: email@example.com or 412-263-1510.