"Russ" Dahlburg Profile Photo
1918 Donald R. "Russ" Dahlburg 2024

"Russ" Dahlburg

December 19, 1918 — March 29, 2024

Philadelphia, PA


Shortly before midnight on Good Friday, Donald Russell Dahlburg, a retired lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve and longtime Upper Main Liner, died peacefully at the Delaware Valley Veterans’ Home. At 105, he was its oldest and highest-ranking resident.

To family members and the many others who loved and admired him, Russ embodied until his very last day the courage, grit and quiet modesty of what many consider America’s “Greatest Generation.”  

For over a century, Russ was truly unstoppable: Great Lakes deckhand, mill worker and steel company executive, World War II veteran. He survived both the worldwide Spanish influenza pandemic and a personal bout with COVID-19, and worked until he was 96.

On Dec. 19, 1918, a month after the Armistice that ended World War I, Russ was born in a two-story house near the summit of Pittsburgh’s Mount Washington incline. He was the only child of Beatrice and Theodore Dahlburg, offspring of immigrants from England and Sweden respectively.

That same day, Robert Ripley began his “Believe It or Not” column in the New York Globe newspaper. Woodrow Wilson was in the White House, the Model T Ford was the rage, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average, these days flirting with 39,000, hovered around a modest 76.

When Russ was 6, he and his parents moved to the Cleveland suburb of Lakewood on the shore of Lake Erie. His father captained boats hauling coal and limestone. For three summers, Russ worked as an ordinary seaman and sailed on all five of the Great Lakes.

After graduating in 1936 from Lakewood High School, Russ went off to attend Westminster College in New Wilmington, Pa. There, he majored in business and helped charter the local chapter of the Alpha Sigma Phi fraternity.

As a freshman, his roommate arranged a date for him with the campus May Queen. But his sights were already set on a young, stylish brunette and music major from Pittsburgh, Madeline Blackadore, whom he met at a class mixer in the college gym.

They were married for 54 years. Russ’s greatest regret was that Madeline was not at his side for the final decades of his life. She died in 2002 following a lengthy illness, during which Russ displayed great tenderness, caring and strength.

His academic and professional career was admirable. Graduating with honors as a member of Westminster’s Class of 1940, Russ went to work for U.S. Steel at the Homestead Works outside Pittsburgh, performing quality control checks at the 54-inch mill.

Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor put an end to that: within weeks, Russ was drafted. It was the beginning of nearly three decades of service in uniform.

After Officer Candidate School in Aberdeen, Maryland, and Chinese Language School in California, Army 2nd Lt. Dahlburg, now 26 and an ordnance instructor, shipped out for the China-Burma-India Theatre. He spent two years in Shanghai and other Chinese port cities, in charge of offloading ships ferrying rifles, ammunition and supplies for the soldiers of Chiang Kai-shek.

Russ’s commitment to his country continued after victory over Japan. Following discharge from active duty in 1947, he transitioned to the Army Reserve. In 1971, he retired as a lieutenant colonel and battalion commander. 

In 1948, Russ and Madeline were married in a garden wedding at her parents’ Pittsburgh area home. He returned to U.S. Steel as a junior executive in the company’s Manhattan-based export division. The young couple moved to the New York area and bought their first house, in Upper Montclair, N.J., for $17,000.

Between 1953 and 1956, they had four children--- all boys----John, Russell and twins Andrew and Theodore.

After three decades at U.S. Steel, Russ accepted a position as Philadelphia-area office manager for Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel Corp. The family relocated in 1971 to the Main Line and Berwyn, where they lived for almost 30 years.

By 2000, Russ and Madeline had become empty nesters, and they sold their two-story home and moved to the retirement community of Paoli Pointe nearby.

Russ continued to work, including two decades as a full- or part-time employee of Paoli Print and Copy. On his 90th birthday he was still on the job, though he noted with characteristic modestly that it was only for a five-hour shift. Six years later, he finally called it a day.

Including Army active duty, he had worked for 75 years_an astonishing run as breadwinner, head of household and productive member of the community. But what many will remember about Russ was his exceptional memory, his ability to deliver a good punchline and recite poetry, and his steadfast faith that one day, his beloved Cleveland pro sports teams would again be champions.

The day after turning 100, Russ moved into a senior residence in Center City Philadelphia. In 2020 the COVID-19 pandemic hit the facility hard, and a few weeks before his 102nd birthday, Russ tested positive for the virus. He was taken to Pennsylvania Hospital, where he became its oldest COVID patient. After 10 anxious days, he recovered.

It had been, he said, “very tough.”

For the last 2 ½ years, he lived at the Delaware Valley Veterans’ Home in Northeast Philadelphia, where he was a faithful and enthusiastic participant in group activities of all sorts. His family would like to use this opportunity to express sincere thanks to the staff for their professional and caring assistance.

Following Madeline’s death, fellow members of Trinity Presbyterian Church of Berwyn became a virtual second family to Russ, and he would have wanted to take this chance to express his gratitude to them as well.

To all those who knew and loved him, he doubtless would have wanted to say: “Carry on.”

In addition to Russ’s sons, survivors include four daughters-in-law, five grandchildren and one great-granddaughter.

Russ will be buried with military honors alongside his wife at Homewood Cemetery in their native Pittsburgh. A memorial service will be held at 10 a.m., April 27 at Trinity Presbyterian Church, 640 Berwyn Ave., Berwyn 19312. Friends and acquaintances are invited to join the family in celebrating Russ’s life and achievements.

In lieu of flowers, contributions to help fund the scholarship Russ and Madeline endowed at their alma mater are appreciated.  Donations may be made by mail to Westminster College, 319 South Market St., New Wilmington, PA 16172 (note “Dahlburg” on the check’s memo line) or online at www.westminster.edu/give. At the latter, choose “Other” in the Gift Designation dropdown menu, then write “Dahlburg” in the open field box.

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