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History of The BackStoppers

History of The BackStoppers

Police officers, firefighters, and EMS workers live with danger – it is part of their job, part of their lives.  So do their families, who have to be ready at any time to hear the news of tragedy.

Perhaps no one in the community – when that news comes – receives a greater outpouring of sympathy than these brave families.  But days, weeks, and even years later, when sympathy is a well-intentioned echo, who will be nearby to soften the hard realities of loneliness and financial insecurity?

This was the question nagging Nicholas Blassie, president of Meatcutters Union Local #8 in 1959, when he heard about the work of a Detroit organization that provided relief for the families of fallen public servants.  Called the Hundred Club, it was supported by leaders in business, labor, and the professions in the Motor City solely for the benefit of surviving spouses and children of first responders killed in the line of duty.

Wanting something similar in the St. Louis area, knowing something should be done, he went to Richard H. Amberg, publisher of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, for help.

No one knew better than Mr. Amberg, a life-long newspaper publisher, the risks that first responders hazard each day and the often meager provisions set aside for their families should these men and women be killed.  True, the city had a benefit program to aid the families, but it wasn’t enough.  Time could eventually ease the surviving spouse’s grief, but the small pension provided through a special fund could hardly spare one from financial worries, the possible loss of their home or anxiety for a child’s future.

The publisher began immediately to breathe life into Mr. Blassie’s idea, inviting key civic leaders from business, labor, and the professions to attend organization meetings and making arrangements for a corporation charter.  He was named temporary president at the pre-incorporation meetings and elected first president when the charter for The BackStoppers was granted on September 11, 1959.

The BackStoppers was less than five months old when three St. Louis firefighters battling a blaze in a run-down salvage firm at 106-110 ½ Sixth Street were killed when the entire second story collapsed above them.  This tragedy, leaving three widows and 11 children – eight of them very young – followed closely the death of two St. Louis County firefighters, one killed in an auto accident while speeding toward a fire, the other felled by a heart attack while fighting a fire.

Thus, with about two hundred members and only first-year dues, The BackStoppers found they could provide each family with the necessary help. Today, The BackStoppers supports approximately 80 families with 65 dependent children.  The annual survivor benefits paid out equals approximately $1.3 million.