St. Petersburg Times
Special report
Video report
  • For their own good
    Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
  • More video reports
Multimedia report
Print Email this storyEmail story Comment Letter to the editor
Fill out this form to email this article to a friend
Your name Your email
Friend's name Friend's email
Your message

Family, friends were awed by his drive to help others

By STEPHANIE HAYES, Times Staff Writer
Published August 16, 2007

[Special to the Times]
Peter Hagstrom was quiet, but he was ferocious about helping the homeless and poor. As president of a local St. Vincent De Paul Society, he helped find rent money, clothes and shelter for the less fortunate.

ST. PETERSBURG - It was dusk, and Peter Hagstrom's funeral wake had just ended. His niece and her husband walked outside.

A homeless man on a bicycle approached, asking to find work.

It was chilling for Barbara DeWitt. Her uncle had devoted the last years of his life to helping people like that man.

"I've had a lot of minimiracles that have happened while taking care of my uncle," said DeWitt, 53. "I can't explain them. I just know that the man was very holy."

Hagstrom was a quiet, devout Catholic. In his 20s, he declared, "I'm going to give my life to God."

At a Minneapolis seminary, he trained to become a priest. But by the end, he felt a nagging doubt - someday, he hoped to get married.

He left the seminary, but embraced the values, living simply without many material things. He gave extra money to charities.

Hagstrom, a Korean War veteran, worked in security at Raytheon and spent 30 years caring for his mother. In his early 40s, he met Pat, a woman who shared his Catholic values. They fell in love.

Just as Hagstrom hoped, he married.

He had found love. And eventually he found a way to fulfill his priesthood tug.

In 2003, Hagstrom joined the St. Vincent de Paul Society at his church, the Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle in St. Petersburg. His friend, Dean Staples, had urged him to join.

Together, they went on Hagstrom's first mission: helping a family that was from its home.

"He realized the need, and he wanted to get involved," Staples said. "In hindsight, I think that was one of the best things I ever did, getting Pete involved."

A curveball sent Hagstrom deeper then ever into his work.

Three years ago, Pat died suddenly from cancer. Hagstrom immersed himself in charity, becoming president of St. Jude's St. Vincent de Paul council.

He was organized, methodical and efficient at directing the other volunteers. He worked at finding food, clothes, gas money and housing for people in need. Once, DeWitt recalled, someone asked her uncle for a sandwich.

"The most beautiful part about it was when he got a letter back six months later and they were so grateful," DeWitt said. "It did turn their life around."

Still, Hagstrom missed his wife.

He went to Mass every day at 8:15 a.m. After church, he'd go to the cemetery and put a single rose on Pat's grave. His family knew not to schedule early lunches, because he'd be with Pat.

About a month ago, Hagstrom fell ill with cancer of his own. He died Aug. 9 at age 75.

He went quietly.

Stephanie Hayes can be reached at or 727 893-8857.


Peter Hagstrom

Born: March 19, 1932.

Died: Aug. 9, 2007.

Survivors: Sister-in-law, Jeanne Hagstrom; nieces and nephews, Daniel Hagstrom, Barbara DeWitt, David Hagstrom, Thomas Hagstrom, Peter Hagstrom; cousin, Patricia Zane. Brett Funeral Home.


[Last modified August 15, 2007, 22:19:25]

Share your thoughts on this story

[an error occurred while processing this directive]
Subscribe to the Times
Click here for daily delivery
of the St. Petersburg Times.

Email Newsletters