Old voice of Newport signs off

Tom and Silvia Becker are seen with their 10 children in this 1970s photograph. (Courtesy photo).

NEWPORT — Full to the brim would be a good way to describe Tom Becker’s life.

Recollecting a father whose figure was an imposing one in Newport for many decades, Thomas Becker Jr. remembers optimism to spare, a warm style and a list of undertakings and accomplishments so long it might have seemed an impossible feat for a person of a less sunny outlook.

“He always had the opinion that if you had a good idea you should implement it and make it happen,” said Becker Jr., now a Medford resident.

Although Becker worked long hours and the jobs were never quite done, he strove to set aside time for family — the kind kids never forget: 10 of them stuffed in the station wagon with the dog, every year exploring a different part of the Northwest, from California into Canada.

Becker’s family likes to remember that he was born during a snowstorm which left two feet of the white stuff on the ground. That was Dec. 29, 1924, in the dark of a Nebraska winter. Like most of his generation, he and his family dealt with the shock of the Great Depression, rolling west to Washington State in 1930 to find better opportunities. Growing up with a magnified sense of the hustle, he ran three newspaper routes before most people were awake, tackled school athletics and then pulled graveyard shift in a grocery store.

Becker joined the Coast Guard, then enrolled at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His aptitude for radio engineering put him in the position of chief engineer constructing Loran stations in Florida, California and the northern Philippine island of Luzon during WWII.

There were plenty of stories from these times and he liked to tell them. On one of his trans-Pacific flights to the Philippines, an engine burst into flames and smoldered for 500 miles as the plane kept heading for its destination, finally bringing him safely to the ground.

Becker’s life was unfolding a bit like the old action-adventure stories that youngsters used to buy in the drugstore and devour in the cool of the shade.

But soon after the war, Becker met Silvia Bisi, the woman with whom he would build a family, and they went on to have 10 children. Despite a busy workday, Becker’s face would be seen in the bleachers at his kids’ many sporting events, at school programs and at church.

Becker and his new family moved to Oregon in 1948, and immediately began to leave a mark on Newport. Becker launched KNPT Newport, the county’s oldest radio station, that same year, near where Fred Meyer is located today. He and his staff worked long days and through weekends to get the station on the air.

“The only problem I had with the city was they wanted to know why I was building it so far out of town,” Becker told the News-Times in February of 1998 as KNPT prepared to celebrate 50 years of broadcast.

His first employee was Mo Niemi, who would become founder of Mo’s Seafood and Chowder along with continuing involvement by Becker in helping build out the restaurant chain.

Becker was president of the Oregon Coast Association from 1959 to 1960, spearheading a push to build the Astoria Bridge. He became the president of the Oregon Association of Broadcasters from 1968 to 1969, and later pushed for development of the Oregon Undersea Gardens as an officer of Lincoln Development Co.  

Becker served on the Oregon State University Foundation, put up the first money for the feasibility study that led to the construction of the Oregon Coast Aquarium and was a strong early booster for the aquarium. He was also key in helping to secure the acreage that is now home to the Hatfield Marine Science Center.

In 1988, Becker married Shirley Keudell of Stayton and added her six children to his flock.

“My dad was one of the most optimistic persons I had ever met,” Tom Becker Jr. said. “He instilled with my mother that optimism and can-do attitude in my brothers and sisters also.”  

Tom Becker Sr. passed away peacefully on Jan. 24 at age 94, surrounded by those he loved.

He is survived by nine children of his own and six of Shirley’s; 27 grandchildren and 18 great-grandchildren. Services are as follows:

Prayer Service: Thursday, Jan. 31, at 4 p.m., Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, Stayton, Oregon.

Viewing: Friday, Feb. 1 from 4 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. followed by Rosary at 7 p.m. Bateman’s Funeral Home, 915 NE Yaquina Heights, Drive, Newport, Oregon

Funeral Mass: Saturday, February 2, 2019, 10 a.m., Sacred Heart Catholic Church, 927 North Coast Highway, Newport, Oregon
Donations can be made to the Michael Paul Becker Scholarship Fund at Newport High School or the Becker-Keudell Scholarship Fund at Regis High School in Stayton, Oregon.

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