Carl S. Beltz Jr. often showed off on the Bethel Park branch of the Montour Trail and the Arrowhead Trail in Peters by sitting on his bicycle handlebars to pedal his bike forward while facing backward.
For Mr. Beltz -- "the mayor of the trail" -- the trick attracted attention even if it ran counter to his philosophy of never looking backward in pursuit of a joyous life.
That he did with bowed Popeye legs, a floppy hat, an overflowing personality and readiness to converse at any moment with friends and perfect strangers.
"Both Carl and [his wife] Ila are two people who could teach a course on how to live your life," said their friend, Sandy Jabo, 68, of Bethel Park. "They took advantage of every moment they were together and knew how to enjoy life. It taught me a lot because I'm afraid of my own shadow."
Mr. Beltz. 81, of Bethel Park died Friday from a stroke.
"He was known as the mayor of the trail. He knew everyone. He carried dog bones in his pocket, and knew all the dogs by name," said his wife, Ilamae "Ila" Beltz. "He was the type of person who would talk to anyone, from bum to king. All were equal in his eyes. He would strike up a conversation with anyone, and they would go away smiling."
During the Depression, Mr. Beltz's mother died when he was only 4 with his father on the road seeking work. His mother's brother, Jack Stiver, and Mr. Stiver's wife, Louella, took him in, and he spent his childhood working in their Stiver Grocery Store in Dutch Hill, Clarion County.
Throughout a strict childhood, he stocked store shelves and ran the checkout, sometimes alone. After World War II, when the store began selling furniture and appliances, Mr. Beltz became a delivery boy.
He attended Parker High School, then entered and was honorably discharged from the Marine Corps.
Mr. Beltz met his future wife at a church camp and they married April 19, 1951, and moved in with her parents in Pittsburgh because Mr. Beltz's store wages had been cut. They lived in Edgewood and eventually made their way to Bethel Park. With the help of his father, an ironworker, he became a trainee at age 22 and then a journeyman in Ironworkers Local 3 in Pittsburgh.
"He loved his job," Mrs. Beltz said. "He was like a boy who loves Tinker Toys. Once an ironworker, always an ironworker."
A fitness buff, Mr. Beltz lifted weights and exercised daily, including walking and biking. But he was impromptu when it came to leisure time. The first time the Beltzes traveled through the Fort Pitt Tunnel after it opened on Sept. 1, 1960, Mrs. Beltz said she wondered aloud if a person would hit any stoplights en route to New Jersey.
"Let's try it," Mr. Beltz said. Then and there, they proceeded to Atlantic City and stayed a couple nights, "We had a ball," she said. On another occasion, Mrs. Beltz was home ironing clothes to raise money for a California trip when Mr. Beltz arrived home and announced they were leaving immediately for a six-week, cross-country trip to Laguna Beach, Calif.
"There were no plans. We didn't have the money yet, but I was 23 years old."
They camped and lived on canned goods but stayed during the off-peak season for tourism in an oceanfront luxury apartment and hobnobbed with actors Cesar Romero and Jeanne Crain.
"We just let things flow," she said.
She threw him a 50th surprise birthday party inside a construction trailer at the PPG Building work site in Downtown that included five Eastern Onion costumed characters, and his car was so stuffed with crumbled fake dollar bills that it was difficult for him to drive home. "He never really had a Christmas as a boy," she said. "I was making up for what he didn't have growing up."
He retired as an ironworker at age 62.
His hobby of conversation never waned, whether it was at South Hills Village, on the trail twice a day or in various stores.
Tom Perzel, vice president of the Montour Trail Council, and Peter Kohnke, who heads the Friends of the Montour Trail in Bethel Park, said conversations with Mr. Beltz could last 10 minutes or longer, with Mr. Beltz never forgetting details from prior conversations, including a person's age. One had to break away or the enjoyable conversation would continue indefinitely. "He was very friendly, and everyone loved to stop and talk with him," Mr. Perzel said.
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's disease, which he was diagnosed with three years ago, left him unable to speak, but he used a note pad and pen to continue communicating with people.
Mrs. Beltz said she's not mourning his death.
"I'm celebrating his life and the 63 wonderful years we spent together. We always said together that life is for the living and that's what he would want me to do."
Besides his wife, Mr. Beltz is survived by Robin Pollins, whom the Beltzes consider to be a daughter, and her daughter, Susan, whom they consider a granddaughter.
A blessing service will be held at Beinhauer Mortuary, 2630 West Liberty Ave., Dormont, at noon today, with private burial. The family requests memorial contributions be sent to the Friends of the Montour Trail in Bethel Park, Box 11, Bethel Park, PA 15102.
David Templeton: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1578 First Published October 20, 2013 8:00 PM