Obituary: Walter J. Keller Jr. / Accountant who encouraged entrepreneurship

Jan. 4, 1940 - Feb. 1, 2013

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Walter J. Keller Jr. lettered in four high-school sports, saw every Pittsburgh home game of the 1960, 1971 and 1979 World Series, was a noted accountant and entrepreneur, and participated in an important event in U.S. naval history.

But one skill cannot be overlooked nor understated.

"He definitely enjoyed doing the twist," said his son Walter J. Keller III, 44, of South Fayette. "He was not bashful, and he was pretty good at it. At a hockey banquet the song came on, and he'd be doing the full thing with one leg bent across the other. 'Very animated' is the way I would want to describe it."

Mr. Keller, 73, died peacefully Friday while wearing a Penguins jersey in his Bethel Park home.

He grew up on Brownsville Road in South Park. At Snowden Township High School, now South Park High School, he lettered in football, soccer, basketball and baseball and led the basketball team to the WPIAL Class B championship game in 1957.

He attended Saint Vincent College on a basketball scholarship for his freshman year before joining the Navy. He eventually graduated from Robert Morris University.

Serving in the Navy in 1958, he was the radio man on duty in Londonderry, Ireland, who took the first call from the USS Nautilus (SSN-571) -- the first commissioned nuclear-powered ship in U.S. Navy history -- after it successfully completed a submerged transit under the North Pole, his son said.

Mr. Keller and Christine Bonosky Keller, who survives him, were married in 1968. In the 1970s, he became a founding partner of Accountants & Associates in South Park, and would launch various businesses including the Cochran and Keller Coal Co. and the Pittsburgh Vending Machine Co. He also owned and operated Sweet King, a soft ice cream parlor along Route 19 in Peters. In time, he also was a founding partner of Snowden Associates LLC, an investment and real estate firm in South Park.

A big Pittsburgh sports enthusiast, Mr. Keller was one of the few to have been on hand at Forbes Field during the 1960 World Series when Bill Mazeroski slugged the series-winning home run, while he also attended the home games of the two later Pirates World Series championships. He often was in the stands for Steelers and Penguins games.

"He was a jovial guy who could use a joke to make people smile," his son said.

On one occasion, Mr. Keller played a basketball game against a team that included Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw. He tried boxing out the quarterback to prevent a score, but Mr. Bradshaw took note and later repaid Mr. Keller by elbowing him. That earned Mr. Keller's respect for the quarterback as a tough competitor. "There was a lot of intensity between them at that particular game," his son said.

Mr. Keller also prompted young Walter and his friends to open a business that involved collecting golf balls from golf course ponds and reselling them.

Besides creating his own businesses, Mr. Keller helped others do the same. In 2002, he and his son Walter, a physicist, opened Nokomis Inc., based in Charleroi, that develops high-tech electronic sensors including one that detects improvised exploding devices, for the U.S. military. As a Navy veteran, Mr. Keller expressed pride that the company was supporting the military.

"He was clearly of the entrepreneurial spirit," his son said. "He encouraged people to start companies and supported them, providing services gratis or sitting on a number of boards of directors. Whether he had something at stake or people coming to him for help, he was very passionate about it."

He also supported his daughter, Katie Keller Zimmerman of Crafton, with her business, Bristlecone Clothing Co., that imported clothes from Nepal.

Douglas Broglie, a childhood friend whose friendship extended into adulthood, said Mr. Keller "was a self-determine guy, which was the crux of what he was all about. He also was strong-willed and committed" to any venture with which he got involved.

"He could talk about just about anything," said Mr. Broglie, South Park Middle School principal for 30 years. "We would carry on extensive conversations in regard to the news of the day, political activities, sports and the business world.

"I think he had a dry sense of humor," he said. "He didn't hesitate to express his opinion. He would tell you, 'That's the way I see it.' I guess I'm a little like that, too, so we hit it off pretty well."

In addition to his wife, son and daughter, Mr. Keller also is survived by his daughter Heather Geisler of New Market, Md.; his son, Brian Keller of Manchester; one sister, Carole Drotos of Bethel Park; and nine grandchildren.

Friends will be received 7 to 9 p.m. today and 2 to 4 and 7 to 9 p.m. Tuesday at the Griffith Mortuary, 5636 Brownsville Road, South Park, with a funeral prayer at 9:45 a.m. Wednesday followed at 10:15 a.m. by a Mass in Nativity Catholic Church, 5811 Curry Road, South Park.

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David Templeton: dtempleton@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1578.


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