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Born entrepreneur made people feel comfortable

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Monday, Feb. 4, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
 

Walter J. Keller Jr., a public accountant and entrepreneur, began his first business when he was about 10. He scoured the woods near South Park Golf Course for lost balls, then scrubbed and resold them to golfers for a quarter each.

The golf balls were like the string of businesses, some as diverse as coal mining and ice cream, that he started as an adult. They were opportunities he did not let slip away.

“You got to be diligently looking for these,” his son Walter J. Keller III of South Fayette recalls his father teaching him as a boy. “If you're not paying attention, you're just walking through the woods.”

Mr. Keller died Friday, Feb. 1, 2013, in his home in Bethel Park. He was 73.

He was born to Johanna and Walter J. Keller Sr. of South Park. His mother died when he was a boy, and his father, a carpenter, later built houses, instilling in him a love for starting a business.

He played football, soccer, basketball and baseball at Snowden High School. A 5-foot-8 guard, he led his team to the WPIAL championship when he was a senior. He received a basketball scholarship to St. Vincent College, but after a year, he joined the Navy.

Serving as a radioman in Northern Ireland, he received the call that the USS Nautilus, the world's first nuclear-powered submarine, had surfaced safely after completing its submerged crossing of the North Pole in 1958. Amid the tensions of the Cold War, his superiors were so happy that they crowded him away from his console.

“He was always proud of himself to have that little piece in history, to play a little role,” Walter Keller III said.

Mr. Keller finished his bachelor's degree at what was then Robert Morris College and worked for a private accounting company, where he met his future wife, Christine Bonosky, also a public accountant. They formed their own firm, Accounting and Associates, out of their house in South Park. They worked together for all of the 44 years they were married.

His daughter, Heather Geisler, said Mr. Keller had a knack for making people feel comfortable.

“He could crunch numbers like nobody you would ever meet,” said Geisler of New Market, Md. “Your taxes could be a mess, and he would straighten it out.”

He founded such businesses as Cochran and Keller Coal Co., Pittsburgh Vending, The Sweet King, Snowden Associates and Nokomkis, a technology firm of which son Walter is the CEO.

Mr. Keller enjoyed attending Pirates home games, including all those of the 1960, 1971 and 1979 World Series. He slid over to sit in an aisle next to a woman at Forbes Field when Bill Mazeroski hit the Series-winning home run.

“She rolled over, jumped up and down and kissed him,” Walter Keller III said. “He had to struggle to get up. He didn't know her.”

In addition to his son and daughter, survivors include his wife; another son, Brian Keller of Manchester; another daughter, Katie Zimmerman of Crafton; a sister, Carole Drotos of Bethel Park; and nine grandchildren.

He was preceded in death by his brother Paul.

Friends will be received from 7 to 9 p.m. Monday and 2 to 4 and 7 to 9 p.m. Tuesday in Griffith Mortuary Inc., 5636 Brownsville Road, South Park. The funeral prayer will begin at 9:45 a.m. Wednesday, with a Mass of Christian Burial at 10:15 a.m. in Nativity Church.

Bill Zlatos is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.He can be reached at 412-320-7828or bzlatos@tribweb.com.

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