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Businessman's life guided by strong beliefs

| Monday, Nov. 11, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Walter J. Brethauer, 92, of Ross Township, died Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2013.

Walter Brethauer was a man who could fix just about anything — a car, a major appliance, even a church.

Over the years, the Ross resident repaired ambulances abroad and BMWs at home, founded a local lumber company, and brought a North Side church back from the brink.

Walter J. Brethauer died in Concordia of Fox Chapel, Cheswick, on Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2013, a day before his 93rd birthday.

Born in Troy Hill and a graduate of Perry High School, Mr. Brethauer was a conscientious objector during World War II who volunteered with the American Field Service. He served as an ambulance driver in North Africa, Italy and India, often repairing his vehicle in the middle of nowhere.

Longtime friend Sue Driver recalled how Mr. Brethauer and her late husband, friends since high school, unexpectedly reunited a few years later.

“Neither one knew the other had signed up with the American Field Service, where they both drove ambulances,” said Driver of Franklin Park. “Then they spotted each other one day on a street in Tripoli.”

With a bachelor's degree in forestry from Penn State, Mr. Brethauer returned from the war and worked as a timber estimator and sawmill manager in Alabama.

He and Martha Eayre, his wife of 67 years, married in Pittsburgh in 1946. The couple returned to the South for six years before coming back to this area for good in 1952.

Born into the Lutheran faith, Mr. Brethauer began attending Universalist churches later in life. He joined the Allegheny Unitarian Universalist Church in the early 1950s, which proved to be a trying time for the North Side church.

“There were rumors at the time that communists were meeting there, which caused a real schism. A lot of people left, and the church struggled for awhile,” said daughter Jill Brethauer of Gibsonia.

“But he wound up getting more active there, then leading a lot of the services and doing the sermons,” she said. The church, founded in 1906, survived and still plays an active role in the community.

When he closed his company, Brethauer Lumber Co., in 1962, he took a position installing audio/video equipment in area schools and hospitals.

When the family car gave out in 1969, Mr. Brethauer acquired a BMW Model 2002. He became one of the first BMW club members in the United States and taught himself how to repair the German-made car.

“He was a quick learner and a great guy,” said Mr. Brethauer's daughter. “But he had strong beliefs and lived his life accordingly.”

Aside from his wife and daughter, Mr. Brethauer is survived by a son, Charles, and another daughter, Janet Conroy. He was preceded in death by a brother, Louis.

Memorial services are pending. Arrangements are entrusted to Schellhaas Funeral Home and Cremation Services Ltd., Bakerstown. Tributes may be paid at www.schellhaasfh.com. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to AFS Intercultural Programs (International), 71 West 23rd St., 6th Floor, New York, NY 10010 and Allegheny Unitarian Universalist Church, 1110 Resaca Place, Pittsburgh, PA 15212.

Thomas Olson is a Trib Total Media staff writer. He can be reached at 412-320-7854 or at tolson@tribweb.com.

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