Robert L. Peltzer, 69, East Baltimore business owner who enjoyed hunting

September 03, 2001|By Heather Dewar | Heather Dewar,SUN STAFF

Robert L. Peltzer, who for 27 years was East Baltimore's impresario of sports, hobbies and pets, died Tuesday of heart disease at Franklin Square Hospital Center. He was 69.

From 1964 to 1991, he owned Peltzer's Sport Shop in the 2300 block of Monument St. For much of that time, he owned a pet shop next door. Down the block, he built and ran an eight-lane racetrack for model cars, where 50 cents bought a half-hour's worth of hairpin thrills.

An only child, Mr. Peltzer was the father of 12 children -- four children from his first marriage, seven stepchildren and an East Baltimore boy who moved into the family's rambling house in Bowleys Quarters, said his wife, Ann Peltzer. He provided jobs and free bicycle repairs to East Baltimore children, who called him "Mr. Bob."

Mr. Peltzer had a gift for gently guiding children from trouble, said Craig Singleterry, a Baltimore police officer.

"That was his main focus, keeping kids off the street," said Mr. Singleterry.

Mr. Singleterry said that at age 10, one of eight children being raised by a single mother, he walked into the sporting goods store, asked Mr. Peltzer to fix a broken bicycle and walked out with a job as an errand boy. It was the beginning of a lifelong friendship.

"If it wasn't for him I think my life would have been completely different," Mr. Singleterry said. "I'd probably be out on the streets selling drugs or been killed by now. ... He turned it around.

"A lot of kids in East Baltimore should be grateful that Mr. Bob was there."

Born in Baltimore and educated in city public schools, Mr. Peltzer worked for the Glenn L. Martin Co., inspecting components used in the Gemini space program, before opening the sporting goods store.

"He sold roller skates, water guns, poppers -- those things you throw in the street to make a pop," Mr. Singleterry said. "Kids would bring their report card in, and he would give them a little gift."

A first marriage ended in divorce, and in 1966 Mr. Peltzer married Ann Knapp Willnecker, also divorced and the mother of seven children.

"A man has to be stupid to marry a woman with seven kids, but it did happen," Mrs. Peltzer said.

About the time of their marriage, Mr. Peltzer built a 50-foot-long model car racetrack, which he set up in a Monument Street storefront -- the first public track for model cars in Baltimore. He later opened a second track, Race-o-rama, on Belair Road.

"He used egg timers, and for 30 minutes you paid 50 cents," Mrs. Peltzer said.

Mr. Peltzer later opened the Menagerie, a pet shop next to the sporting goods store. His businesses employed dozens of East Baltimore children over the years, Mr. Singleterry said.

Mr. Peltzer served as a Cub Scout troop leader from 1958 to 1964, and later his store sponsored local baseball, football and basketball teams. He was a founding member of St. Matthew's Lutheran Church in Bowleys Quarters and served for a time as its Sunday school superintendent.

An avid hunter and fisherman, Mr. Peltzer was appointed to the Department of Natural Resources secretary's Advisory Committee in 1988. He served in the volunteer post until the late 1990s, advising three DNR secretaries on striped bass protection, crabbing regulations and the cleanup of the Potomac River.

After suffering several heart attacks, Mr. Peltzer closed the last of his businesses in 1991. He became a volunteer ranger at Gunpowder Falls State Park, managing the park's Dundee Creek Marina until April last year.

For decades, he led a hunting trip each November to the deep woods of eastern Ontario, Canada, which drew participants from as far as Florida, his wife said. The proof of his hunting prowess hangs on the family's living room walls:

"I have two moose looking at me right now," Mrs. Peltzer said. "Three caribou. Three Dahl's sheep, a couple of pike, a walleye and a trout, and this 8-foot bear."

Services were held Saturday, and Mr. Peltzer's ashes will be scattered on his favorite hunting grounds in Ontario.

In addition to his wife, survivors include his mother, Margaret Butts of Baltimore; four children, Robert Peltzer II of Ontario, Deborah Cummins of Aberdeen, William Peltzer of Arbutus and Donna Read of Parkville; seven stepchildren, Raymond J. Willnecker of Joppa, Barbara Snyder of Abingdon, Gerald Willnecker of Hudson, Ohio, Richard Willnecker of Newport, Pa., and Kathy Jo Oswinkle, Peggy Jane Tawney and Robert Willnecker, all of Bowleys Quarters; a foster son, James McCann of Parkville; 24 grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.

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