GELHAUS, Lawrence George
Remember me with a toast! 'Live full of life, to good fortune, to good times.' Words to live by, 'Stay and be positive,' 'put stuff back where you found it,' 'perfect is close enough.'
Lawrence George Gelhaus was 79 years 'young,' born August 31, 1933, in Oakland, California, and passed away on Sunday, November 18, 2012, at UCD Medical Center in Sacramento after two years of lung related illness, with sons Philip and Kenton Gelhaus, brother Clark and sister-in-law Ingrid Gelhaus at his bedside. Larry's wife Norma Jean, affectionately known to all as Janet, was home bedridden with her caregivers as she also struggles with her own health illnes ses. She was heartbroken when she learned of Larry's passing from her son Russell Neves, along with Philip and Kenton at Larry and Janet's Valley Springs home later that same Sunday evening. Larry is survived by his wife Janet; her two sons Donald, wife Lori Neves, 4 grandchildren, and 4 great-grandchildren; and Russell and Tia Neves, 2 grandchildren, and 6 great-grandchildren. Larry is also survived by sons Philip, wife Patricia, 2 grandchildren Michael Gelhaus and Ciara Gelhaus-Johnson, and 1 great-grandchild Colton Johnson, born 3 days prior to Larry's passing on November 15, 2012; son Kenton Gelhaus, 1 grandson Cooper Gelhaus; and his brother Clark Gelhaus and wife Ingrid. Larry was preceded in death by parents George Joseph and Dorothy Helen 'Dot' (Randall) Gelhaus; his third oldest son Stanley Lawrence Gelhaus; brother Clayton Randall Gelhaus; and 'little sister' Joyce Shivel (Gelhaus).
Lawrence 'Larry' George Gelhaus was born in Oakland, California. His early childhood was happily spent in El Cerrito, long before it became a part of the greater Bay Area Metropolis. At the age of 7, Larry's parents, George and Dot, moved their young family to a new development so named 'Lafayette Manor,' a former pear orchard located in central Lafayette in the East Bay. During these pre-high school years, the family owned a laundry business in the Oakland-Berkeley area. George's 3 sons', elementary school aged children, actively worked in the family laundry business. It was here that they were introduced to chemistry and use of bleach, knowledge that would serve them well later in the swimming pool business. In the late 1940's, Larry's father George became a partner in Kibby's Tavern in Oakland. Larry tended bar during the winter months in the 1960's to supplement his young family's income and it was another prelude to Larry's future business endeavors.
In 1946, George and Dot built one of the first residential backyard swimming pools in Contra Costa County and certainly the town of Lafayette. The backyard also included picnic grounds, a brick fireplace, and a built-in grill; the design was light years ahead of today's backyard living. As one of the Gelhaus boy's family chores, the boys learned how to build and maintain the swimming pool. Dot and George lived in the house until Dot passed in 1993. Throughout his life, Larry idolized his father George and wanted to follow in his footsteps. The pattern of working with his dad created a bond that would last a lifetime. George died at the age of 79. So did Larry.
Larry attended Acalanes High School in Lafayette and graduated in the class of 1951. Throughout his high school career, Larry had a passion for basketball and made the Acalanes JV squad. At 5'4' and 116 pounds, he was deemed to be too small to play varsity. As Dolores Needham, his first love and wife recalls, 'He was fast and could get the ball away from anybody. I remember watching him play and he was able to skirt around them all; he would make himself even shorter by bending over head down and full speed ahead. He was fun to watch.'
After high school Larry worked in the shop at Parker-Robb Chevy in Walnut Creek. The job afforded him the means to purchase his first brand new car, a black 2-door Chevy Bel Air.
On August 2, 1952, Dolores Needham and Larry Gelhaus were married. That same year, Larry became a letter carrier for the US Postal Service. Ever ambitious, Larry took second jobs at a walnut processing plant and later at a canning plant working the night shift. At one point, Larry fell asleep while driving, which put an end to working two jobs well into late at night and starting early mornings. Larry really disliked working at the post office and had decided to enlist in the Air Force. The plan changed when they found out Dolores was pregnant with their first son, Philip.
While shopping for pool supplies at Landon Pools in 1954, Larry's brother Clark saw a help wanted sign and told Larry about a pool route opportunity. Larry interviewed with Landon and took a job as a service technician. When brother Clayton got out of the Air Force, he went to work for Paddock Pools. It wasn't long before Larry and Clayton realized that they were using their own trucks and their own tools, so why not start a business together? Between the two, they had met many potential customers doing new pool start-ups and service work for Landon and Paddock Pools. Brother Clark had taught many young children how to swim in 'The Family Gelhaus Backyard Pool,' introducing themselves to their parents and even more potential clients. Larry had also met many pool owners on his mail route. Larry and Clayton formed a partnership and started Catalina Pool Service of Walnut Creek, CA in 1955.
The partnership lasted until 1960, at which time it was agreed that Clayton would keep the service business and Larry would become the sole proprietor of the new retail-wholesale swimming pool supply company; Larry formed and founded Larry Gelhaus Pool Supply of Lafayette, California. As with most family businesses, wife Dolores and sons Philip, Kenton, and Stanley (still in elementary school ages) were all actively involved in the pool business. Larry continued operating Gelhaus Pool Supply after a divorce in 1969 with the help of his 3 sons. In 1977, the business was sold to employees and Larry retired as an early pioneer from the pool industry. His sons' legacy and future success stayed rooted in the industry Larry taught them.
While raising the 3 boys, Larry and Dolores' young family enjoyed water skiing, bowling, and going to the movies. There were also frequent road trips to the Gold Country that fueled the family interest in California history and Larry's next legacy trail.
Throughout Alameda and Contra Costa counties, Larry became well acquainted with the nightlife and was known as 'Goodtime' and 'Lucky Larry.' Larry would meet the next love of his life, Norma Jean 'Janet' (Williams) Neves, at the legendary Lafayette Roundup Saloon in the summer of 1972. On January 9, 1973, they were married. They purchased the 49er Club in San Andreas in 1976. Janet ran the restaurant and kitchen and Larry tended the bar. The couple moved to San Andreas in 1976 and Larry continued running both businesses until the Bay Area pool company was sold in 1977. Larry and Janet moved to Valley Springs in 1979 where Larry lived until his passing.
Larry and Janet were proud of their new business and wanted to grow and protect the new investment known as 49er Club. County-wide issues arose early on. Business disruption created by the Calaveras County Frog Jumping Festival persisted throughout the early 1980's. For restaurant and bar owners, it meant out of town bikers partying, stealing, leaving unpaid tabs, and trashing local establishments. In response, Larry Gelhaus helped form the Gold Country Bar Owners Association to address these concerns. Soon, other local businesses and law enforcement joined in to curb the violence and theft. Larry was proud of his role in the countermeasures taken to put an end to these issues. The 49er Club was sold in 1989 and again in 1996. The 49er Club property was finally sold to VFW Post #2600 of San Andreas in the early 2000's.
Larry survived 5-way heart by-pass surgery in 1998 and 6 months later he suffered a ruptured abdominal aortic aneurism and was DOA after a life flight from San Andreas Hospital to UCD Med Center Sacramento. He was miraculously brought back to life at UCD Medical Center by 'his team of angels.' After finally selling the restaurant property, Larry and Janet retired to their Valley Springs home where they loved hosting the Gelhaus annual family picnic and barbeques every September with family and friends. Throughout his time in the Gold Country, Larry enjoyed billiards, dice, horseshoes, cards, dancing, and storytelling.
Recent health issues slowed both Larry and Janet's activities. In February 2010, Janet's condition worsened and the illnesses brought their lives to a gradual standstill. Larry didn't let that bring him down; he always stayed positive, cheering Janet on to do the same, right up to the end of his own life. Larry's one lifelong goal since the passing of his father, George, was to outlive his dad and make it to 80. Larry Gelhaus defied one death only to fall short of his and his father's goals by only a few months, but he did not go down without a fight towards achieving his last goal.
Services for Lawrence George Gelhaus will be January 18, 2013, 1:00 PM at Oakmont Memorial Park and Mortuary, 2099 Reliez Valley Road in Lafayette, California 94549. Phone number 925-935-3311; website: www.oakmontmortuary.com. A gathering will follow immediately after the service at the mortuary.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made in Larry Gelhaus' name to either the
and/or FPSIE Inc. FPSIE INC is a 501C3 non-profit pool trade school in Sacramento that Larry's son, Phil, helped set-up. Larry was proud of being one of the early pool industry pioneers and trainers, as were brothers Clayton and Clark Gelhaus. This school is part of their legacy to teach others the skillsets required to enter the pool industry trade.
Donations in the name of Larry Gelhaus may be sent to: FPSIE INC., Attn: Carol Dittmer, 598 Display Way, Sacramento, CA 95838 or call 916-922-8895. Credit cards are accepted. Tax deductible too!
Published in The Sacramento Bee on Dec. 30, 2012
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