From the The Olympian: Beller, Robert W., 68, Shelton, died Wednesday, March 28, 2012, at Providence St. Peter Hospital, Olympia. McComb Funeral Home, Shelton, 360-426-4803.
But the former all-around athlete at West Bremerton High School is hanging in there. He continues to live in the apartment in Shelton he’s been in for 25 years and still gets out to Bayshore Golf Course and whacks the little white ball around still, and he still fishes..
The news about Beller comes on the heels of the cancer-related death of Bremerton’s Bernie “Punk” Duzenski, one the state’s finest fastpitch softball pitchers and a man whose large imposing presence on the mound matched the stature of his large presence in the sport.
Beller and Duzenski played together. Beller was in his own right a tremendous softball player. He managed to play at the top level in the state with several outstanding teams, including legendary Pay ‘n Pak teams coached by Bill Fenton.
The news of Duzenski’s death hit Beller hard.
“Seems like its almost every week that I get a phone call from somebody saying somebody has died from some form of cancer,” Beller says. “It just totally amazes me. I’ve been into this cancer stuff going back to 2001 with skin cancer (squamous cell carcinoma). Back then my cancer was out in the open where they could get at it. That made a difference. They could just go in and cut it out and send me on my way.
“That started as a little spot under my tongue and they told me if it doesn’t come back in three to five years it isn’t coming back.”
Beller’s latest cancer was diagnosed earlier this year and it has nothing do with his earlier cancer. This one is in the throat and is being treated by chemicals and radiation. It all started when he suffered constant heartburn. If treatment can reduce the size of it, doctors might be able to get at it and cut it out.
He’s recently been given some medicine to treat the pain and the cancer and now he says he’s feeling great.
“I was starting to lose weight but I’m back up to 175 pounds,” says the 5-foot-11 Beller, who is taking chemo treatments. “When you walk into the room (where he gets his four-hour treatment) there are 15 to 20 other people taking chemo. If you start to feel sorry for yourself you just have to look at some of these guys. Some are 12, some are 92, and it’s sad to see them. It’s a terrible thing. This cancer is terrible.
“My doctor says they are close to finding a cure for cancer. He says, ‘you know Bob, it could happen tomorrow. We are that close.’ They are really serious about it. They are going to get it. I may not see it, you may not see it, but it could happen tomorrow.”
Beller says that he has some cancer cells on two lymph nodes right below his esophagus and notes that the great baseball slugger Harmon Killebrew who recently died had the exact same thing.
“Smoking and drinking are the two things that are the real culprit,” Beller noted. “So many people I know who never have smoked in their life or drank in their life have gotten it. There’s really no rhyme or reason for it. It just doesn’t make sense. It’s the damnableness stuff.
“But I feel good. I went out golfing last week. I took a cart, of course. I skipped a few holes. I get tired. I go fishing a couple times a week. I take my truck and go to the lakes and fish. I get around. I went out dancing. I had a couple girls come by and asked me to go dancing. So I went out. I had a great time.”
Beller was born in Tacoma. When his dad (Robert Beller) took a job at the shipyard, the family moved from Spokane to Bremerton. His dad was a good friend of Bob Torseth, longtime newspaper guy in Bremerton who at one time was sports editor of the Bremerton Sun. Torseth also played fastpitch softball back in the 1950s when that sport was king not only around here but in the state.
“They were good drinking buddies,” Beller says of his dad and Torseth. “They used to drink at that place (Olympic Hotel) just outside the main gate of the shipyard downtown. When I had to go down and get a few dollars they would be there drinking beer and shooting pool.
“I really like the guy (Torseth). He would come over to my house and talk to my dad about sports. I learned a lot from him just listening to him. He’d been around, I tell you that. He knew his sports. And he covered us real well (at West High). He would come up with some good stuff.”
Beller, who had an older brother and sister and a younger brother and sister (He also discovered two years ago that he has two half-sisters), was 10 when he arrived in Bremerton. The family lived on the east side and he played sports with North Perry Pee Wee.
His older brother Loren was also a pretty good athlete, but his younger brother Larry not so much. The two brothers both have died. Both were in Vietnam and suffered from the effects of Agent Orange.
“Larry was only 45 when he died,” Beller said. “He got beat up (one night). He was a cook downtown and one night he went to Port Orchard and on the way back on that little ferry somebody beat the hell out of him and threw him off that little pier downtown. Luckily the tide was out. Somehow he managed to make it up to Bernie’s (Smoke Shop, that was downtown) and they found him lying in the alley about 11 at night. They rushed him to the hospital and then to University Hospital in Seattle.
“I remember going over to see him. They ended up taking the top of his head off. He had mass blood clots in his brain. They put him in a nursing home. He wasn’t strong enough. He couldn’t take the medicine they had to put him on. And he had that Agent Orange and brain tumors and he just didn’t make it.”
Beller said Larry played ball. He tried hard, Beller said, to be like him and his brother Loren.
“He just didn’t have that athletic ability,” Beller said.
Beller always played quarterback from peewee ball to West High. They would have a tough game against Naval Avenue, which at the time seemed to have all the big and talented players, like Kenny Craft, Roger Strong, Greg Chamberlain, Eddie Aronin, son of the owner of Charleston Hardware.
“Eddie was probably as good an athlete that came out of Bremerton,” says Beller. “Him and I grew up together. He was a pretty good baseball player. He played right field. He was a great basketball player – quick and could shoot. He held all the records in peewees and stuff like that.
“He graduated from Weber State and was a big-shot lawyer down in Los Angeles for 25 years. He was one of those lawyers who worked all the big cases like the O.J. Simpson case.”
Beller quarterbacked the 1961 West football team that claimed the mythical state championship. The Wildcats, who had Steve Bramwell and Aronin as halfbacks, did suffer one defeat.
“We were just kicking everybody’s ass,” Beller said. “Wilson (of Tacoma) came over one night and we where ahead 19-0 at halftime. “To this day I’ve never seen Chuck (Semancik) so pissed. They beat us 20-19 and after the game we (players) stayed outside and looked at each other. We couldn’t figure it out.
“ Wilson was coached by Harry Byrd. He had been around for many years and him and Chuck were best buddies. They had those Parker brothers. And Wilson wound up eighth (in the final high school poll). But we should never have lost to them. I can’t believe we didn’t score a touchdown in the second half. And it was at home.
“Boy, I tell you, we weren’t going into the lockeroom. We didn’t even go into the school. We stayed outside on the oval (field). We knew Chuck was going to kill somebody. We waited until he showered. Once he got to his car, we went inside.”
Semancik would not let Beller play sophomore football. He insisted that Beller stay with the varsity, although he rarely played because the Wildcats had Kurt Yates calling signals. He finally got the starting job for the state title-winning 1961 season.
Yates, meanwhile, moved on to quarterback at PLU. Three years later – after Beller spent two years at Olympic College – Beller found himself at PLU again backing up Yates.
Danny Shedwin, who was two years behind Beller at West and who some might argue was one of the better athletes to come out of Bremerton, believes Beller playing QB for little ol’ PLU doesn’t do justice to Beller’s talents.
“Beller was a fantastic quarterback, and a super inspirational guy,” says Shedwin, who now lives in Seattle. “Playing at PLU would demean his skills as a quarterback.”
He was not only a super QB, but he was a very talented at basketball and baseball.
“He may have been the only guy to make (first team) all-league in three sports,” says Shedwin. He always did some sensational stuff in basketball. He could shoot a 50-footer and swish it. He would shoot the ball from the other side of the half-court line and the people would just go nuts.
“He wasn’t scared of nobody. He was just a tough, tough guy – just tenacious. I got all the respect in the world for him.”
Beller graduated in 1962 and enrolled at Olympic College. He was the second-to-last guy to ever talk to Ken Wills, the legendary basketball coach at West High who was forced to take the basketball job at OC in the fall of 1962.
“I was in the student lounge at OC getting a drink of water and Ken came out of his office on the main floor,” says Beller. “He came over and I said, ‘Ken you have the (basketball) shoes; can I get them this afternoon?’ He said, ‘Yeah, I’m going downtown and I will be back at one and I’ll go down and get your shoes for you.’
“ He told me he had to run some errands, ‘but I will be right back at one o’clock and meet you right here.’ I waited and then I had a class. I went to my class and when I came out he had already killed himself.”
Wills went down to Bremerton Sports Shop on Pacific in Bremerton and purchased a pistol from storeowner, Forrie Swan, the last man to talk to Wills. Wills then went home, penned a note to his wife Thelma, and shot himself.
“I got a call two days later from his wife,” Beller said. “We got along really good. She liked me a lot and I liked her. She asked me that day, ‘Bob, why did Ken kill himself?’ “
For a long time Bob Beller didn’t know what to think about the
death of Bremerton High School basketball coach Ken Wills, who shot
himself. But now he believes that Wills found out he had an
incurable disease. Whether that is true or now, nobody will ever
know. All that is known is that the shot that rang out that
November day in 1962 stilled the voice of a man who was much loved
“Ken and I were really close,” says Beller. “He used to stay hours after (basketball) practice for me, shagging balls. I truly believe he had cancer and it was terminal. I really think that is what it was.
“It was such a horrible thing, but a lot of kids in school didn’t like Ken. The black guy would not come out for basketball. Blacks would not play for him. I used to ask some of them why they didn’t come out and play basketball. They used to say, ‘I can’t play for Wills. He doesn’t like me. He doesn’t like black kids’. Some of those black guys could have played. They would have started for us. But they refused to come out.”
Beller said that Wills went so far as to purchase a basketball rim that was smaller than normal just so Beller could perfect his shot. Then he would shag balls for him while Beller shot at it. It made Beller an accurate shooter.
“I could make five out of 10,” Beller says. “Nobody else on the team could do that. They would make one out of 10.”
Wills was a perfectionist who took life seriously. Beller only saw Wills smile twice. The first time was when Beller was a sophomore and his basketball teammates bound him up in tape one day and put him in the towel hamper. When Wills saw that, he broke up laughing.
The other time is when Wills asked his players what it would take to make them better and Steve Schumacher said without hesitation, “Take Beller out.”
Beller discovered years after high school that he was the winningest baseball pitcher in school history. And still might be. That fact was discovered when he and Tinny Johnson, who was the baseball coach, were thumbing through old scorebooks.
“Dan Scott and I were the only two pitchers,” Beller said. “My freshman year I was 7-0, sophomore year I was 8-0 and junior and senior years I was 8-4. Scott won six in his junior and senior years. We threw a couple no-hitters. He and I threw one (combined) and I threw another one.”
Until somebody comes forward with additional proof, Beller’s 31-8 career record is the unofficial pitching record at a Bremerton High school.
Beller might have went on to play college ball in the pros, but just never could get the timing right. He went to a scout tryout at Cheney Stadium in Tacoma and after eyeing the competition moved over to the position tryout.
“There were some pretty high octane boys over there throwing,” Beller said. “I was just a shade under six-feet tall and there were boys there 6-4, 6-5, 6-6 and throwing in the 90s. So I went over with the catchers. There were not many guys who would steal against me. I probably threw out 99 percent of the kids who ran on me.”
That summer there was a 3-4 week tryout camp in Idaho he was invited to, but he got a job with the U.S. Forest Service and he couldn’t make it.
“I really kick myself in the butt for that,” Beller says. “I would have made it. I was a good catcher.”
Beller got married and took a job in the apprenticeship program at the shipyard. He didn’t like it there and finally accepted an offer to play football at PLU. He backed up his old Bremerton teammate Kurt Yates and played safety on defense.
One day he was sitting in the back table of a tavern in Parkland near the PLU campus, sipping his way through a pitcher of beer and smoking cigarettes while studying when the baseball coach walked in.
The coach came over, sat down, and asked Beller if he would come out for the baseball team. The coach said he only had two pitchers and begged him to come out. Beller reluctantly did. He wound up being t winningest pitcher with seven victories on a team that nearly lost 40 games.
The NAIA playoffs were such, though, that PLU was entered into the district tournament. The Lutes had to play Central Washington, which had won nearly 40 games, at Heidelberg Field in Tacoma.
Central had a slew of good ballplayers who would go on to play pro, including Bill North who would wind up playing 11 seasons in the Major Leagues with the Chicago Cubs, Oakland, the Dodgers and the Giants.
“I started the game and got through two innings (in a scoreless game),” says Beller. “Billy North came up and I threw him a fastball on the inside corner of the plate. He was hitting left-handed and he hit that ball and it tipped my right ear, went into dead centerfield over the fence and across four lanes of highway and landed in this Chevron gas station where it bounced around among the pumps. It was 408-feet to dead center, and it touched my ear. I remember turning around on the mound and watching it. It was unbelievable. I don’t know how a baseball could be hit any harder. They ended up beating us 10-2 or something like that, and I lasted five innings.”
Beller was 28 in 1971 when he left PLU with his degree and got his first job as teacher and coach at Lakota Junior High in the Federal Way School District. He was the head baseball and football coach.
After two years he returned to Bremerton and subbed in the district while helping coach football at Olympic College when Lynn Rosenbach was the headman.
“As successful as he was, I never seen anybody lose it like he did,” Beller says of Rosenbach. “He couldn’t function (during a game) He would start running on the sidelines and almost tear his neck off with his headsets. Thank God Harry Russell (assistant coach) was there.
“When we went on the road we would have to let him out to puke. I know one time we stopped at least six times to let him puke. He seemed to know football – Washington State hired him – but when he got on the sidelines he would just go off. I had never seen a coach act like that. He was a classic. And a nice guy.”
Beller got a fulltime job teaching world history at West Bremerton High School when Dick Anderson left to join Bob Moawad and the Edge Learning Institute. He taught there for a year and a half, but interesting enough never coached football for his old football coach Chuck Semancik even though he had the credentials to do so.
“I don’t know why he didn’t hire me,” said Beller, who often had lunch with Semancik at school and hinted to his old coach that he would welcome the chance to be an assistant, even as a volunteer.
But no go.
“He left me with the impression that he didn’t want to give me a job because I knew as much as he did,” Beller says. “He would tell me, ‘This is the way I do it.’ And I’d go, ‘Yeah, you taught me.’ It was weird. Really strange. And I was willing to do it for no pay.”
In 1977 Beller went back into the shipyard. He was in and out of there for several years before he decided he better stay.
Beller really earned his name in sports by playing fastpitch softball. He started when he was a teenager with manager John Pedersen, who had Nygard’s Superette at the time. But he played with a slew of teams, including with Red Brown’s Pop Inn, with a top-flight team out of Auburn, with Pay ‘n Pak and others.
“I made five ASA all-state teams – twice as a centerfielder, twice as a catcher and once as third baseman,” says Beller, who could hit well, run well, and field well.
He’s traveled all over the country playing –Poughkeepsie, N.Y., Salt Lake City, you name it. He says the best player he ever saw play softball was Bremerton’s Farrell Forbes.
“He could hit the ball so hard and so far, and he could run like a deer,” says Beller. “He was probably the best baseball player I ever seen. He could do anything. He had a tryout with Cincinnati.
“He was from another Galaxy – he was real different. We picked him up for a tournament in Yakima and he came up to bat with a couple guys on base and we just knew he was going to get a hit and get them in.
“He popped the ball up. He comes back to the dugout, sits down, and tells me a raindrop hit his bat and that caused the ball to pop up. And as he was saying that, I realized he really believed that is what happened. And I believed him.”
Beller tells of the time he was playing with Forbes on the Mead Samuel softball team out of Seattle. It was the forerunner to some great Pay ‘n Pak team. Forbes was voted the team’s MVP.
“He was such a jerk,” Beller says of Forbes, “that the team had this nice trophy made that had half of an ass of a donkey – a horse’s ass.
“We presented it to him and he accepted it like he had just won the Cy Young Award. We were all in stitches. But that was the kind of guy Farrell was. He was a hellevua player.”
Beller continued to play softball way beyond the years many people do. It was in his blood. He loved sports and he finished up softball playing on a team out of Shelton.
“I was 44 when I quit,” says Beller, who started playing softball in 1962 when he was still in high school. “I just couldn’t play up to my standards. You start to make errors and miss balls. I found myself not getting to balls, balls I knew I should have caught.
“It was time to get out of it. You can’t play forever. So I decided that was enough. For a year they would ask me out and I would come out and play a couple games on the weekend.”
It finally wound down and in 2003 he retired from the shipyard. Now it’s just the occasional golf game and fishing five days a week on a lake.
“That is pretty much it,” he says.
Now his competitive juices are being fed by his battle with cancer. He is 67 and waging a battle for his life, really. His old softball teammate Bernie “Punk” Duzenski recently lost his battle with the Big C and Beller doesn’t want to follow.
“I know I’m going to beat it,” Beller says. “The other one (cancer he had) I wasn’t suppose to make it to 2002. My doctor said it didn’t look good. I told him you ain’t going to get me with this doc, and he didn’t. It’s gone.”
Beller will be 68 on Dec. 2 and he’s looking forward to many more years of fishing. It’s been a good ride and he’s going to continue that ride.
“No,” he emphatically says, “this ain’t going to get me. It will get me in time, of course. We all are going to get it in time. This is tough, tough stuff. This chemo is nasty. Just damn nasty.
“I fall down, run into walls, puke and gag, but I just got to keep going.”