Bill and Marsha Uhler cook funnel cakes at the most recent Belleair Concert in the Park.
BELLEAIR – A Belleair couple gave new meaning to the phrase “giving back to the community.”
Bill and Marsha Uhler have been donating time and money to worthy causes in and around Belleair for years and nobody knows it. That’s because they don’t do it for recognition; they do it to help.
The Uhlers operate two businesses in the area, Mr. Bill’s Fine Foods and Cassi & Co., a fashion boutique in Belleair Bluffs. It is through the businesses that they do most of their giving.
They are most visible at big events in the community, such as the annual Belleair 5K Sunset Run.
“We have done the run for the Rec ever since it started,” said Uhler. “I don’t think anyone has participated as many years as we have. We donate the hot dogs and funnel cakes for after the race, the runners love the funnel cakes.”
They donate up to 800 funnel cakes for the race each year.
Bill Uhler, 66, and his wife came to Florida 18 years ago. Marsha had an aunt who lived in the area and she advised them to move to Belleair, which they did.
“It was nice and we wanted to do our part,” he said.
Uhler was in the food industry in Pittsburgh for 30 years before moving to Florida and it was there he got into the habit of giving back. Why? He says why not?
“I have time,” he said. “I don’t go onto the course to golf because I don’t golf. I don’t go out on the water to fish because I don’t fish. I help people. That’s my gig. My philosophy is if you don’t do anything you will rot away in life. I’m not sitting around in a rocking chair.”
Those who benefit from the Uhler’s largesse are many, although he admits he has his favorite charities.
“My weakness is for the vets and the Humane Societies who help injured and abused animals,” he said. “I do a lot for the Veterans Mall; it is an organization that helps homeless vets get a starter kit. The military helps them find a job and a place to live but nobody ever thinks about where they get a bar of soap or other small things they need for day-to-day life. I helped start the Veterans Mall with my neighbor several years ago and we’ve been doing it ever since.”
Whenever there is an event in Belleair involving veterans, such as the annual tribute at Hunter Memorial Park, Uhler donates all the food.
“We don’t charge them. We give it to them; it is being part of the community,” he said.
Mr. Bill’s Fine Foods is actually a mobile food truck. The truck and adjacent canopies are always seen at local events. The food is served and cooked by volunteers, usually people involved in the charity to be helped. Coming up is the Gay Pride parade in June.
“People involved in the parade are the ones helping me serve the food at weekend events around here,” he said. “I help them, they help me.”
Uhler is quick to point out it isn’t all about him. His wife Marsha is just as important to what is happening.
“She has been with me doing this since 1982,” he said. “She doesn’t complain. The sign says ‘Miss Marsha’s Famous Funnel Cakes.’ I couldn’t survive without her.”
Marsha started the annual Fashions of Belleair fashion show and it is another anonymous act of kindness.
“Marsha is the one who got the Fashions of Belleair going,” said Uhler. “We brought in 12 other boutiques to display their fashions. We didn’t use our name; we did it to help the vets.”
Commissioner Karla Rettstatt of Belleair emceed the most recent event.
Belleair’s Special Events Coordinator Rachael Hobbs has worked with the Uhlers for years and said they are special people.
“They have worked with the town for special events especially the race and the concert series,” she said. “They are ready to help out in any capacity, and they don’t expect anything in return.”
Hobbs said they donate the hot dogs for events, such as the race and Gracie’s Big Splash. She said she understands Uhler has his hot dogs specially made so the quality is not a concern. She said the town hopes the relationship with Uhler lasts a long time.
“They are reliable and a wealth of knowledge,” she said. “They have been in the industry for years, I value their expertise and I can count on Mr. Bill to be there whenever I need him.”
“He is always a pleasure to work with; he’ll often stop by and just say something to make you feel good. It is important to have someone rooting for you,” Hobbs said.
It is likely the relationship between the town and the Uhler’s will last for a while yet. Uhler said he has no intention of stopping.
“Tired of it? No, never. I never get tired of it,” he said. “My thought is that it is better to give than to receive. It is something for me to do for our community and I never ask for a dime. It just isn’t my style.”