Karla Rettstatt stands in Hunter Memorial Park, a park she is transforming into a tribute to veterans.
BELLEAIR – There are some people who just can’t stop. No matter what is going on in their lives they are driven to keep going on whatever path they choose.
In Belleair Karla Rettstatt is just that sort of person.
At the moment, Rettstatt is heavily involved in the fight to change a zoning designation to allow a developer to purchase the Belleview Biltmore Hotel and build townhouses on the land. It is an issue, which has split the Belleair Community, but Rettstatt isn’t afraid to take sides.
“I just think the economy took a nosedive, and the money for the hotel just dried up,” she said. “Now it is not a viable business opportunity for anyone to put up that kind of money in the state it is in today.”
Getting involved in the Biltmore debate is just the latest of Rettstatt’s involvements. In the past, she has served on the town’s commission, and was involved in the Clearwater Free Clinic and the annual Festival of Trees event.
As well, she was the founder of the Wonders Foundation, a fundraising effort to help needy families with health issues that they cannot afford. Rettstatt says she can’t take all the credit for what she does.
“I feel I’m a catalyst to bring people together and make a difference,” she said. “You will notice the qualities of other people come out all on their own. It ends up being great with a good result. There are some wonderful people out there that just need to be asked.”
Asking people is something Rettstatt does well, as evidenced by her latest project, the makeover of Hunter Park. Rettstatt began another foundation, the Belleair Community Foundation, to turn the park into a shrine to honor veterans. She got the Belleair Town Commission to change the name of the park to Hunter Memorial Park and has committed to raising more than $300,000 for the project, which will include building a large fountain in the center of the park. To get that money, Rettstatt has had to ask many people to dig deep.
“There are so many people who are stepping up; that is remarkable,” she said. “I love that people get out to make the community better. Especially when you look at the dollars that are spent.”
A big reason why Rettstatt took on the park project was her father, and family is all-important to this active woman.
“My dad is a former Army man,” she said. “My mom passed away a couple of years ago, and now I’m looking after my dad, who is not well. He has COPD after smoking most of his life. He’s quit smoking now and says he has no one to blame for himself for his health issues.”
Rettstatt says raising the money for the park project is almost complete, and when it is finished, she said it will be a tribute to her father and all other veterans from Belleair and beyond.
It is that kind of sentiment that her friends say makes Rettstatt the kind of woman she is. Belleair resident and activist Lil Cromer says she’s known Rettstatt since 2005 and considers her a dear friend.
“What you see is what you get with Karla,” she said. “You couldn’t find a better friend.”
Cromer said as long as she’s known Rettstatt, she has been active in the community.
“In my opinion the Rec Center wouldn’t have been built if it hadn’t been for Karla’s devotion and dedication. She started the ‘Run for the Rec’ race to help raise money,” she said.
Cromer also was impressed with Rettstatt’s term on the Town Commission.
“Karla never arrived unprepared, she always did her homework and understood the issues before voting on them,” she said.
It was because of that diligence that Rettstatt eventually left the commission. It had become time to care for her family.
“My parents were older and my husband Larry was ill with breast cancer for a second time,” she said. “I had to step back a little bit with a son becoming a teenager, and I had to be focused on the management of that. If I had stayed on, I would not have been doing the town any justice. I used to spend hours reading and getting prepared for the meetings.”
She does wish there was at least one woman on the commission, which now consists of five men.
“It is important for women to be on the commission,” she said. “Any commission or business having women and men on it gives it good balance and I do think it is important. Women think (about) things differently; they bring a different perspective.”
Rettstatt was born in Georgia the youngest of three children. With her dad in the Army, they moved around a lot until they settled in Sebring when she was 10 years old. She graduated from USF with a business major and eventually became an area sales manager with Kraft Foods.
Now she and her husband are partners with friend Jeff Keierleber operating Jimmy Guana’s Restaurant at the Holiday Inn in Indian Rocks Beach and their newest venture, Jimmy’s Fish House, on Clearwater Beach.
At 55 Rettstatt says retiring is not something that is on her mind.
“No, I’m not thinking of retiring for another five or 10 years,” she said. “We hope to continue to live in Belleair for sure, and if I didn’t think we’d be staying, I wouldn’t put this much energy into it.”
All of which leads to the question, why? Why put so much energy into her community? Rettstatt says it is because it is just the way she is.
“I think it is just a kind of passion where God led me to be; to be passionate towards people and our community. It is not hard for me, I feel gifted and blessed. I don’t know what you’d call it, I just know I am,” she said.
And her legacy?
“I want to be known as a good wife, a good daughter, a good mother and a kind person.”