BELLEAIR — Bob Ahlf, 77, one of Belleair’s staunchest supporters best known for his old Studebaker, khaki shirts and baseball caps, died April 17 in a nursing home.
Ahlf was a passionate defender of the town’s bluff. Several years ago when a debate raged over whether to remake the bluff to stop erosion, Ahlf was one of many who claimed the bluff was not under any sort of natural siege and to remake it would be a travesty.
In Homewood, Illinois, which was his original home, he was a leading supporter of the preservation of the Izaak Walton Nature Preserve.
He was known for bringing together more than 1,200 volunteers to help care for the preserve. The current president of the organization in Homewood, John Brinkman, paid tribute to Ahlf upon his death.
“Those of us who cherish the preserve express our unending gratitude to him for his immense contributions that we will always appreciate and never forget,” he said.
Belleair Mayor Gary Katica credits Ahlf with saving the bluff by convincing Katica that nothing needed to be done.
“He changed my opinion on the drainage issue about the bluff and he convinced me that it should stay the way it was,” he said. “Otherwise, we would have opened up a project that would have seen 5,500 truckloads of fill coming through our community and that would have been a disaster.”
Katica’s was the deciding vote in a 3-2 decision in September 2011 to leave the bluff the way it was. Ahlf‘s legacy leaves more to the town of Belleair than just the untouched bluff. He has also left considerable property to the town.
Over a decade ago, Ahlf approached the town with the proposal that he give the community his property on the south end of Bayview Drive. At the time, the 2 1/2-acre property was worth millions.
His deal was that the town pay the taxes on the property until his death, then the land would be theirs. The deal was accepted and now, with his death, is complete.
Town Manager J.P. Murphy explained that there are four parcels of land that Ahlf owned. Three of those parcels are going to the town, the fourth to his estate, which is managed by old friends in Illinois.
Now the question is what will happen to the property. Murphy said the town will likely sell it.
“The commission will make the decision on the fate of the property,” he said. “There is the option of keeping it and turning it into a park, but it would be an awkward park because of the shape of the land and that fourth piece that doesn’t belong to us.”
“I think the general intent is to sell the property and use the proceeds for capital projects,” he said.
Years ago, the Thomson family left property to the town for the expressed purpose of turning it into a park. If not then the town would have had to turn the property back to the estate.
This is not the case with the Ahlf property; the town is free to do what it wants with it.
It will be several months before any final decisions are made about the property.
The Ahlf estate has asked for 90 days to be able to remove personal effects from the house. After that the commission will decide what happens.
Murphy is likely to recommend selling the property.
“I think it is best if it’s done by auction,” he said. “That way we won’t run into any conflicts. It is in the town’s best interest to get as much for the property as we can.”
Murphy said Ahlf’s estate has indicated an interest in selling that fourth parcel, which together with the town’s portion would make an attractive buy.
“It is zoned ‘estate residential,’” he said. “Two large estate sized homes could go on that property.”
The property backs onto Clearwater Bay. It includes a large dock.
While the bluff and the property will be part of Bob Ahlf’s legacy in Belleair, Katica adds memories to that list.
“I used to pick him up and take him on tours of the town,” he said. “He always dressed in that khaki shirt so you really didn’t know who he was.”
One memory for Katica included Ahlf’s car.
“It is a 1964 Studebaker wagon,” he said. “He used to drive it around town until he couldn’t drive anymore.”
“I can remember helping change out a hose in that car in the town hall parking lot one day,” said J.P. Murphy.
Ahlf’s estate will be donating the Studebaker to the National Studebaker Museum in South Bend, Indiana.
His other vehicle is a Ford Bronco that will go to the estate. Murphy said Ahlf was so particular about that vehicle that he had it completely rebuilt twice.
In the end, Ahlf lived in a care facility in Largo. He had no family; caregivers were his family.
Katica will always have fond memories of the man.
“He was a kindly person,” he said. “I can tell you he very much cared for this community.”
No services or gatherings have been planned, according to Ahlf’s wishes.