BY STEVE LEVIN Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
Almost every Sunday for the past 15 years, Doug Bentz met his son, Dirk, for a 25-mile, early morning bike ride.
They rode together this past weekend, too, for the last time.
The 70-year-old Bentz, owner of Bentz Ski Chalet and known as Bakersfield’s ski guru, died of an apparent heart attack while on the bike trail near Manor Street.
For people who knew him, Bentz seemed indestructible. He rode his bike 25 miles a day six days a week, skied like a man half his age, raced vintage cars and kept his iconic store on East Brundage Lane running when other independent stores folded under the pressure of e-commerce and retail outlets.
“He did it for the people,” said Dirk Bentz. “He really just did it because he had friends coming to visit him and to talk to him.
“He always said (the store) was his ministry.”
A man of principles, Bentz quit carrying Rossignol and other French ski equipment and apparel when France refused to support the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 following the 9/11 attacks.
While so-called Freedom Fries later reverted to french fries, Rossignol never returned to Bentz Ski Chalet.
“He was all in,” said Kerry Ryan, who was an employee of Bentz’s for a short time in the early 1980s and later opened Action Sports, which sells skiing and hiking equipment.
“His store was a fixture. It was the shop to go to.”
Bentz worked at Pacific Gas and Electric Company in the late 1960s when he decided to open his store. He asked Russ Elrod, a high school senior who worked at the local sporting goods store Mid Valley Sports Center, to work for him instead.
“He was pretty lenient,” Elrod recalled. “We didn’t have a whole lot of rules; just get the skis done and just keep the customers happy.”
Elrod continued working at the store while attending Bakersfield College.
He remembered Bentz leading ski trips to the Mammoth Mountain Ski Area that left Bakersfield at 3 a.m., skied the entire day and returned in time for Elrod to make his morning classes.
“Anything that was a challenge, Doug was up for it,” Elrod said.
Perpetually tanned from being outdoors, Bentz catered to elite skiers. He carried top-of-the line equipment, serviced everything and knew everybody.
Everyone knew he was opinionated. Bentz knew it, too. He just didn’t have much tolerance for anyone else’s opinion when it came to the ski business.
What he did have was a great love of his son’s family, including his wife, Renee, and the two grandchildren, Andrew 10, and Faith, 9. They called him “Papa Doug.”
Bentz was baptized about six years ago, and often attended church with his son’s family. They rode bikes early on Sunday mornings so they’d finish in time for church.
This Sunday, about 6:30 a.m., Bentz had just stood up after retrieving his gloves, which he’d dropped, and then toppled over.
His son and emergency personnel did chest compressions, but he died later at Bakersfield Memorial Hospital.
In addition to his son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren, he is survived by a sister, Marijo Higgenbotham of Las Vegas.
Funeral arrangements are pending.