Berneice Baltes, Eldora's first lady, dies
Berneice Baltes, alongside Hall of Fame race promoter Earl Baltes for 51 years of Eldora Speedway ownership — and 67 years of marriage — died Wednesday. The New Weston, Ohio, resident and beloved figure among the track's ardent Late Model fans was 93. | Slideshow
Her grandson Joey Schmitmeyer posted news of her passing on his Facebook page Thursday night. "Berneice got her wings and went home to be with Earl Wednesday, peacefully in her home," he wrote. "What a wonderful life she had. We will love and miss you forever!!!"
Berneice Moeller met her husband-to-be at the St. Henry Nite Club, a longtime supporter of Eldora Speedway, when she was 17 years old. They married April 26, 1947, and soon enough the bandleader she married became a hard-working (and wisecracking) race promoter when Eldora Speedway was built on the property of the Baltes's Eldora Ballroom starting in 1953.
The fledgling track became one of the country's most famous short tracks with Berneice managing concessions while continuing to operate the ballroom. She was named USAC's Woman of the Year, a member of the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame and was a popular panelist at RPM's Racing Promoter Workshops for pioneering menus served to Eldora's throngs. After toiling at hundreds of major race events, Earl and Berneice traditionally joined the winners in victory lane.
"Some of my best memories of Eldora include pulling into the track early in the week — before you’d see Earl on the track or Berneice in the concessions — you’d see laundry on the clothesline at their house right out front," said Tony Stewart, the famed racer who bought Eldora in 2004. "It was a great reminder that these two people built something that can never be recreated right in their backyard — and that’s why the statue at Eldora’s main entrance is of the two of them, arm-in-arm, welcoming everyone to their place.”
The always well-coiffed Berneice, often sporting checkered flag earrings, continued spectating at Eldora in the years after suffering a 2014 stroke and following the 2015 death of her husband.
Survivors include daughter Starr and husband Joe Schmitmeyer, son Terry and wife Dee, along with six grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren.
Visitation is 4-8 p.m. Tuesday, March 2, at Tribute Funeral Home in Greenville, Ohio, and again 9-9:45 p.m. Wednesday; the funeral is 10:30 a.m. Wednesday at St. Bernard Catholic Church in Burkettsville with burial to follow in St. Bernard Cemetery.
Memorial contributions may be given to the DARF Injured Drivers Fund, 1361 Edinburg Drive, Troy OH 45373. Find a complete obituary at tributefuneralhomes.com.
Editor's note: Updates with arrangements and details.