William P. Betz, 83, operator of medicinal herb business for 50 years

Posted: February 05, 2014

ANYBODY FOR Catfish Bitters?

No, they're not made from catfish, but by a man called Catfish, who used to prepare a blend of herbs he claimed could cure any human distress. He lived in the woods of West Virginia and was doing well until the Food and Drug Administration put a crimp in his operation.

Nevertheless, William P. Betz tried the bitters and found they made a decent tonic.

Betz sold the bitters, along with a collection of other herbs - like mugwort, tansy, sacred bark and more familiar items like sage, thyme and ginseng - at his store and mill at 2nd and Spring Garden streets in Northern Liberties.

Catfish has no doubt gone on to his reward, but Penn Herb Co. is still going strong, with plans to erect a natural-remedy superstore, with 14 apartments and underground parking on-site, this year.

William P. Betz, who took over the herbal business from a naturopathic physician in 1962, a world traveler, skier, Jehovah's Witnesses minister and Army veteran, died Jan. 29 after a long battle with sarcoma. He was 83 and lived in Huntingdon Valley.

Born in Abington, William graduated from Olney High School in 1949 and Penn State University in 1953 with a degree in business administration.

He served in the Army from 1953 to 1955. Being fluent in German, he was assigned as a translator in the Army's Records and Security Department stationed in Goppingen, Germany.

William studied under Konstanty Kalkosinski, a naturopathic physician who founded Penn Herb Co. in 1924. William took over the business in 1962 and reorganized it. It went from two employees in a small neighborhood store to 37 today.

"He helped thousands of people in the Philadelphia community to learn about herbs and how to use natural remedies to improve their health," said his son, William P. Betz Jr., chief executive and co-owner of the business.

When his father took over the business, Northern Liberties was a dilapidated neighborhood. William used to cut the grass and pick up the trash in a small park across the street.

The business operation, where herbs are processed and shipped worldwide, is now in a 46,000-square-foot building in the Northeast. But, always trying to improve his old neighborhood, William Betz arranged for the original buildings in Northern Liberties that housed his store to be torn down.

Today, a brand-new project called Liberties Gateway is rising from the dust at 2nd and Spring Garden. It will contain an 8,000-square-foot super herbal store, the apartments and parking. It is scheduled to open this year.

William married his wife, Jane K. Betz, in December 1951. He and Jane enjoyed traveling to exotic destinations off the beaten track, in South America, Africa, the Middle East, Europe, India, the South Pacific and the Far East.

He was an elder in the Huntingdon Valley congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses for more than 40 years. He preached widely and taught the Bible.

Besides his wife and son, he is survived by another son, Ronald; five grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

Services: Memorial service 1 p.m. Saturday at the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses, 405 Stoopville Road, Newtown, Pa.

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