Sport Chalet Inc. founder Norbert Olberz died Friday of natural causes, the La Cañada Flintridge-based company announced.

Olberz, who died at age 86, founded the company in 1959 as a ski shop where he and his wife, Irene, also lived, Sport Chalet said in a statement. The company has since grown to become a public sporting goods retailer that has 55 stores that sell specialty gear in various sports. The company went public in 1992.

Olberz served as the Sport Chalet’s CEO until 1999 and as chairman of the board until 2001.

Sport Chalet Chairman and CEO Craig Levra called Olberz a “tremendous leader in every respect.”

“He really pushed everyone here to be the best they could be, and really set the foundation beginning in 1959 for our success,” Levra said. “He was extremely persistent, very tough, but at the same time extremely fair (and) really had a heart of gold.”

Sport Chalet officials have pointed to Olberz’s sense of willingness to listen to customers and his giving personality as some of his strongest traits. In 1998, Olberz and his wife gave away $3 million of their own personal stock to Sport Chalet’s 129 longest tenured employees as a reward for their work in growing the company.

In 2009, Olberz was inducted into the National Sporting Goods Hall of Fame. In 2011, he was the recipient of the Far West Ski Association’s “Snow Sports Builder Award.”

Olberz has opened and expanded a variety of businesses over the decades, including a ski area motel, a travel company specializing in adventure activities and manufacturing companies that produced outdoor gear and athletic apparel.

A memorial service for Olberz is scheduled for July 22 at 12 p.m. in the Van De Kamp Hall at Descanso Gardens in La Cañada Flintridge. Instead of gifts or flowers, Olberz’ family requests donations be made in his memory to the La Cañada Flintridge Educational Foundation, or to the The Sierra Club Foundation in San Francisco.