Community remembers Jack Batdorff’s accomplishments, generosity

Former Pioneer Group owner dies Saturday of cancer

BIG RAPIDS — Those who knew Jack Batdorff agree on one thing to be true — he loved Big Rapids and would have done anything for his family, friends and community.

Batdorff, who was the former owner of the Pioneer Group and involved on many area boards and projects, died Saturday, according to a statement from his family.

“Jack has completed his valiant battle with cancer today,” the statement read. “He passed with grace and in peace. Here’s to his next adventure! Be assured he loved his life, family and friends. He will be fondly remembered by all.”

Karl Linebaugh, longtime friend of Batdorff’s, said he was always working hard within the community and could become friends with anybody.

“Jack was loved by so many people and he had Big Rapids at heart,” Linebaugh said. “...I’ve never seen someone so passionate about his community.”

Growing up in Manistee, where he started working in the family newspaper business as an 11-year-old collecting classified advertising bills on his bike, Batdorff spent most of his life working his way up through the newsroom.

His experience during his younger years ranged from pouring hot lead for setting type to working at the Ypsilanti Daily News while he studied journalism at the University of Michigan.

After graduation, Batdorff eventually came to work for the family newspaper business and expanded it by developing a regional company that includes daily newspapers in Big Rapids and Manistee, weekly newspapers in Benzie, Lake and Osceola counties, free shopping guides and a variety of other niche publications.

Marilyn Barker, former Manistee News Advocate publisher, said she will be forever grateful for having Batdorff as a mentor and friend in the newspaper business.

“Jack was born, as he would say, with ink in his blood. A true newspaperman both as an owner and a writer,” she said. “Jack’s Reflections column gave us an insight into his childhood memories of being raised in Manistee, and was popular with old friends and those of us who moved here years later. He will be missed for his laugh and his love of all who knew him.”

In addition to his work at the Pioneer Group, Batdorff had his hand in an extensive list of community activities and projects.

Some highlights include past president of the Mecosta County Area Chamber of Commerce, founding board member of the Mecosta County Community Foundation, Mecosta County Medical Center Foundation board member, Mecosta County 4-H fair board member, steering committee member of the Riverwalk and more.

Carlleen Rose, Big Rapids area resident and lifelong friend of Batdorff, said he was not only a friend to her, but also a mentor.

“We were blessed to have Jack in our community. So many things have his footprint on it in Big Rapids,” Rose said. “When I think about it, the list goes on and on and on.”

Even when not directly involved with a project, friends of Batdorff said he would always donate when he could.

Area resident Jerry Conrad said Batdorff has always been willing to help others.

“He was always giving,” Conrad said. “I hardly ever saw him take. He gave his money, time and talents.”

Among Batdorff’s many examples of generosity was a recent significant contribution made by him and his wife, Susan, to Artworks.

Last June, the couple decided to pay off the mortgage for the building owned by Artworks in downtown Big Rapids in an effort to support local artists and their endeavors.

At the time, Batdorff said they wanted Artworks to be able to put money aside for projects to expand the operation and serve the needs of the community.

Lynne Scheible, director of Artworks, said to show their immense gratitude, the Artworks board agreed to officially rename the Painted Turtle Gallery after the couple.

During the gallery dedication and renaming ceremony for The Batdorff Gallery, area residents and friends filled Artworks to celebrate the pair.

Along with his passion for the community, Batdorff loved his family, including his wife, Susan; two daughters, Suzi and Wendy; a son, John; and three grandchildren, Anna, Hope and Zack.

“He was just a genuine human being,” Rose said. “He lived every second of his life. I’m going to miss his voice and his laugh and his passion. He showed his passion through his love for his family and community.”

An obituary with memorial information will be published in the Tuesday edition of the Pioneer.