Fort Atkinson business and civic leaders are remembering Theodore W. Batterman not only as the visionary behind Spacesaver Corp., but also as a generous and gracious man who treated his employees, and the community at large, as family.
Batterman, who resided at Shorehaven retirement community in Oconomowoc, passed away Wednesday, July 29, at the age of 92.
Mark Haubenschild, president and CEO of Spacesaver Corp., recalled that Batterman assumed the reins of Spacesaver Corp. in 1972, and with his business sense and vision, grew the company “immensely” over the years into the international industry leader it is today.
“In fact, you could say he was a pioneer in the high-density mobile (shelving) industry,” Haubenschild said. “He was a very pioneering leader. He was an absolute legend in our industry, but he had an unbelievable vision for the company and what it could do.”
Batterman also was architect of the company’s distribution network, using area contractors.
“That is still the same distribution network that we use today, which is very revolutionary,” Haubenschild stated.
He said Spacesaver works with independent businesses to deliver its line of products.
“We don’t own them — they are under contract to see our product in exclusive geographic regions,” Haubenschild explained. “Many of our area contractors are second-generation area contractors, so their legacy is carried on, as well.”
Haubenschild, who was hired by Batterman in 1982, said he was fortunate to have joined Spacesaver then, when it still was small.
“I was able to grow with the company professionally,” Haubenschild stated. “He (Batterman) gave me countless opportunities to do that. He was very gracious. I consider him not only a friend, but an important mentor in my life.”
Another facet of Batterman was that he was “very, very committed to his faith and family,” he pointed out.
“Basically, he considered Spacesaver his family, too, and he treated us that way,” Haubenschild said. “That was the biggest thing for Ted, obviously. He was incredible.”
When Batterman sold the company to KI, headquartered in Green Bay, in 1998, Haubenschild said, his goal was to keep it private and find an owner that shared the same vertical markets as Spacesaver.
“He finally did it, and after that, he founded the (Theodore W.) Batterman Family Foundation which, obviously, has helped so many people and organizations,” Haubenschild said. “And it has awarded scholarships to many high school students. He just gave, gave and gave.”
The company president reflected a bit personally on Batterman’s passing, noting that he sits in the same office that his menor once did.
“And whenever I have to make a decision, I think: ‘What would Ted do?’” Haubenschild mused. “I miss most the day-to-day interaction with him, because after he left us (Spacesaver family), he started his philanthropy. But I sure miss the interactions with him.”
Anyone who ever met Batterman never would forget him, he said, because “he had the firmest handshake you’ll ever know.”
Additionally, Haubenschild described Batterman as “a quiet leader and a processor … a great thinker. He was a little intimidating, however, because he was a large man, but just a gentle heart.”
As a company, he said, Spacesaver employees intend to do something to honor Batterman and his legacy, but those plans remain on hold at the moment.
“Obviously, we’ll do something in his tribute, but there are no specifics right now,” Haubenschild said. “We’re honoring the family’s privacy.”
He said there has been an outpouring of sympathy from all of Spacesaver’s contractors and internal employees upon news of Batterman’s passing.
“And I’ve made sure to express what he’s meant to both the company and the entire community,” Haubenschild concluded. “His fingerprints are all over Fort Atkinson.”
Also remenbering Batterman with fondness was Randy Knox, who was greatly involved in the Fort Atkinson Industrial Development Corp., which worked closely with Batterman.
“Ted Batterman was a rare combination of unusual business acumen, humility, friendship, generosity, and love for his family, all wrapped up in a deep faith,” Knox said. “As he built Spacesaver into a great success story, Fort Atkinson Industrial Development Corporation President Gordy Day was always there, doing everything he could to help on behalf of the city.”
Knox said that Batterman greatly appreciated that and he and Day had a great friendship grounded in mutual respect.
“Ted became a very loyal booster for our community,” Knox said. “He humbly viewed his success as a blessing and felt called to share that with those around him.
“He gave his time and personal resources to projects that would improve the quality of life here, whether it be education, the arts or any other cause that came calling,” Knox added.
Dianne Hrobsky was executive vice president of the Fort Atkinson Area Chamber of Commerce when Batterman served on its board of directors.
“Ted Batterman loved Fort Atkinson and we loved him right back. Over the many years that he was developing Spacesaver Corp. into a world-class company, you could clearly see that he cared deeply for those who worked for him,” she said.
Hrobsky added that Batterman also built strong relationships with Fort Atkinson organizations and made profound and enduring impacts on the chamber of commerce, the Fort Atkinson Community Foundation, the Industrial Development Corp., the city, Fort Memorial Hospital, schools and youth programs.
“He surely was a man of vision and, along the way, he set the highest of standards in everything he did, Hrobsky said. “He forged strong relationships with so many in his ‘adopted’ city of Fort Atkinson. We will miss him so much, but his legacy lives on.”
Carrie Chisholm, the current executive director of the local chamber, said she did not have a lot of personal experience with Batterman, but his fingerprints are everywhere on this town.
“He was insightful, and built an international mobile storage business from a 10,000-square-foot barn and seven employees in Fort Atkinson, after noticing that companies were struggling with productivity due to the costs associated with space,” Chisholm said.
“He had a huge faith and a huge heart, which were at the core of his generosity. The Batterman Foundation has enabled countless projects to exist, and his focus on leadership continues to inspire everyone who had the pleasure of working with him,” she added.
Connie Meyer, former director of the Dwight Foster Public Library, said that Batterman was extremely supportive of the Fort Atkinson library, especially during its expansion and renovations a decade ago.
“I was very sorry to hear of Ted Batterman’s passing,” she said. “Ted Batterman certainly understood the importance of giving back to the community; he did so much for Fort Atkinson. He was exceedingly generous and supported many initiatives, including the Dwight Foster Public Library.
“Our library’s children’s department was named the Batterman Children’s Library as a result of Mr. Batterman’s gracious gift,” she continued. “He became one of the lead donors early during our capital campaign. His gift to the library at the time he gave it was vital in moving the project forward since we were fundraising in late 2008 and early 2009 when the economy had suffered a serious setback.”
She noted that Batterman understood the importance of libraries, especially for children.
“His gifts to Fort Atkinson, to the library and to many other organizations, are a testament to Mr. Batterman’s practice of supporting the community and its residents by making thoughtful gifts of significant impact,” Meyer concluded.
Sue Hartwick, executive director of the Fort Atkinson Community Foundation echoed Meyer’s sentiments.
“Ted Batterman left an indelible imprint on Fort Atkinson,” she said. “From the founding of Spacesaver to the Theodore W. Batterman Family Foundation’s generous gifts to capital projects at the Hoard Museum, the Dwight Foster Public Library, the urban bike path, the Haumerson’s Pond project and more, the Batterman Family has touched — and improved — just about every aspect of our community.
She noted that two of his philanthropic initiatives are close to the foundation’s heart.
“In 1998, the Batterman Family Foundation began working with us to award five scholarships each year to graduating seniors at Fort Atkinson High School whose character was as outstanding as their academic performance,” Hartwick recalled. “Beginning as a $10,000 scholarship, these four-year awards soon moved up to $12,000 and have continued to provide steady financial support, and a wonderful boost of confidence, to students as they head off to college. To be a Batterman Scholarship recipient is a source of great pride. We are indebted to Ted and the Batterman Foundation for the critical support they have provided to 115 of our students over the past 23 years.”
In addition, she noted, while he was foundation chairman in 2003, Batterman led the effort to create an after-school program for Fort Atkinson youngsters, originally known as the Fort Atkinson Boys and Girls Club.
“Over the past 17 years, he and his late wife, Marilyn, devoted substantial resources to the development and growth of the program, which is now the thriving Badgerland After School Enrichment (BASE) Club. It is his legacy,” Hartwick said.
She added that the foundation has notecards inscribed with a quote from Nelson Henderson that reads, “The true meaning of life is to plant trees under whose shade you do not expect to sit.”
“We think Mr. Batterman has planted his share of trees,” she said.
Most recently, Batterman resided at Meadowview at the Shorehaven retirement community in Oconomowoc, and he brought the qualities that made him a great businessman and friend to the residents and staff there.
A recent photo of him with Shorehaven hair stylist Brenda Loppnow shows Batterman, getting a haircut, holding a sign with four pieces of advice for graduating high school seniors: Don’t give up, set goals, always be kind and always remember family.
Shorehaven social worker Jan Braun said he will be remembered for his strength, kindness and warmth in times of need.
“The first thing you would notice about Ted were his beautiful, clear blue eyes,” she said. “Then he would smile . Ted brought a gentleness and thoughtfulness to all of his interactions with others. He was always quick to offer a kind word and a hug to those in need.
“The people of Meadowview (the area in Shorehaven where he lived) will miss him greatly,” Braun added.