His uncommon handshake - firm and friendly - pulled you close. His vice-like grip - inviting and invigorating - held you for a lifetime.
And though his boisterous laugh was just as meaningful - joyful and tone-setting - it was Jack Batdorff's hearty handshake that let you know, right up front, here was a man who appreciated turning new friends into life-long friends, every time he reached out to greet someone.
Surrounded by family, John Austin Batdorff - Jack to all who shook his hand and shared in his happiness and hardships - died peacefully Saturday, Feb. 1, 2020, following a tug-of-war battle with cancer.
Forever young at heart, he was 82.
Jack was, first and foremost, a family man. He and his wife, Susan Futterer Batdorff, were bonded spirits for 25 years.
They shared many travels and adventures and especially enjoyed the faithful companionship of their dogs. "Brutus" was a larger-than-life member of their family who brought both Jack and Susan lasting love and joy. Their current canine companion, an easy-going Leonberger named "Elsa," faithfully carried on that role.
Jack and Susan also enjoyed gardening, long walks, travel and antiquing. Jack, especially, had a passion for the arts, not only as a collector of southern pottery folk art, but as a very active board member of Artworks in downtown Big Rapids, where he previously served as president.
Even moreso, moments spent with his son, John; daughters, Wendy and Suzi; and his grandchildren, Anna, Hope and Zack; were beyond measure. Jack's true legacy lies in their collective spirits.
His friends were many. From Big Rapids to Manistee to Traverse City and all small communities between -- indeed, from all across the state and to corners beyond borders -- Jack made friends on a handshake, and kept friends through trust and loyalty.
Jack loved going on fishing and hunting trips with friends, and enjoyed regular trips to faraway places like St. Barths in the Caribbean, and to next door places such as Schuberg's in Big Rapids where he would enjoy a BLT, and of course, an unending serving of friendly conversation and laughter. People didn't dare fight him for the tab.
He enjoyed breaking bread with fellow employees in the Pioneer lunchroom, playing ping pong, going for walks, debating politics with his editors and reporters, breaking stories, reading and so much more.
Few experienced the hands-on evolution -- let alone made such a significant impact -- of working at a daily newspaper like Jack.
As owner of the Pioneer Group for half-a-century -- during its peak it had daily newspapers in Big Rapids and Manistee that were buffered by many small-town weekly newspapers, shoppers guides, telephone books and more -- Jack's interests and talents were many.
An accomplished writer and photographer from the get-go who also would oversee all other aspects of his newspaper business, Jack's ownership and guidance through the Fourth Estate's challenging changes from print to digital and beyond led to the Pioneer Group to becoming one of the most recognized and respected in the state.
Born into newspaper lineage -- his father was also named John, as is his son -- Jack carried on the family torch from his father almost 60 years ago, before passing it on to the younger Batdorff during the gestation of the Internet generation in the twilight of the 20th century.
A penman who, at times, needed only a few words to get his point across -- "'Nuff said?" was was one of his favorite written catchphrases -- Jack could also be a scribe of many, many, many words, such as when he published his always-appreciated and often personal "Reflections" columns that entertained his readers for many years.
Born May 15, 1937, Jack's lifelong journey through the newspaper businesses started on the shores of Lake Michigan in the late 1940s, where the 11-year-old youngster pedaled his bicycle up and down the rolling hills of Manistee to collect classified advertising bills that were due; thus not only helping his father, but also saving townsfolk from having to trek into the newspaper's downtown office.
From there he diligently worked his way into the newspaper's mailroom, before moving on to the press room where he would pour hot lead for setting type -- one letter at a time -- before going on to graduate from Manistee High School in 1955.
Fueled by spit, vinegar and a sense for adventure, Jack moved on to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, where he studied journalism. While there worked for the Ypsilanti Daily News, where he also covered the crime beat for United Press International.
After graduation from the U of M, he worked in advertising sales at the Grand Haven Tribune. While there, he received a call from his dad, John, who "offered" him a job in the family business running the newspaper in Big Rapids.
The only catch was that the offer was for about half what he was making in Grand Haven and if he didn't turn things around in six months, he would be fired.
Still, it was an offer he couldn't refuse, and became a life-changing move that he never regretted.
As the story goes, Jack turned things around in Big Rapids and over the years expanded the family business 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 niche publications.
The company would go on to publish telephone directories under the PDS brand and aggressively entered the commercial printing market in 2001 with the opening of its new facility in the Roben-Hood Airport Industrial Park, just north of Big Rapids.
Jack's additional list of community involvement and professional accomplishments are too numerous to mention. Some highlights include past president of Michigan Press Association and Michigan League of Home Dailies; past president of the Mecosta County Area Chamber of Commerce; founding board member of the Mecosta County Community Foundation; Business Person of the Year and Northern Lights Award recipient for business in Big Rapids; Mecosta County Medical Center Foundation board member; Mecosta County 4-H Fair board member; steering committee member of Riverwalk and many others.
Over the years, Jack helped to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for community organizations by not only promoting the projects in the pages of his newspapers, but also through working in the trenches to garner support from others.
He often was the first in line to make a personal contribution "to help a project get legs," and he was always a difference-making advocate for the community he loved, including Ferris State University, where he served on various boards and committees and was given an honorary doctorate in business.
Jack is survived by his wife and partner of 25 years, Susan Futterer-Batdorff; his children Wendy (Blake) Miller, of Manistee, John (Staci Prince) Batdorff, of Chicago, and Suzi (Jackson Allen) Batdorff, of Kalamazoo; his grandchildren, Zachary Miller, Hope Miller, and Anna Batdorff; his sister-in-law, Rise Futterer, his niece, Emily Lutfi, and his step-siblings, Elliot Weitz, Sheryl Weitz, and Chuck (Ann) Weitz.
He was preceded in death by his father, John Batdorff; his mother, Arlene Batdorff-Weitz; his stepfather, Harry Weitz; and his brother, Cris Batdorff.
And though he would prefer to be called "just Jack," the industry-wide respect he earned, the love he shared, the quality of life he improved within his community, and the countless handshakes he bonded over, commands that, in closing, it be written that visitation for Mr. Batdorff will be from 4-7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 7, at the Daggett-Gilbert Funeral Home, 13985 Northland Drive, in Big Rapids.
Services will held at the funeral home at 11 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 8. All Jack's friends and family are invited to a celebration of life following the funeral at Artworks from 1-5 p.m., 106 N. Michigan Ave., Big Rapids.
The family appreciatively suggests those wishing to remember Jack in memoriam may consider Artworks, or the Brutus Dog Park via the Friends of Big Rapids Dog Park group.