Tuesday, July 15, 2014

One Meets the Damnedest People and it’s a Real Treat, Indeed!

On most Monday’s I take an old friend and former next door neighbor to lunch. As a veteran of World War II, he likes to go to the legion hall in a town west of Minneapolis. We’ve been doing this for almost two years now and nearly every Monday we get into a little, enjoyable verbal dual with a couple of people who lunch at a table very near ours. Turns out they’re very interesting people.
by Charlie Leck
Gordon Batdorf enlisted in the U.S. Army in November, 1941 as an aviation cadet. He became a member – and one of the original pilots – of the 63rd Fighter Squadron during the Second World War. He also flew missions for the 56th Fighter Group while he was stationed in England. The 56th is legendary for the extraordinary number of enemy aircraft it destroyed – more than any other fighter group in the Eighth Air Force. Gordy, as his friends at the Legion Hall call him, regularly flew the P-47 Thunderbolt. On the fuselage of his fighter plane was painted a slogan: “Bat out of Hell.”

After his return to Minnesota from the war, Batdorf enrolled in the Academy of Accounting in Minneapolis and he was hired by Mound Metalcraft. He rose rapidly in the company.
In 1961, Lynn Baker, who had founded Mound Metalcraft, removed himself from day-today operations at what was by then called Tonka Toys. Gordon Batdorf was elected as the company’s vice president and treasurer. In 1964, Batdorf became the President of the Company and guided Tonka’s growth, including several acquisitions and a number of new products. Tonka Toys saw growth that established it as one of the country’s largest toy companies. Batdorf resigned in 1969.
“Those were some good years at Tonka,” Batdorf onced told a newspaper reporter, “and I think we were good at what we did.”
Following his years at Tonka Toys, Batdorf founded a consulting company called Batdorf, Blair and Associates. During that time, Batdorf served on the board of directors of Larson Industries and was made president of the company during a period when it was floundering (I’m tempted to say “sinking” because it was a boat company) and had to declare bankruptcy. Batdorf persevered and helped turn that company around and set in on a stream toward success again.
In the 90s, Batdorf, along with Abby Jane Hodges, got involved with a small group that was investing in a local company that produced organic fertilizers made from soybeans and other agricultural products. Eventually Batdorf and Hodges ended up running the company and then sold it in 2007 to PJC Ecological Landscaping in Massachusetts. The two immediately formed another corporation, called Grow Organic, that sold organic products.
It's these two, Abby Hodges and Gordon Batdorf, who we see nearly every Monday at lunch. It shouldn't take one two years to get to know someone like this, but, sometimes, it's worth the wait.

Abby Hodges is still a vociferous and feisty woman with plenty of spirit in her. At the moment, her greatest claim to fame is that she is the mother of Betsy Hodges, the Mayor of Minneapolis. It gives me some idea of where the mayor got her indomitable spirit. Gordy is well into his 90s now, but he still has a bright glimmer in his eye and a broad smile on his face. It’s been an absolute pleasure for me to get to know these two extraordinarily nice people.


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  1. I've had a few emails about this post. They come from people who know AJ Hodges and think she's quite a gal. I got some interesting information that could have been included in the original blog, but whoever would have thought she could drive a tank?

  2. Steve Ruce, of Heliotrope, writes to say AJ is a customer of his and used to supply his fertilizer when she was in the biz. He's crazy about her!