'Batch' took doctor's advice to heart, enjoyed an active second chapter
Ira John Batchelder changed his lifestyle and diet to enjoy an active, lengthy retirement. He died this week at the age of 92.
BEMIDJI -- Ira John Batchelder was 78 years old when he dug his oar into the water to help the Wooly Irishmen claim the first-ever Lake Bemidji Dragon Boat Festival championship. In his 80s, he ran marathons, raced canoes and rode in bicycle tours.
Pretty impressive, especially for a guy who used to smoke two packs of cigarettes a day and eat late-night dinners of steak and potatoes. At age 59, Ira was advised by his doctor to make some lifestyle and dietary changes if he wanted to enjoy a long retirement.
The man known as “Batch” took the advice to heart. He lived another 33 active years before his death at the age of 92 on Sunday, Dec. 20. His funeral will be held on Saturday, Dec. 26 at St. Philip’s Catholic Church. Survivors include Shirley, his wife of 64 years, and six children.
“Dad fulfilled the prescription that the doctor gave him for a wonderful life,” said son Bill Batchelder. “He really was blessed with having his regular life, and then up until three years ago he was still going strong. The last thing that he bought was a tricycle with an electric motor on it and he got a special permit so he could ride up and down the Paul Bunyan Trail.”
Ira was a lifelong Bemidjian, the third-generation owner of the Bemidji Woolen Mills. Before he joined the family business, he earned his pilot’s license and worked at the Bemidji airport’s fixed base operation. He flew a seaplane on a regular route to area resorts, where guests were waiting on the docks for his deliveries. He joined the U.S. Air Force and was stationed in Germany.
“He served in the Korean War,” son Bill said, “but he always downplayed his role because he was never near the front lines. He had the ultimate respect for the combat veterans.”
After returning from military service, Ira joined his brother Ron at the Woolen Mills.
“There were hundreds of resorts in the area then,” Bill said. “He developed personal relationships with multi-generational families that would come up here and stay at the resorts. At least one day during the week it would rain, and the people from the resorts would come to town to shop.”
Batch certainly did not slow down in retirement.
“When he retired from the Woolen Mills he was tired and worn out,” Bill said, “and my biggest fear was that he would turn into a grumpy, negative person. But the day he retired a light bulb came on and he just said ‘this is Chapter 2 of my life.’”
Ira and Shirley were able to travel the world running marathons together, including one on an island in the Pacific Ocean to ring in the new century in 2000. They also took part in canoe races, shorter running events and longer bike tours.
They were especially proud of their victory in the first Dragon Boat races. Ira and Shirley paddled side by side in the winning boat, which was co-sponsored by the Bemidji Woolen Mills, and Ira’s favorite lunch spot, the Keg ‘N’ Cork.
“Batch was quite a competitor,” said Dragon Boat teammate Mitch Rautio. “He was very energetic for his age. He didn’t stop. He didn’t let his years on this earth slow him down at all.”
Admiring the first-place trophy after that 2006 race, Ira told a Pioneer reporter, "We put the paddle in the water and we won the race," he said. "We really clicked as a team."