B. Niles Batdorf was among the last of a breed of family doctors. Part country doc, part hand holder, Batdorf treated his patients with care and compassion in an era when house calls were still part of the job description.
For 35 years, he received patients in his small two-physician office building overlooking the athletic practice fields of Mankato West High School.
He delivered babies and tended to fevers with a soft voice and a wry sense of humor.
“Well, the plumbing works,” he told a new mother after she gave birth to a baby boy who promptly reminded all in the delivery room that potty training was several years away.
Batdorf also was a World War II veteran and earned a Purple Heart for a shrapnel wound he received when a shell landed and exploded close to a medical tent where he had performed surgery.
Batdorf, most recently of Golden Valley, died Aug. 27. He was 98.
“He told my mom he was running out of gas,” said daughter Julie Seelke. “He was a very special man.”
Batdorf was born in 1917 on a farm near Maple Plain, Minn., and graduated in 1935 from Minnehaha Academy. He toyed with teaching math, one of his favorite subjects, but instead went to medical school at the University of Minnesota after attending what is now North Park University in Chicago. He once told his children he went behind the barn on his parents’ farm and cried with joy when he found out he had been accepted into medical school.
Batdorf was an intern in Duluth when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. He finished his internship, enlisted in Army in 1943 and became a battalion surgeon in Europe. His battalion was in the second wave to hit the beaches at Normandy, a day after the critical D-Day invasion of Europe.
After the war ended, Batdorf was stationed with U.S. forces in Norway, where he met his future wife, Berit. They were married in 1948 in Minneapolis and remained married until Batdorf’s death last month.
Batdorf opened his first medical practice in the small southern Minnesota town of Good Thunder, about 15 miles south of Mankato. In 1956, he moved to Mankato, where his practice grew.
Batdorf retired in 1982, but he didn’t stop practicing medicine. Twice in retirement, he accepted assignments providing medical care in Kenya as part of the World Medical Mission, the Christian-based medical arm of the Samaritan’s Purse International Relief organization.
“He found that and his military service to be some of his most satisfying medical work,” said daughter Julie.
Even today, part of Batdorf’s legacy lives on. The black doctor’s case that Batdorf took on his house calls in the 1950s and 1960s is now displayed as a medical relic in a Long Lake museum near his Maple Plain boyhood home.
Batdorf’s devout Christian faith was very important to him, and he was a long-serving member of his church, North Mankato Covenant, where he was a Sunday school teacher, church chairman and organist.
“He was a good piano player and he told the church, ‘If you get an organ, I’ll learn how to play it,’ ” Julie said.
He also showed his fun side to his children.
“He’d slide down the hill in winter with us in North Mankato,” she recalled. “He’d swim with us, and he knew the names of all of the flowers in the woods.”
Julie said she rarely saw her father angry at anybody or anything. “He got mad once at the gas station, but I don’t remember what that was about,” she said.
Batdorf is survived by Berit, his wife of 67 years, four children — Randi Edelstein of Leon, Mexico; Julie Seelke of Duluth; Niles Batdorf of Duluth; and Lisa Geis of Eden Prairie — 12 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.