Two summers ago, an elderly lady in a Bloomington, MN, church asked her congregation for assistance. Her garden needed weeding, her fence painting, her gutters cleaning, etc. The to-do list was daunting for an aged woman, but not for First-year Ben Batz, who stepped up to the plate. Since then, Ben has run “Ben and Friends Handyman Service” in his neighborhood. He walks dogs, waters plants, stains decks: “Anything you don’t have time to do!” Ben says with a grin.
If Ben’s dedication to such community service gives him a near angelic glow, then his kindness and natural modesty flirt with sainthood.
Benjamin Paul Batz (pronounced “Bots”) has all of the qualifications of a Gustie poster child: both parents, Paul and Melinda, graduated from Gustavus; Ben’s younger sister Katie will be enrolling in the fall; even the two family dogs are named Gustie and Max.
Although initially swearing he would never attend the same college as his parents, Ben reconsidered. “I didn’t want to miss out on all of the good times my parents told me they’d had here.”
And in just five short months, Ben has already accumulated some good times of his own. Many will recognize him from his role as Richie in the fall main stage play Topsy Turvy Mouse, a new drama examining the American war crimes at Abu Ghraib. Ben describes the experience as incredible, partially because the playwright was present for the show. “Getting feedback from the original source was terrific,” said Ben.
Director Amy Seham, chairperson of the Theatre and Dance Department, agrees. “The playwright came to the show and loved Ben’s performance. He said Ben ‘got’ some moments in the show that none of the previous actors [portraying Richie] had ever figured out.”
In one of the more haunting scenes of the play, Ben and fellow cast mate Junior Management Major Eric Noun stripped down to their underwear onstage. Their characters were young boys innocently recreating scenes of torture, including the infamous “pudding scene” to reconstruct a tableau of excrement being spread on a prisoner’s back. “It was tough, but you got over it after awhile. The two characters are supposed to be having fun, even though it’s mimicking something that’s horrible, so you just have to stay in character,” said Ben.
Noun agreed that Ben’s professionalism and kindness made the rehearsal process smoother. “Ben is one of the coolest guys I know. During rehearsal, my character was supposed to punch him in the head, but I accidentally did it for real. He was not upset at all, and instead he asked if I was OK!”
In addition to the hard-hitting dramatics, Ben also sings tenor in Chapel Choir and takes private voice lessons. One of Ben’s earliest memories is of the whole family singing around the piano. His musical theatre debut came in middle school, where his portrayal of the Munchkin Coroner in The Wizard of Oz earned him a Best Supporting Actor award.
On campus, Ben still strives to support others. This January Interim Experience, he proved a valuable player in the intramural broomball tournament. He also serves on the newly formed Men’s Leadership Team, a service program to encourage Gustavus men to get more involved in volunteering and extra-curricular activities.
He also enrolled in Chris Johnson’s January Interim Experience class “Changing the World: Justice, Action and the Meaning of Life.” “Ben’s capacity both for laughter and for deep listening helped to forge a great sense of community in the class,” said Johnson. “He focuses on things that really matter and is committed to making a difference in the world—starting right here at Gustavus.”
So what’s next for this too-good-to-be-true Golden Gustie? “I want to study abroad and go someplace where I am out of my comfort zone,” said Ben. But while he’s on this continent, you can keep an eye out for him in the spring comedy, The Impresario from Smyrna, in which he will play the sycophant Pasquelini. You can also catch him in Chapel Choir every Wednesday during morning Chapel services.
And of course, if you have a leaky faucet or a blown out light bulb, you could always ask Ben for a hand.