American killed in China was big fan of volleyball

Aug. 10, 2008, 12:12 a.m. (ET)

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) Todd Bachman was a big volleyball fan.

That supportive spirit, spawned during his daughter's development into a star in the sport, took him and his wife all over the world to watch - even when she wasn't playing.

The latest destination for these globe-trotting 62-year-olds was Beijing, and the Olympics.

"They were very excited to make this trip," his second cousin, Dale Bachman said.

In China to cheer on the U.S. national teams, Todd Bachman was stabbed to death at a popular tourist site Saturday. His wife Barbara Bachman was seriously injured in the random knife attack. Their daughter, Elisabeth Bachman McCutcheon, was present but unhurt.

Dale Bachman, president of a Twin Cities floral company for which Todd Bachman had served as a fourth-generation CEO since 1994, said Saturday afternoon that Barbara Bachman's prognosis was unclear.

"The next 24 hours will be critical," Dale Bachman said at a news conference outside Bachman's, Inc. headquarters in Minneapolis.

The U.S. Olympic Committee said Barbara Bachman suffered multiple lacerations and stab wounds. She underwent eight hours of surgery and was in critical but stable condition in a Beijing hospital.

Todd and Barbara Bachman's other two adult daughters were en route to China to be with their mother and sister, Dale Bachman said while about a dozen employees and relatives stood in the background. Some of them wept.

Dale Bachman paused to compose himself before describing a chilling scene, as relayed to him from one of his relatives. He said Todd Bachman was walking a few steps behind his wife and daughter when he was stabbed. Barbara Bachman heard the commotion and then turned to help her husband.

"That's when she was attacked," Dale Bachman said. "To me, that was a strong indication of her love. She is also a fabulous woman."

In the Twin Cities area, the Bachman name has been familiar to gardeners and flower buyers for decades. The company also supplied poinsettias to the White House from 1984 to 2000.

Founded in 1885, Bachman's is still a family-run business - with 29 retail outlets in the state, plus landscaping and nursery divisions and a 629-acre growing range near Lakeville that produces many of the plants and flowers sold at the stores. Two other executives in the company are also cousins of Todd Bachman.

"Bachman's is in the business of helping families express their sentiments in times of joy and in times of sorrow," Dale Bachman said. "We are simply overwhelmed with the gratitude and the outpouring of sympathy and well wishes from all over the world. The calls and e-mails we're receiving are from people's hearts, and they speak so well of this extraordinary man."

Asked what he would miss most about his second cousin, who grew up next door to him and his brother, Dale Bachman listed friendship, knowledge of the family and the business, and his dedication to both.

As for his influence?

"Certainly a steady hand and a calm hand at the wheel at all time," Dale Bachman said.

A 1968 graduate of the University of Minnesota with a bachelor's degree in horticulture science, Todd Bachman has been involved in the family business all his life. He and his wife gave the university a gift in 2000 to create an endowed chair in horticulture marketing for expansion of the school's teaching, research and outreach.

But Todd Bachman made his biggest impact as a friendly, humble guy who was involved in and cared about his community.

He was active at Christiana Lutheran Church in Lakeville, near their home in Farmington. He also served previously on the board of regents at Wartburg College in Iowa, where his daughter Susan went. The Bachmans have three daughters - the other's name is Sara - and four grandchildren among them.

Elisabeth Bachman, who goes by her nickname "Wiz," was a volleyball star at Lakeville High School who went on be team captain three times and team MVP in 2000 at UCLA and earn a spot on the U.S. women's team that competed in the Athens Olympics in 2004. Wiz Bachman, 30, recently married Hugh McCutcheon, who coaches the U.S. men's team.

McCutcheon would not be on the bench Sunday for the team's opening game against Venezuela, USOC said. Assistant coach Ron Larsen will serve as interim head coach.

"I can only offer the deepest shock and sorrow we all feel here, because the Bachman family was always so close to our program," said Milan Mader, Wiz Bachman's coach at the school now known as Lakeville North High.

Even after their daughter moved on to higher competition in college and internationally, the Bachmans maintained an interest in the program at Lakeville, an outer-ring suburb south of Minneapolis.

"They still came back to support her former high school teams," Mader said. "It was just a great, great couple supporting the programs and supporting the school."

Mader said he last saw the Bachmans in July and remarked in a phone interview Saturday about Wiz's eagerness to stop by the gym and help coach the high schoolers whenever she was in town.

"She was a clone copy of her parents," Mader said.

Bachman's employs between 1,100 and 1,600 people - depending on the season. According to a 2006 interview with the Star Tribune newspaper, Todd Bachman said the business did $81 million in revenue in the previous year. Despite the family's success in the industry and the company's prominence in the area, the Bachmans are known as down-to-earth people.

"He always played low key," Mader said. "He never wanted to be above anybody. Their comments were always positive. It never appeared to me in all these years I've known him that he was above anybody else. I never got that kind of impression. They were great human beings."

Doug Bergman coached Wiz Bachman's summer club teams when she was in high school, and through all the travel and time in the gym became a close friend of the whole family. The Bergmans often visit the Bachman home for dinner, and the wives and kids usually bake cookies together around Christmas.

"They're very, very giving," Bergman said. "They're just very friendly people."

The Bachmans followed their daughter's career all over the world, attending match after match in faraway places. Though Wiz Bachman is no longer playing for the national team, they were eager to root for their son-in-law's squad as well as for the women they got to know so well while she was their teammate.

"Todd was ultimately kind," Bergman said. "He was just so incredibly supportive as a father of an athlete. Some people can get a little worked up at sporting events, but he was just there in the stands waving his flag - whether it was for Team USA, for UCLA or for Lakeville."

In China, the American volleyball players were devastated. The women's team was told of the news before a game against Japan.

"It was a reaction that I don't even have to describe," said Stacy Sykora, who roomed with Wiz Bachman in 2004. "You have to understand what Wiz Bachman is to USA Volleyball. She's probably the nicest person in the entire world, her and her family. Her family is like our family."