URBANA — On Friday, June 12, 2020, Sandra Lou Batzli died peacefully at home in Urbana surrounded by her family. She is survived by her husband, George Batzli; her son, Jeffrey Batzli (Jennifer Markson) of East Setauket, Long Island, and grandchildren, Sienna, Gabriel and Donovan Batzli; her son, Samuel Batzli (Janet McCray) of Madison, Wis., and grandchildren, Madeline and Oliver Batzli; and her brother, Lynn Scharf (Evelyn Bell) of Warren, Ore.
Sandra was born on Dec. 1, 1936, in Grand Forks, N.D., where her father, Edward Scharf, worked as a lawyer and a high school teacher and her mother, Genevieve Bueche Scharf, was a homemaker with a degree in home economics. In 1941, her father went to work for the federal government as a lawyer for the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
As a result, Sandra’s family moved to Duluth, to Phoenix, to Portland, to Minneapolis, to Salt Lake City, and back to Minneapolis, where she graduated from Washburn High School in 1954. All this travel meant that she often had to make new friends, and she developed a special talent for making friends and a sincere interest in other people’s life stories.
She attended the University of Minnesota, where she met her husband, George, at a banquet during Welcome Week for incoming freshman. They saw one another occasionally during the next four years, except when George fulfilled his military service, and Sandra took courses and honed her skills in painting and ceramics.
After Sandra graduated with a B.A. in art education, she spent the summer of 1958 with an art history course that toured the major museums of Europe (a graduation present from her grandfather, Louis Bueche). Upon her return, she and George became engaged, and she worked at Art Instruction teaching correspondence courses while George finished college. Charles Schultz had just left Art Instruction for California to concentrate on his newly syndicated newspaper cartoon, leaving behind colleagues with names like Charlie Brown, Linus and Frieda.
Upon George’s graduation with a B.A. in psychology (March 1959), the newlyweds moved to San Francisco, where they started a family (Jeff) and Sandra took courses in ceramics and painting at San Francisco State University. In a year and a half, George decided to return to school in biology at San Francisco State, and Sandra began teaching art and English at Monterra Junior High In Oakland.
After two years, George received a fellowship and Sandra became a homemaker and artist. Her second child (Sam) was born in Oakland in 1964. When Jeffrey enrolled at an alternative school in Berkeley (Walden School) that emphasized the arts, Sandra taught ceramics there to help the young couple pay the tuition.
She also began to show her paintings at galleries and became involved in community affairs, such as chairing a committee that prevented the destruction of a nursery school (Sam’s) located in a house designed by the noted architect Julia Morgan, canvassing her neighborhood in support of her friend’s campaign for the city council, and protesting the war in Vietnam.
In 1969, George finished his Ph.D. at Berkeley, and the family moved to Davis for two years where Sandra continued to teach ceramics to children. Hiking, camping and exploring parks, forests and beaches became the main form of family recreation during 12 years in California, and Sandra developed a deep love of nature, particularly landscapes, flowers and birds.
The family came to Urbana in 1971 when George accepted a position in the Zoology Department of the University of Illinois, and Sandra dove into community activities. She taught art as a volunteer in classrooms, raised money in bazaars for elementary schools, co-chaired parental support groups for music and for track at Urbana High, became a founding member of HIPS (Households Involved in Pollution Solutions), which started recycling programs in Urbana-Champaign, joined local efforts to preserve historical buildings, and served as secretary of the Champaign County Design and Conservation Foundation, which sought to improve the built environment and to preserve the natural environment.
Weekends spent at a cabin on the Salt Fork River provided access to canoe trips and inspiration from nature for her paintings. She also organized and ran the Discovery Room for the Museum of Natural History at the University of Illinois, which introduced children to various aspects of natural history, and she worked as the coordinator for the Friends of the University of Illinois Library.
Of course, she continued to teach children ceramics in her basement studio (and laundry room), and she continued to develop her own artistic skills, adding new interests in tie-dying, in silk-screening, and in cultural and historical costumes, particularly gloves. Her glove collection now resides at the Champaign County Historical Society. Her interests in art and literature led to her membership in the Score Club, an organization started by faculty wives in the 1920s, in which she served as president and archivist and gave annual presentations.
When the family spent two summers in Barrow, Alaska, while George studied lemmings, Sandra completed over 50 watercolor paintings of tundra wildflowers and had regular tea parties with the local Inuit girls. When the family went on sabbatical leave in New Zealand, Sandra learned to spin wool and the fine points of sorting fleece. She also started stencil designs, mostly motifs from nature, on fabric.
Upon returning to Urbana with her new spinning wheel and several fleeces, she joined the Champaign-Urbana Spinners and Weavers Guild, purchased a loom, started to weave and set up a studio in the attic of her home where she produced woven and stenciled fabrics.
Door County, Wis., became another focus in Sandra’s life when her son Sam married into the McCray family that had deep roots there. After experiencing the local natural areas and art scene, she and George bought a vacation home at which they spent many holidays with family and friends. She became a close friend of her daughter-in-law’s mother (Jan McCray), and in the 1990s, they began to take watercolor classes at the Peninsula Art School at Fish Creek.
Her main interest then switched to watercolors, which she maintained the rest of her life, and a painting studio appeared, attached to the back of her house. She founded the Artisans 10+, an organization of like-minded women that shares artistic critiques and has group shows, and also took a strong interest in the Krannert Art Museum at the University of Illinois, where she researched the background of pieces in the collection and served as president and archivist of the Krannert Art Museum Council, which conducts events to raise money for the museum. Through sales and gifts, her paintings now reside throughout the U.S. and several foreign countries.
In the midst of all her artistic endeavors, Sandra also cultivated an avid interest in family history. She collected documents, scoured graveyards, visited local libraries and land offices across the U.S., visited relatives in Europe and consulted online records. In the end, as a legacy for her children and grandchildren, she produced multigenerational family trees and several accompanying books with details and stories about both her and George’s maternal and paternal ancestors.
In spite of all her activities, however, she never skimped on her attention to her family and friends, and she continued to make new friends. She had a genuine interest in others and usually learned something about their family histories at their first meeting.
Her easy laugh, her big smile, her concern for and kindness to others, her contributions to the community, her continual production of beautiful art, and her enthusiasm for life in general will be sorely missed.
A memorial service will be scheduled when the pandemic subsides so that a large group can assemble.