WPS Insurance Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Bill Bathke died unexpectedly Friday night at age 63.
A Monona resident for the past 15 years, Bathke had worked at WPS Insurance in Madison for about 27 years. He was born in Green Bay, served in the U.S. Navy and attended Lakeland College.
“I hope people remember him for what a kind, loving, giving human being he was,” Bathke’s wife of 44 years, Marsha, said Wednesday. “He was very involved in everything, and he gave and gave and gave until there was nothing left. He gave to his family and the community and everyone, except himself.”
She declined to say what Bathke’s cause of death was.
The Dane County Coroner’s Office on Wednesday evening confirmed there was an open investigation into Bathke’s death. Interim Coroner Barry Irmen was unavailable for comment.
WPS President Jim Riordan said Bathke’s death was a “total surprise” to the company, noting he’d last seen Bathke at work on Friday, when he seemed fine.
“There wasn’t anything wrong that we were aware of,” Riordan said Wednesday. “I was with Bill Friday afternoon. He worked the entire day.”
Bathke started at WPS as vice president of human resources, rising to senior vice president and then to executive vice president and COO in 1992, the same year Riordan became president and CEO.
Bathke made a habit of staying close to employees, Riordan said.
“Bill was very personable and friendly,” he said. “He would love to go out to each of the buildings and walk through and talk to people, taking pride in remembering things about them and their families. It goes back to his human resources background. He worked with people to make them feel the best they could be and to make the company the best it could be.”
As COO, Bathke’s responsibilities included overseeing the company’s extensive Medicare and Tri-Care programs, both of which saw strong growth during his tenure, Riordan said.
“He took Medicare to the point where we are now the largest Medicare contractor in the country,” Riordan said. “Each of the operations Bill worked with, he got the best results out of it, and we’re highly regarded throughout the world by the people we work with because of that.”
Monona city administrators on Wednesday released a statement noting Bathke’s extensive community involvement. He had served on the city’s Police and Fire Commission since 1996 and as its president since 2005. He also was active in the Monona Chamber of Commerce and served as chamber president in 2007.
Bathke was honored in 2006 with the city’s distinguished service award by the mayor and City Council for his committee service and his participation in various fundraisers. He also recently earned a spot in the Executive Hall of Fame compiled by Madison In Business.
“He probably had an impact on just about every police officer’s career since 1996,” Monona Police Chief Walter Ostrenga said Wednesday. “He was involved in all the hiring and any promotions.”
Based in Madison, WPS Insurance is Wisconsin’s only not-for-profit insurer offering health plans statewide to the public and private sectors. It employs more than 4,000 people, including about 3,700 in Dane County.
In addition to the corporate headquarters in Madison, the company has branches in Wausau, Milwaukee, Appleton, Eau Claire and Green Bay.
Riordan said it was too soon to say who would fill Bathke’s position or whether it would be restructured.
“We’ll have to give some careful thought as to how we’ll go about doing that,” Riordan said. “As a company, you have to move forward, despite the fact that you’d like to stand still.”
In addition to his wife, Bathke is survived by family members including two daughters, one son and 11 grandchildren. A private family service was held.