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Businessman's Slaying Dumbfounds Admirers

December 24, 1987|MIKE WARD and ASHLEY DUNN | Times Staff Writers

SAN GABRIEL — Otto Baumann, who was shot to death in his office Tuesday, was described by friends as a modest, kind man who had built a successful business and become a major benefactor to his alma mater, the University of Nebraska.

"He had no children and the university became almost a child to him," said Nebraska baseball coach John Sanders from his office in the Otto and Gladys Baumann building that serves as a clubhouse for the university baseball team. The Baumanns donated $250,000 for the building, which was dedicated in 1984.

Baumann, 78, who owned O & G Water Conditioning Co., and Fredrick (Bud) Schaub, 58, the company's vice president, were killed in their offices at 421 S. San Gabriel Blvd. Leo Blakeman, 74, a salesman, was shot in the head and chest and was in serious condition Wednesday at San Gabriel Valley Medical Center. Police said that Blakeman did not see his assailant.

Some Motives Eliminated

They discounted robbery as a motive because the men's wallets were not taken and the offices were not ransacked. Nor was the police investigation focusing on any disgruntled customers or employees, officers said.

Friends of the victims said they found it impossible to imagine that anyone could have carried so strong a grudge.

Ray Slaboda, who owns a nearby business, the Monrovia Machine Works Inc., said he had known Baumann for 35 years, talked to him every day, and also knew the other victims well.

"They were the salt of the earth, real beautiful people," he said.

Slaboda said Blakeman, who is from Glendora, and Schaub, who lived in Alhambra, had worked for many years at Baumann's company, which occupies a beige stucco building amid a string of small manufacturing shops along San Gabriel Boulevard near the Santa Fe railroad tracks.

Slaboda said he shared tickets to Dodger baseball games with Baumann and they often talked about baseball, golf and work. Baumann "was the type of guy who could be gruff," he recalled, "but if you needed help, you could always go to him."

At the University of Nebraska, Don Bryant, assistant athletic director, said coaches, athletes and university officials were stunned by Baumann's killing.

'Tremendous Gentleman'

"Everybody in the university knew him," Bryant said. "This guy was just a tremendous gentleman and a dear, dear human being."

D. B. (Woody) Varner, former president of the university, called Baumann "a unique individual."

"I've never known an alumnus of any university who was as loyal and committed as he was," he added.

Varner said Baumann, who was graduated in 1930, was the driving force in organizing Californians for Nebraska, a university support group with 1,500 members.

"His heart was in athletics, but his interest went beyond that," Varner said, adding that he set up a scholarship fund and contributed generously to the university's new Center for the Performing Arts.

Coach Sanders said that in addition to his financial contributions, Baumann developed friendships with coaches and athletes, made sure that there were plenty of Nebraska rooters on hand whenever university teams came to play USC or UCLA, and opened his home to coaches when they were in Southern California on recruiting trips.

He had stayed with the Baumanns in their Glendora home only last month, Sanders went on, and found Baumann full of zest. "He was 80 going on 18. He had the enthusiasm of a teen-ager."

The coach said that Baumann was especially close to the football and baseball programs and sometimes traveled with the teams. In the years before alumni were barred from recruiting athletes, Baumann would try to persuade outstanding Southern California high school players to attend Nebraska and provided some of them with summer jobs, Sanders said.

The university awarded Baumann a number of honors for his contributions. He received an honorary doctorate of law in 1984, entered the Nebraska Football Hall of Fame by receiving the Clarence E. Swanson Memorial Award in 1974, and was named outstanding alumnus in 1971.

Baumann played football as an undergraduate at Nebraska and was student manager of the baseball team.

He told a Nebraska newspaper interviewer last year that although he had long lived in California, he could never sever his ties to the university. "I've made more money and done a lot of things in California, but I have a deep spot in my heart for Nebraska," he said.

Sanders noted that the walls of Baumann's office were covered with photos and mementos he had received from Nebraska athletes.

He said Baumann became wealthy through his water-purification business, adding, "he was a very hard-working person who directly involved himself in his business."

There had been many offers to buy the business, but Baumann always rejected them, he said, Baumann once told Sanders: "Why should I sell it? I enjoy it."

The coach, who also knew the other shooting victims, said he was shocked by the news. "This is outrageous," he said. "It is unbelievable."

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