Retiree Helps Fellow Victims : Volunteerism: Warren Bateman, a longtime Salvation Army assistant, is credited with organizing stricken neighbors within hours of the first mudflow. He says he must keep busy.


Even as his two houses are threatened by potential destruction, Warren Bateman toils in the service of others.


A longtime Salvation Army volunteer who has answered calls to earthquakes, fires and floods, Bateman now finds himself putting years of disaster-relief experience to work for his neighbors in La Conchita--the hundreds of people who, like himself, have been displaced by a looming avalanche of earth and rock.

“I’ve really overdone it these last few days,” Bateman said Tuesday, resting for lunch after serving scores of meals to needy families in temporary quarters at a Carpinteria motel.


“It’s a funny thing,” the 61-year-old retired lighting director said. “Three days ago I got confronted twice in 15 minutes by people saying, ‘Warren, you’ve got to slow down.’ I heard ‘em, but I thrive on pressure.”

Since March 4, when 600,000 tons of mud-soaked rubble tumbled onto La Conchita, Bateman has busied himself helping neighbors: securing housing for those more threatened than he, helping them pack their belongings and dealing with the litany of government agents that have descended on his adopted hometown.

“Keeping busy is a good tool,” Bateman said Tuesday during the latest in a continuum of angst -ridden afternoons. “As long as I can keep my wife from breaking down, I’ll be OK.”

Those who have watched Bateman work through the quakes, firestorms and other disasters that have crippled Ventura County in recent years say the gray-bearded grandfather is most content at work.

“This is one way he’s been able to cope, trying to help others,” said Randy Paton, an official with the Ventura County chapter of the Salvation Army.

La Conchita residents such as Bateman “are going through everything from mourning to shock,” Paton said. “They’re dealing with a pending reality that chances are really not good that they’re ever going home permanently.”

Cathy Ramsdale, the Salvation Army regional director, credited Bateman with organizing La Conchita homeowners within hours of the first landslide.


“He’s really been spearheading our whole effort,” she said. “He makes sure people get to the meetings so they understand what’s happening, and he takes it all in, so when they ask questions he has answers.”

Harold and Alyce Carver, who own a home on badly damaged Vista del Rincon Drive, said the community would be lost without Bateman’s help.

“He’s the salt of the earth and the salt of La Conchita,” said Harold Carver, a retired government worker. “He does everything he can for everybody else. He’s never idle.”

Warren and Sally Bateman bought their first house in La Conchita on Sunland Avenue about eight years ago, a home they could barely afford after a 1980 back injury forced Warren from his career in Hollywood.

Several years later they bought an Oxnard Street house, which they rented out until the couple’s daughter and son-in-law moved in. Both structures have cracked in some places from the shifting earth, but neither has toppled.

Bateman said he has removed his most important papers and valuables. But other items--his motorcycles, a hydraulic press and tractor--remain behind.


“Most of it’s miscellaneous stuff that can be replaced,” Bateman said. “But it literally looks like a tornado circled through the house and then left.”

The Batemans, however, decided to continue making mortgage payments on their houses, in part hoping the Army Corps of Engineers agrees to repair the teetering hillside.

“There’s not a person here who wants to leave, but there’s not a person here who wants to stay under the circumstances,” Warren Bateman said. “We want this fixed, and we want it fixed right.

“Anything less would be like a Band-Aid,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Batemans and dozens of others remain stranded and facing an uncertain future. The Salvation Army volunteers plan to stay at the Carpinteria motel another few days before searching for a place to rent.

“It’s beautiful out there today, the sun’s out and it’s clear,” he said Tuesday of the La Conchita beachfront that lured him even as a teen-ager.

“But as soon as it gets dark, you just feel it’s the wrong place to be.”