It was a baby shower unlike any other.
Late last month, guests bearing baby gifts arrived at the Plymouth home of John and Kathe Hetterick, whose pregnant granddaughter was being celebrated. But John F. Hetterick — the former CEO of Rollerblade and a noted disability rights advocate — suddenly and unexpectedly died from cardiac arrest, in a back bedroom, less than two hours before the event. He was 74.
With more than 70 guests on their way, the family decided to hold the June 22 shower as planned — as Hetterick would have wanted, his wife said.
"I said, we are not canceling this, because we want to celebrate this new little life who is coming, and John never would have wanted us to cancel," Kathe said. "He was very excited. The day before, he'd been blowing up balloons to decorate. New life was exciting. John left us very unexpectedly, but we'll have a new little baby boy in September, and we just have to celebrate that circle of life."
Born in Illinois, John Hetterick was a world traveler and corporate executive — the kind of guy who had his own executive profile posted on Bloomberg and who was sought out by other companies for his ability to reliably grow a business.
He held marketing and then executive jobs at PepsiCo International, Tonka International, General Mills, Rollerblade and elsewhere over the years. He once declined an invitation to discuss a high-ranking job opportunity with tobacco giant Philip Morris (though he loved a good cigar).
At PepsiCo, he worked his way through several marketing roles in Latin America and eventually became vice president for international marketing in 1986. At Rollerblade, a Minnesota-founded company that eventually came to have international owners, Hetterick was CEO for six years during the mid-'90s, when the company expanded from less than $100 million in revenue to more than $400 million.
In his later years, especially after retirement, Hetterick was known for his advocacy for people affected by disabilities and social disparities.
After spearheading a novel housing development in Robbinsdale that combined Section 8 housing with owner-occupied condos, Hetterick got involved with a variety of disability-rights organizations and helped spur the creation of the Able Act, a federal law that allows parents of children with disabilities to set aside money tax-free for their future needs. The idea for the program came to Hetterick while he was working in Washington, as a 2004 recipient of the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation's Public Policy Fellowship. President Barack Obama signed the Able Act into law in 2014.
Hetterick co-founded the not-for-profit No Place Like Home Communities Inc. and served on the boards of charities including Opportunity Partners in Minnetonka, Minneapolis' Project for Pride in Living, the National Disability Institute in Washington and the ARC Greater Twin Cities.
His advocacy was motivated partly by personal experience. He and Kathe are parents to two adopted kids from Colombia, a daughter who has a learning disability and a son who works with people transitioning out of homelessness.
"In a way, he was almost following in his son's footsteps," Kathe said. "And [he] got so much back, felt so enriched, much more so than having a new car or a new house or anything like that. … We live nicely, but we don't have a lot of toys or anything. That's never appealed to us."
Hetterick is survived by his wife, Kathe; a sister, Mary Ann Cappo; children Juan Zabala and Sara Cruz, and four grandchildren. A celebration of life will be held at 6 p.m. Oct. 11 at the Theodore Wirth Pavilion in Minneapolis.
Joe Carlson • 612-673-4779