Butler Elementary received a special visitor Friday afternoon: John B. Butler III.
Butler's great-grandfather, John B Butler, for whom the school was named, was superintendent of the Fort Dodge school district in 1912. Butler, a Seattle, Wash., native, was visiting his family's farmland in Ringsted, 80 miles north of Fort Dodge, when he decided to visit the school that bears his family name.
"My family still has a connection, that being a farm, a section of land, that we own in Ringsted," he said. "I try to come and visit the farmer fairly regularly. I get through town maybe every three or four years."
-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
John B. Butler III, of Seattle, Wash., is presented with a Butler Elementary T-shirt and a school calendar by Mike Woodall, Butler Elementary School principal, left, Friday afternoon. Butler is the great-grandson of John B Butler, for whom the school was named.
He added, "I love having a connection to the center of the country."
Butler said he will likely visit Shady Oak Cemetery to pay his respects to his grandfather and great-grandfather, as well as the home John B Butler built in 1903, which is still standing.
"I remember the first time I came to visit," he said. "I flew in and got in a cab. We were driving back and forth on 12th Street. There were these gigantic homes, and I had seen a picture, but it didn't register on me. Finally, the driver said to me, 'Who are you coming to visit?" I said, my aunts, Margaret and Elizabeth. And he said, 'Oh, you mean the Butler Home.' And he pulled into this driveway."
From visiting Fort Dodge, Butler learned about his heritage and his great-grandfather, a businessman and civic-minded individual. John B Butler was born on a farm, went to teacher college, came back to Fort Dodge, studied law and started a title and abstract firm.
"Butler & Rhodes, as far as I know, still exists, in fact," he said.
John B Butler also became involved in buying land cheaply and selling it in sections, prospering greatly.
"We have owned the section of land in Ringsted long enough for it to be a heritage farm, although none of us farms it anymore," he said. "A Century Farm is what it's called."
Butler said he also enjoys visiting Iowa because he knows nothing about farming.
"It's not a part of my life at all," he said. "But I spend a day or two with the farmer and I pick up some things."
The privilege of having such a direct connection to his heritage instills in Butler a sense of pride, he said.
"It feels like I understand how people moved west," he said. "In the Butler case, they came through Quebec City and Hibbing (Minn.), and did mining for a generation, then moved down to Fort Dodge onto the farm. This is my connection to what the westward expansion was."
Butler said his great-grandfather's story also inspires in him his values to this day.
"I come by my liberalism honestly," he said. "Great-grandpa's story is told in the family that he held mortgages and at the end of a year, if a family couldn't pay, he'd go visit. And if it wasn't their fault, if they had worked hard, he would either re-rate the mortgage or forgive a year. That's my heritage."
Butler said he was surprised that when the elementary school was rebuilt it retained his family's name. The new building, built on the plat adjacent to the original school, now has a new addition to accommodate more students.
According to Mike Woodall, Butler Elementary principal, the school serves more than 500 students with a staff of 65, which is about 15 percent of the district's population and half its elementary school population.
All those students go to Butler Elementary, a fact that Butler the man doesn't take for granted.
"It boggles my mind," he said. "To me, this is an example of where we come from, and why we need to be giving back."
The day also marked the 10th anniversary of the dedication of the new Butler Elementary school building, which opened Aug. 29, 2002. Its 2012-2013 school year began Aug. 20.