Page 17 - Scene Magazine 46-02 February 2021
P. 17

 TRIBUTE TO MARY GILRUTH BUTLER
 In his eulogy to Mary, Kurt Thornton told about meeting Mary at a Suzuki performance in the Pioneer Village via Phil Shultz. Shultz pointed her out and said “that’s Jim Butler’s wife. She’s interested in local history.” Kurt remembered, “Little did I know,
that simple sentence was going to mark an historic day.” His mother Frances connected with Mary. Mary told us many times that she owed Frances for teaching her the
basic history of Battle Creek. Mary was famous for claiming, “per square inch, no other town in America has as much history as Battle Creek.”
Today the archive is
covered by volunteers.
Jody Owens, retired
English teacher from
Athens schools, is the lead
archivist along with her team
of volunteers: “Mike” Nelson,
Judy Parrish, and Donna
Rickman. Jody walked in to the
archive after retirement volunteering
to help. She knew very little about
Battle Creek history and it became Mary’s mission to teach her and to deal with archival materials. As she helped organize and file, “Mary kept up a running dialogue of back stories, unrelated subjects, connections to other topics and jokes,
as Mary had a wicked hilarious sense
of humor.” Even after becoming more
ill, Mary kept working from home for the society. Mary’s loyal archive helper, Martin Ashley, has moved more boxes and arranged more shelves than he cares to count. Keeping the archive usable and up to date is a never-ending job.
Bill White, current president of HSBC, captured Mary’s encyclopedic memory well when he came to volunteer at the Kimball House. “One never knew where a conversation was going when talking with Mary. It often seemed like the ‘potpourri’ category on Jeopardy... I have learned
so much from her and even months after she has passed I will likely want to grab my phone to call and ask her a question.” Michael McCullough worked with
Mary when he was at the Enquirer and
continued as librarian at Willard Library. “I’ve always seen journalism and history as
kindred spirits, and I think Mary did too. Each in our own way were stewards of Battle Creek’s story, and as the
more learned scholar, Mary was always there to help me try to
 PHOTO
COURTESY
OF KURT THORNTON
we moved on to other projects. Rick DeRuiter from Scene Magazine did the professional layout for Heritage
and we established a good connection which led to many history issues.
Mary and I did many KCC grants
with Professor Ryan Flathau and his photography students. They were excited about walking around Battle Creek and taking photos for the archive. Teresa Durham, KCC Foundation director,
was always confident about Mary’s participation in the grants. “Mary was
a true force. Her love of history and archiving, passion, and commitment
to preserving our community’s history
will not be forgotten.” It was under a grant from Battle Creek Community Foundation, the Binda Foundation, and KCC that Mary and I did the 2nd grade curriculum project referred to by Jana. This was a major undertaking. Mary was the key to success.
Once I became acquainted with Mary and the HSBC, I brought my Michigan History students over to the archive and/or the Kimball House. Dr. Ray DeBruler, KCC History Professor, who now teaches Michigan History brings
continued
Mary Butler with authors, Frances Thornton and Martin Ashley, promoting the Gold-In-Flakes cereal history.
live up to that responsibility. I am very appreciative of her work and applaud
her commitment to and love of our community.” Michael also serves on
the board of the HSBC. I got to know Mary in 1991 when I joined
a committee to start a historical magazine, Heritage Battle Creek.
I was very impressed with Mary’s academic background and knew
we would both honor scholarly research.
The difficult part was to do research, help other
writers, and do fundraising. Eventually, after 10 good years,
  Christmas at the Kimball House was one of Mary’s favorites.
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