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Robert W. Butler Sr. 1921-2020

Most children — the lucky ones, anyway — stand in awe of their fathers.

Until I was a teenager I took it for granted that my father, Robert W. Butler Sr., who passed away June 12 at age 98, had the superhuman ability to fix anything.

Washing machines, auto engines, electrical wiring, even the collapsing concrete-block foundation of our Prairie Village home…Dad just rolled up his sleeves and fixed it.

By trade he was an electrical engineer…by habit he fixed things.  

He did it as a volunteer for Habitat for Humanity. He tutored grade schoolers in the Shawnee Mission District. He stocked shelves  at the food bank run by Village Presbyterian Church, where he was an usher and deacon.  For several years he  dressed  up  to help my mother  run  a  booth  at  the Renaissance  Festival  selling  the output  of  the  church’s  printmaking  guild.

He was a Stephens Minister who counseled and comforted members of the church.

After the death of my mother Dad moved into Aberdeen Village in Olathe  KS (he was a member of the original “freshman class”) where over two decades he served as president of the resident’s council and each year did the income taxes of anyone who asked. He passed out his homemade banana bread and summer sausage.

That was typical. Dad, my mother used to joke, never got his tank filled without making friends with the station attendant. 

And the other night as we sat at his death bed, my sister Jan observed that she had never heard a bad thing said about our father; nor had we ever heard him say anything unkind about another person.

In many ways we were opposites…he was a left-brain fixer and I was a right-brain dreamer.  His futile attempts to coach me in seventh grade algebra must have shaken his belief in heredity.  At the same time, I suspect he was mystified at the process by which I watched movies and wrote critical pieces about them.

(Although…in his mid-90s he took up painting with all the eagerness and lack of pretension of an eight-year-old.)

Dad was born on Aug. 9, 1921 in Franklin, NE.  He attended the University of Nebraska (he was a lifelong fan of Cornhusker sports and was still paying dues to the Nebraska Alumni Association when he passed). He received a degree in electrical engineering; the U.S. Navy paid for his further studies at Harvard, M.I.T. and Bowdoin College.

He served as radar officer on the U.S.S. Dayton in the Pacific;  he was in a combat situation only once, when the Dayton was one of dozens of ships shelling the Japanese mainland.

Ironically, Dad was responsible for the only shot to hit his ship.  Assuming his duties as the officer of the day he was handed a .45 automatic, which discharged, blowing a hole in the teak deck.

While still in uniform he met and married my mother, Ardys Arlene Anderegg, a teacher from Iowa.  Their civilian life together began in Fort Wayne IN, where dad worked for Farnsworth Electronics (Philo Farnsworth is credited as the inventor of television). That’s where I was born.

Shortly thereafter the couple moved to Roeland Park KS. In the 1950s and ’60s Dad worked for the Bendix Corporation.  We never knew what he did, although one time he left his official I.D. at home and was sent back to get it before the guards would let him into his office.

 Years later I took him to see “The Abyss”; watching the scene where Navy Seals remove nuclear warheads from a sunken submarine, Dad leaned over and whispered “They look just like that.”

Turns out he was in charge of quality control for ICBM guidance systems. Nightmares of nuclear holocaust notwithstanding, the Cold War was good to the Butler clan.

Dad was active in the American Society for Quality Control and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, often delivering technical papers at their conferences. In retirement he and another group of engineers toured China.  Even after that he kept pronouncing “Mao” like the condiment.

He also went to night school to earn an M.A. in Business from the  University of Missouri.

In 1955 the family moved to Prairie Village; in 1969 Dad, my mother, my brother Dick and sister Jan moved to Fort Lauderdale FL where Dad worked for Milgo Electronics.

Mom and Dad returned to KC in 1974 when he took a job in quality control for the Allis-Chalmers plant in Independence. The job required him to crisscross the Midwest, troubleshooting issues farmers were having with their agricultural equipment.  Coming from Nebraska and having married into a family of Iowa farmers, he talked their language.

After retiring he and Mom spent winters in Florida with my brother Dick. Dad helped plan reunions of the U.S.S. Dayton’s crews — at least until he was the only one left to attend.

He leaves behind three children, six grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

He also left the world a better place.

| Robert W. Butler

Painting by Robert W. Butler Sr., 2019

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