Chadron native and long-time Lincoln resident, Jim Butler, joined the Heavenly Host Feb. 28, 2018. He was 99-years-old.
James LeRoy Butler was born Jan. 9, 1919, in rural Chadron, to Grace (Brown) and T.J. Butler. He was the second of three children. He had an older brother, Melvin and a younger sister Elizabeth (Pascale).
He attended country school through the eighth grade and had never seen organized sports until he started attending Chadron’s Prep School, where he went on to excel at football, basketball, and baseball. He was inducted into the Chadron State College Sports Hall of Fame in 2010.
At CSC, Jim met and married Madeline Iaeger in 1940. After their first son, Gary, was born, they moved to California, where Jim worked as foreman of a crew building Allied war bombers. It was here that their second son, Dale, was born. Jim enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1944, and while he was away at basic training, Madeline contracted pneumonia and died unexpectedly. Jim completed his basic training but remained stateside until WWII ended. He was honorably discharged in 1945 and returned to Chadron.
Jim met Donna Sailor from Gordon, while on leave from the Air Corps, and in 1946 they became husband and wife. At Donna’s encouragement, Jim completed his college education at CSC. Jim and Donna were married for 62 years, until her untimely death in 2008. To their union were born three sons: Scott, Curt, and Criss.
In 1949, Jim was appointed to fill a remaining incomplete term of Dawes County Sheriff. He was re-elected to two additional terms before leaving law enforcement to pursue his ultimate lifetime career as an elementary school principal with the Chadron Public Schools. He was head administrator for all three Chadron elementary schools at the time. After nearly 30 years in a career he loved and looked forward to every day, Jim began the first leg of his retirement journey in 1985.
After seven years of retirement in Chadron, Jim and Donna moved to Lincoln. Jim claimed the move was so they could be closer to their sons’ growing families – but they all suspected his real reason was to be as close as possible to his beloved Cornhusker Football (GBR!). Jim was a dyed-in-the-wool Husker fan, from his red conversion van to his red jump suit; from listening to Bob Devaney’s Big Red football team on Chadron’s KCSR radio to holding season tickets for not only football, but for men’s and women’s basketball and volleyball. And when these teams didn’t have a game on the schedule, he would take in a Husker wrestling match or indoor track meet. Jim was still regularly attending games as a season ticket-holder into his late 90s.
Truly, though, Jim and Donna doted on their kids and grandkids. They loved nothing more than the wonderful chaos of family get-togethers. They reveled in hosting Thanksgiving and Christmas gatherings of 30 or more – including sons and their wives, grandchildren, in-laws and extended family, and a growing group of great-grandkids.
When his beloved Donna passed away unexpectedly in 2008, Jim moved to Lincoln’s Eastmont Towers Community and began another leg of his retirement journey at age 90. Jim thrived during his time at Eastmont. As big as the Eastmont family is, Jim knew everyone and everyone knew and thought the world of Jim. Upon learning of his death, Eastmont’s Director of Activities said, “What a legend. Losing him will sting for a long time.”
Jim was preceded in death by his parents, his siblings, and his wife. He is survived by his five sons: Gary (Wilma), Dale (Carol), Scott (Gayle), Curt (Patty), and Criss (Dana); and by 14 grandchildren, 20 great-grandchildren, and four great-great grandchildren.
There will be two events to celebrate Jim’s life. The first will be held in Chadron at 1 p.m. on Thursday, March 8, at Chamberlain Chapel, followed by a graveside ceremony at Greenwood Cemetery. There will also be a viewing at 11 a.m. that same day at Chamberlain’s. Then in Lincoln, on Saturday, March 10, to honor and celebrate Jim’s passion for all things Cornhusker, there will be a Big Red Memorial Reception for him starting at 3:30 p.m. at the Eastmont Towers Community, 6315 O Street – wear your red!
Memorial donations may be made in Jim’s name to The Lewis B. Sanders Scholarship Fund at Chadron State College.