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Saturday, January 9, 2021

60 years of memories: Butler Diversity

ON THE SQUARE

60 Years of Memories of Butler

 

When I first came to the big (relatively) city of Butler, I met a more diverse sampling of people than had been the case in my rural upbringing. I always rather enjoyed mixing with “different” individuals, and I found plenty of opportunities around the Square.

 

One of the first such persons I came across was George Reinch, who had come over from Germany in the mid-1950s, sponsored by the Robertson family. George was an accountant, with a thick Teutonic accent, who had worked hard to start a new life. The Levy family, of course, had been here since the 1800’s, not just of German extraction but Jewish as well, their numbers enlarged in the exodus from Nazi Germany prior to World War II. 

 

In the aftermath of the War, this area saw some settlement of “displaced persons,” peoples whose home countries and regions had been eliminated or ruined by the expansion and pushback of Hitler’s attempt at world domination. These DP’s were resettled as refugees, working on farms as they became Americans.

 

I also came across “war brides” who had married American GIs, like our Parisian Marie Sola and Italian lady Gina McGuire. Many Spanish-speaking residents had come up from the South to enrich our lives as well, like Albertina Mullies in the later years. And there was Peter Chi, a native Chinese, who was here for a few years as a itinerant minister.

 

Butler always had an established African American community, unlike some of the other towns founded in the post-Civil War era that were “Sunset Towns,” as in “Boy, don’t let us catch you here after the sun goes down.” By the time I came to Butler in 1960, schools had been integrated and a new generation was beginning to foster tolerance of darker skin tones. The Ray, Sweets and other families had moved to Butler in the Depression era from the older freedmen settlement of Marshall Creek in Henry County.

 

Not all of Butler’s diversity was based on cultural differences. Some were disabled individuals, like “Albert”, a man with crippled legs who rolled around the Square by propelling himself in a Radio Flyer little red wagon. He only needed a kind word to light up his face; when his wagon wore out, Elmer Morton at the Western Auto store replaced it. George Bogue, a deaf mute living at the east edge of town, was a familiar figure at the Sale Barn’s cattle pens, and insurance agent Harry Weiss functioned successfully despite the loss of his arms in a teenage accident.

 

Some of the diversity resulted from families who originally moved into Butler because of work transfers. Some came with the Boeing Minuteman Missile project, others worked in the coal mine industry or its associated Kansas City Power & Light plant. With the expansion of Highway 71, working in Kansas City and raising a family in quiet Butler became an easy carpool commute.

 

For whatever reason, we have been lucky to have a measure of diversity to bring seasoning to an otherwise bland region of Smiths and Joneses. It’s helped us understand that people are people, with the same needs and wants, whatever their background.