A Tribute Continued: An Interview with Dr. Butler

Our student assistant David Colbus' historic visit to Dr. Butler took place on April 14, 2016.

Our student assistant David Colbus’ historic visit to Dr. Butler took place on April 14, 2016.

By David Colbus, Senior in the College of Arts and Sciences
Student Assistant, University Archives

Two weeks ago, I took the opportunity to learn more about UM’s history by interviewing someone
instrumental within it—Dr. William R. Butler. I knew I had found the former Vice President’s house when University Archivist, Koichi Tasa, and I saw the UM flag waving in front of his home. As we pulled into his driveway, Dr. Butler greeted us and invited us into his garage-turned-office. He immediately gifted us with several copies of his two books, and he even gave me my own signed copy of his 2008 book, “Embracing the World.” The Archives reciprocated Dr. Butler’s book gifts with a framed print of the “Keep Them Coming” poster which hangs in the library’s collection.

After this exchange, Dr. Butler invited us to sit with him. He began introducing the friends and
prominent people from the University of Miami and elsewhere that stood out in his gallery, including Presidents Harry S. Truman and Lyndon B. Johnson. When eyeing a picture of President Henry King Stanford, Dr. Butler told us the story of how the Butler family happened to come to the University of Miami. President Stanford telephoned him in 1965 while in his office at Ohio University when he was Dean of Students. He told Dr. Butler how impressed he was with the work he was doing with Ohio U students. He went on to say that a new position of Vice President for Student Affairs had just been established at UM and that he was interested in Dr. Butler filling that position. Dr. Butler was hesitant. He said, “My wife, Ginnie, and I are here at our alma mater. We love it here in Ohio and so do our four children. We have no plans to leave.” But President Stanford would not take no for an answer, so he flew Dr. and Mrs. Butler from Ohio to Coral Gables for a lengthy visit. Dr. Butler and his wife, Ginnie, fell in love with UM, and he accepted the position, serving as Vice President for Student Affairs for the next 32 years. “I loved every minute of my job,” Dr. Butler said. “My move from Ohio was something I have never regretted.” After finishing the tour of the gallery, Dr. Butler gave us a tour of his home, showing us the living room where he would invite UM students as guests to engage with the key guest speakers from the University.

When asked about his two books and his nearly 20 years of retired life, Dr. Butler joked, “I’m through writing books. The only book I have left in my thoughts is one which cannot be told.” Dr. Butler said he had been “enjoying his retirement years by writing books and getting more involved with the UM Alumni Association and the Butler Center for Volunteer Service and Leadership Development. I am also very involved in daily physical activity, and enhancing my network of friends from around the USA and the world.” He went on to say, “I have lived long enough to be able to do good things and help the less fortunate in life. And, I appreciate the positive effects and respect I’ve enjoyed for my efforts.” During his time as Vice President, Dr. Butler said that his philosophy of working with UM students was very simple—”students tell us if we listen.” He continued saying that he and his staff in student affairs believed that each and every student should grow to realize their full potential while studying and living at UM. Moreover, he has enjoyed taking a large private bureaucratic institution like UM and personalizing it for students. Dr. Butler is very proud of UM. During the past 50 years, the University has embraced his overall student-centered philosophy, something which only a few American research universities have accomplished.

When I asked Dr. Butler about President Tad Foote’s previous remarks on making the University “smaller and better,” he told me that UM has moved from essentially being the “state university of South Florida” to a very select private institution…one with smaller and better student enrollments and one with higher entry SAT scores. He elaborated, “Each of the past administrations has been able to build on the many accomplishments of the previous ones in building a research university of excellence.”

Dr. Butler took me through the history of the Student Volunteer Center which, in 1997, became the Butler Center. On his arrival in 1965, the Wesley Foundation on campus had a volunteer program named, Students of the University of Miami Move on Need (SUMMON). This program lasted only a few years because it was eventually taken over by Undergraduate Student Government and was discontinued during the early 1970s. Consequently, the SUMMON program ceased functioning. It was not until 1989 that Dr. Butler established the present volunteer services and leadership development center on campus. He is so proud of the accomplishments of the Butler Center, and he believes that each and every student should do something in life to help the less fortunate, without pay, with just the benefit of donating their services and leadership skills.

I then asked Dr. Butler about something I had read in his book, a phrase expressed by former President Henry King Stanford. Dr. Stanford had talked about his belief that UM had a “rendezvous with greatness.” He believed that this idea was a coming together, at an appointed time, when UM would achieve greatness in higher education. Dr. Butler added to this insightful idea when he stated that UM would enjoy an international rendezvous with greatness. He told me he believes that, not only will this international rendezvous occur, but in many respects it has already begun in recent years.

As Koichi Tasa and I were leaving, Dr. Butler gave me a list of what he personally has learned during his 90 years. What particularly struck me was the first item on his list—-“I believe in the three F’s….Family, Friends and Faith.” And, indeed, some of Dr. Butler’s friends had interrupted our interview a few times with telephone calls. Moreover, he encouraged me as well to call him from time to time. Quite happy, I returned to the UM Archives not with just UM’s historical facts, but also with copies of Dr. Butler’s books, his philosophical insights, and friendship.

*Please click here to read Dr. Butler’s essay “What I have Learned in Nearly 90 Years.” This document will be added to our archival collection of Dr. B’s personal papers “William R. Butler Papers.”

The walls of Dr. Buter's office are covered with pictures of his accomplishments and souvenirs from all over the world.

The walls of Dr. Buter’s office are covered with pictures of his accomplishments and souvenirs from all over the world.

New sign at Lake Osceola

New Sign at Lake Osceola

New Sign at Lake Osceola

A colleague of mine just told me there is a new sign at Lake Osceola, which is informative and looks very attractive! We would like to thank the Energy & Conservation Organization of the University of Miami for the recognition they provided for our research assistance.

Lake Osceola and new sign

Lake Osceola and new sign

Current Exhibition Extended Through July


We just received approval by Dean Charles Eckman to extend our current exhibition “The Pan American University: The Original Spirit of the U Lives On” through July 2016, so that the participants of the RBMS Conference could see it when they visit the Otto G. Richter Library in late June.

FYI, RBMS stands for Rare Books and Manuscripts Section of the Association of College and Research Libraries, which is a division of the American Library Association. This year the group meets in Miami from June 21 to 24 at the Biltmore Hotel for various programs. Please go to the link below for further information about the conference.


We appreciate very much the opportunity to display University of Miami’s history as well as University Archives’ collections for the attendees of the Conference.

Happy Founders’ Day

On January 14, 1926, dignitaries gathered for the groundbreaking of the Merrick Building (Left to right: Phineas Paist, Denman Fink, Frederic Zeigen, Myrtle Zeigen, Bertha M. Foster and Clara Price)

On January 14, 1926, dignitaries gathered for the groundbreaking of the Merrick Building (Left to right: Phineas Paist, Denman Fink, Frederic Zeigen, Myrtle Zeigen, Bertha M. Foster and Clara Price)

President Frenk announced last week that he is starting a new tradition of celebrating the University of Miami’s birthday as Founders’ Day. The birth date of the U is April 8, 1925 when the application for charter of the University of Miami was granted. Please click here to read the message from President Frenk.

The message also provides a link to the charter document found in the Office of the President Records in the Ashe Administration. The document as well as historical images of the University were shown during President Frenk’s inaugural ceremony on January 29, 2016. Please click here for the charter document as well as the short video on UM history shown at the inauguration.

To find out more about the University Founders and their original vision, please come visit the Otto G. Richter Library to see the exhibition “The Pan American University: The Original Spirit Of The U Lives On,” which is on view through July 2016. Please click here for an essay on the exhibition written by our student assistant David Colbus.

Happy 91st birthday to the U! We hope this special day will make more university colleagues and students think about UM’s history and heritage.

Distinguished Members of the Board of Regents of the University of Miami (Spring 1925)

Distinguished Members of the Board of Regents of the University of Miami (Spring 1925)

A Tribute to Our Dr. B: Dr. William R. Butler, Vice-President for Student Affairs Emeritus

Dr. William Butler (courtesy Butler Center for Service and Leadership)

Dr. William Butler (courtesy Butler Center for Service and Leadership)

By David Colbus, Senior in the College of Arts and Sciences
Student Assistant, University Archives

After publishing our previous blog on Helen Wilson, the Archives’ staff contacted several colleagues and friends of the library who might remember her. We received a reply from none other than retired Vice-President of Student Affairs, Dr. William R. Butler. Dr. B (this is how university colleagues call him) told us that he knew Helen Wilson personally, and talked about her within his book, “Embracing the World.” He continued to tell us that during her “retirement” work in the Department of the Archives, “she was the perfect fit because of her long-term working experiences with the first three presidents and because she became so involved with the U.M. Board of Trustees and the U.M. Alumni Association.”

Much like Helen Wilson, Dr. B has been an important friend to the University Archives. He researched materials at the Archives and Special Collections to write both of his books, “Embracing the World” and “Following My Bliss,” as well as contributed a series of 10 video recordings containing interviews with prominent UM administrators, faculty, trustees, and alumni. The Archives and visiting researchers frequently use “Embracing the World” as a valuable historical resource. This book, written by Dr. Butler in 2008, details University of Miami’s first seventy years, from 1926 to 2006, and describes both the evolution of the university and the people who guided that growth. Butler’s newest book, “Following My Bliss”, published in 2015, extends the global focus he applies in “Embracing the World” and details his international travels both on his own and at the behest of University of Miami. Dr. Butler acknowledged research assistance provided by Richter Library and its staff in Archives and Special Collections.

After an invitation from President Henry King Stanford in 1965, Dr. Butler began working for the University of Miami as the new Vice-President for Student Affairs. Working under President Henry King Stanford, and later Edward T. Foote II, Butler helped promote diversity on campus, student, and volunteer service on campus and abroad. He started work in a period of uncertainty, one dominated by discussions and anxieties surrounding student unrest, protests, and student power. Working with President Stanford, Butler used an “iron hand in a velvet glove” to balance student-led change at the university with a minimization of academic disruption and student violence. As student unrest gradually diminished at the end of the Vietnam War, Butler focused on building University of Miami into a global presence. His recruitment efforts in Latin America, Germany, and China brought in an influx of global scholars and developed the international ties University of Miami maintains today. After 32 years of service, Dr. Butler retired in 1998 at the age of 72, but has remained close and important to the university ever since.

During his time at the university, Butler received multiple honors. He received the German Commander’s Cross for fostering academic exchange between countries, became a director at the Eagle National Bank, and was tapped into Iron Arrow, University of Miami’s most prestigious honor. The University itself has honored Butler in the form of William R. Butler Atrium in the Wellness Center, and the William R. Butler Center for Volunteer Service and Leadership Development. In fact, Butler donates all proceeds made from his books to the Butler Center, and dedicates both books to the Butler Center’s volunteers. It’s perhaps unsurprising that a man with such a prominent history himself and within the university would be so well-informed about University of Miami’s history. The Archives is thankful to have Dr. B’s knowledge, support, and friendship.

*Click here to find out more about Dr. Butler’s oral history collection “Conversations with Dr. William Butler.”

*Click here to find out more about Dr. Butler’s personal papers.

Dr. Butler's publications "Embracing The World" and "Following My Bliss"

Dr. Butler’s publications “Embracing The World” and “Following My Bliss”