"Encyclopedia Dubuque is the online authority for all things Dubuque, written by the people who know the city best.”
Marshall Cohen—researcher and producer, CNN
Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.
BUTLER, John E. and Alice
A graduate of DUBUQUE SENIOR HIGH SCHOOL, Butler earned a bachelor of science degree from Babson College in Massachusetts (1952) and his MBA in Insurance from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania (1954). His professional associations have included the Council of Insurance Agents and Brokers, Assurex International, Iowa Association of Business and Industry, the International Insurance Society, and Lloyds of London where he has been an underwriting member. (2)
Locally, John Butler served on the boards of the Linwood Cemetery Association, Girl Scouts, The Butler Family Foundation, Grand Opera House Foundation, Iowa Association of Business and Industry, FDL FOODS INC., DUBUQUE SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA, DUBUQUE BOYS' AND GIRLS' CLUBS OF GREATER DUBUQUE, LINWOOD CEMETERY, UNIVERSITY OF DUBUQUE, DUBUQUE BOYS' CLUB, and YOUNG MEN'S CHRISTIAN ASSOCIATION (Y.M.C.A.). He has also served on the executive committee of the National Association of Casualty and Surety Agents. (3)
John Butler has been closely identified with historical preservation. He was instrumental in reopening the business area of downtown Dubuque to automobile traffic in the late 1990s. (4) After remaining vacant for twelve years, the Town Clock Building was in need of extensive repair. Instead of demolishing the building when he needed more space for business expansion, Butler chose to renovate the interior of the building while maintaining the historical exterior. Renovation of the SECURITY BUILDING followed the same example. He chaired the renovation of the GRAND OPERA HOUSE, a project that eventually cost $4.5 million. (5) In 2008 Butler and other prominent citizens offered board of the CARNEGIE-STOUT PUBLIC LIBRARY $1 million to cover a fundraising shortfall for planned renovation. This resulted in the Curtis collection and the Grant WOOD paintings remaining in Dubuque under the authority of the DUBUQUE MUSEUM OF ART. (6) While he supported opening Eighth Street, he did not like the idea of opening Main Street to automobile traffic. Butler envisioned an "office park" with the TOWN CLOCK PLAZA being renovated. (7)
Alice served on the board and as president of the YOUNG WOMEN'S CHRISTIAN ASSOCIATION (Y.W.C.A.), the Visiting Nurse Association Junior Board, and has been active in Girl Scouts. In 2009 she and her husband donated to the E. B. LYONS INTERPRETATIVE CENTER leading to the construction of the Alice L. Butler Science Center. (8) In 2011 they created a $5 million matching gift challenge to create an endowment in support of the University of Dubuque's Performing Arts and Campus Center. Their names appear on the John and Alice Butler Hall. (9)
The Butlers' commitment to improving society extended beyond Dubuque. On August 13, 2007, Laurel School announced the largest single gift from a donor in the school’s history. The $5 million gift to Laurel’s permanent endowment was given to the school by John and Alice Lehmann Butler ’49 of Dubuque, Iowa. In honor of the Butler’s generosity, the Board renamed the Fairmount Campus, the School’s second campus consisting of 140-acres with facilities for athletics and outdoor education in Geauga County, as The Butler Campus.
Mrs. Butler played field hockey while at Laurel and Wellesley and was a member of an amateur team while living in Cleveland after college. She believed her passion for fitness and athletics was inspired by her teachers at Laurel School. An accident in 2002 in Morocco reminded her of that legacy. Mrs. Butler believed that she and her husband survived an automobile accident, in part, due to their consistent, long-standing physical fitness activity.
The Butlers' gift required Laurel School to raise an additional $5 million in gifts from other donors. One-half, or $2.5 million, of the new dollars was to be designated toward Laurel's Butler Campus; the other half, or $2.5 million, was to be designated toward the Faculty Investment Initiative endowment, to assist the School in providing competitive compensation as it seeks to engage the best faculty, staff and coaches available.
In 2019 the announcement was made that Alice and John Butler had donated $5 million to the University of Iowa for research and treatment of blinding eye disease. The vision research fund, named in their honor, would support gene-steam cell based treatment for degenerative retinal diseases. The university's Institute for Vision Research planned to use stem cells taken from a patient, correct gene mutations in the cells and then transplant the cells back into the patient's retina to restore vision. Using the patient's stem cells was hoped to reduce the occurrence of autoimmune responses to transplantation. The donation would also support additional research such as the effects of retinal diseases on a patient's ability to operate an automobile. (10)
By the end of 2020 a custom-built pipe organ was expected to be operational in the University of Dubuque's Heritage Center. The new musical instrument was made possible through a $2.4 million donation by the Butlers. Constructed by Dobson Pipe Organ Builders of Lake City Iowa, the Opus 97 organ will have 3-033 pipes ranging from 32 feet long to no larger than a pen. Called by university president Jeffrey BULLOCK the "premier performance instrument in Iowa," to organ was expected to attract organists from around the world and make possible organ training for music majors. School musical groups would be able to use the instrument to accompany their performances. Involved in the installation will be a process of "voicing" each pipe so that they all sound in harmony with the acoustics of the room. (11)
In 2004 John E. Butler was inducted into the JUNIOR ACHIEVEMENT BUSINESS HALL OF FAME. (12) In 2011, John E. Butler and Alice Butler were recipients of the FIRST CITIZEN AWARD from the Telegraph Herald.
1. Piper, Andy, "A Lifetime of Philanthropy," Telegraph Herald, January 1, 2012, p. 1
2. Cooper, Brian, "Butler Setting Lofty Goals for Insurance Firm," Telegraph Herald, March 7, 2004, p. 1
3. Blocker, Sue, "Butler Did It," Telegraph Herald, October 26, 1987, p. 14
6. Mozinski, Eileen, "Businessman John Butler 'A Civic Treasure," Telegraph Herald, September 15, 2008, p. 55
7. Wilkinson, Jennifer, "Downtown Exuberance," Telegraph Herald, March 2, 1998, p. 1
8. Reber, Craig D. "E. B. Lyons to Double Its Size," Telegraph Herald, August 25, 2009, p. 3
9. "$5 Million Challenge Grant For UD," Telegraph Herald, December 15, 2011, p. 1
10. Hogstrom, Erik, "Butlers Donate $5 Million to U. of Iowa," Telegraph Herald, January 18, 2019, p. 5A
11. Hinga, Allie, ""Pipe Dream?" Telegraph Herald, April 5, 2019, p. 3A
12. "Group Honors 2 Dubuque Business Leaders," Telegraph Herald, June 10, 2004, p. 1