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Paynesville Press - June 6, 2001

Butler retires after 41 years in district

By Erin Aagesen

Dick Butler After seeing 4,500 students enter his classroom over the course of his teaching career, Dick Butler still remembers the faces of the students in his first class 41 years ago.

Butler, who will retire this spring, even remembers where particular students from his past sat in his classroom. And that's an amazing feat, considering that he has taught English courses in Paynesville since 1960. "If I had started one year earlier," Butler laughs, "I'd have taught six decades!"

Dick Butler is excited to be retiring this year after forty-one years an English teacher in the Paynesville Area School System.

Now, after all these years and all these students, he's not ashamed to say he's ready to move on. Though he's enjoyed his career, he feels ready for retirement. "I've got another life or two to live, and I want to get on with it," he said. "I'm tired of the endless hours of prepping and reading work."

"Teaching is a great responsibility," Butler continued. "It's extremely demanding on one's time and energy. It's like being a parent in a way. You have to expect things of your students but you can't nag. You have to find the right mix of love and encouragement."

Butler says his sense of humor has been one thing that has helped him during his teaching career. Also, his lifelong love of learning made him want to spend his career in school. "I like being a learner," he said. "I like being around other learners."

During his retirement, Butler is excited to shed the responsibilities of work and focus on things closer to home. He wants to spend more time with family, including his wife, Jan, and his children and grandchildren. His plans also include spending more time pursuing personal hobbies like reading, writing in his journal, walking, traveling, and attending plays and concerts.

Butler grew up in southeastern Minnesota in a small town called Lake City, which he says is comparable in size to Paynesville. He began his school career by attending eight years of Catholic school, where he says he got a good education.

Although Butler wasn't interested in any particular subject matter when he was younger, he says he has always loved school and learning. During elementary school, he had a paper route. Butler said that while delivering papers, he would often make a stop by the Catholic school to sit in a desk and read the encyclopedia because he craved learning so much.

Teachers became important role models for Butler during his youth. He said he got to admire them because he didn't have many steady role models in his life. His father was not around, and his mother was suffering from Parkinson's disease, which made it difficult to communicate with her. He had older siblings, but didn't have much contact with them because they were out of state, or, like one brother, had chosen the religious life.

Butler says he always knew he would be a teacher because he loved learning so much, and because his most influential role models had always been teachers.

One such teacher entered Butler's life during 11th grade. His English teacher recognized Butler's talent in English, so he suggested to Butler that he become a teacher himself.

After that, Butler followed in his teacher's footsteps and attended Winona State University for four years to earn an English degree.

He practice taught in his home town after graduation, and had planned to stay in that area, but a job opening in Paynesville changed his plans.

After Butler was shown the school in Paynesville and was introduced to some of the staff members, he liked what he saw, and accepted the position offered in ninth grade.

"When I made the choice," Butler said, "I wanted to make a choice that was a lasting one. I tried to pick pretty carefully."

Butler's decision was, in fact, a lasting one. He has spent his entire career in the district, first by teaching ninth grade English for seven years, then moving on to teaching juniors and seniors for the remainder of his career.

During this time, he has made quite an impact on the English department. When the department made the switch to the elective system, Butler implemented the original designs for most of the courses offered today, including Language and Composition, Narrative and Descriptive Writing, and Honors English.

Butler is proud to have been recognized by all the people affected by his work: the students, the faculty, and the community. In 1967, his students dedicated their yearbook to him, and this year's graduating class chose him to speak at their Honor's banquet. He was voted Teacher of the Year in 1990 by his colleagues, and was elected to city council by the community four times.

Much of his success can be attributed to his genuine passion for his subject. Butler says he has always tried to convey that to his students. "My approach has always been to try to make people enjoy reading and writing as much as I do," said Butler. "As a teacher, you have to communicate with people that you love your subject. I think the people who came into my classroom knew that I loved literature and writing."

And now, after five decades of helping students enjoy his subject, he finally has the time to enjoy it on his own.

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