Janie Florene Butler
February 1, 1921 – July 30, 2020
Janie Florene Mullens Butler departed this life on July 30, 2020, after ninety-nine years of unselfish devotion to others. Her zest for life, gentle spirit, and influence for good, lives on in the memory of all who knew her.
Janie was born February 1, 1921 in El Paso, Arkansas to Lewis and Nettie Jackson Mullens.
She grew up in Little Rock. In May of 1938, she graduated from what was then Little Rock Senior High School, and married Coy Phillips Butler the following Christmas Day. During the early years of WW II, she and Coy, with two small sons, worked and fought in the war effort. Shortly after the war was over, a third son was born and they lived in the Geyer Springs area.
Janie was employed for twenty years with the Arkansas Rural Endowment Fund, retiring in 1978 as Assistant Manager. Deservedly, she took pride in having facilitated in the funding of college tuition loans to deserving students from every county in the state of Arkansas.
As the matriarch of a large family, she was a kin-keeper who taught her family how to love and cherish one another. She held them together by hosting family reunions and holiday gatherings.
In 2001, she moved to the Cottages of Otter Creek, where she lived independently and enjoyed making new friends. It was there she established a volunteer sewing group, “The Cottage Cutters”, who made pillows, aprons and bibs and then donated them to hospitals and nursing homes.
A member of the Pleasant Valley Church of Christ at the time of her passing, she loved and was loved by Church families in five congregations in Pulaski County where she worshipped throughout her life.
In addition to her parents, she was preceded in death by her husband, of 57 years, Coy Butler, and a beloved great granddaughter, Kayla Brooke Butler.
She is survived by three sons and three daughters-in-love: Doug and Sharron; Jerry and Sharon; and Toby and Kay; eight grandchildren; fourteen great grandchildren and seven great-great-grandchildren. She is also survived by two siblings, Edward “Soney” Mullens and Patricia Hall Alcorn and their offspring, who all called her “Aunt Sister”. These special nieces, great nieces and nephews and their families were as beloved to Janie as her own children. People who came to know her, many of whom have no familial relationship at all, called her GranJanie or Aunt Florene. The family of Paul and Mary-Jo Weare and the friendship of Wanda Shipman were especially dear to her.
“Florene,” a chapter in the electronic book Mothers, Memories and Birds, published earlier this year, recounts the legacy of her life.
Memorial gifts, in lieu of flowers, should be made to “Children’s Homes, Inc.” of Paragould, a charity where she volunteered for many years.
Family Visitation and a memorial service will be held on Tuesday, August 4th, at the Pleasant Valley Church of Christ in Little Rock, AR. Visitation will be held at 10:00 AM and a Memorial at 11:00 AM. The family will have a private graveside service at 10:00 AM on Wednesday, August 5, at Forest Hills Cemetery in Alexander, AR.
While she was living, Janie had her own way of doing things and tending to details. She even left directions for the writing of this obituary. She requested that it end, not with mournful words of regret and sadness. “The final words,” she said, “Should be this bit of advice: Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty well-preserved body; but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly shouting, ‘WOW! What a ride! Thank you, Lord!”
Florene Little Rock, Arkansas 1939 When Janie Florene Mullens Butler gave birth to her first son, she was the first woman in her generation to deliver a child in a hospital. The baby boy was named Douglas Trubey Butler. His three names came from three men who met at Fort Riley, Kansas and served together in the last horse-mounted cavalry unit in the United States Army. Charlie Douglas was a farmer from Missouri who later worked in a Michigan automobile factory. Ken Trubey, his other namesake, was a former mechanic, who turned to utility electrical work just as the new baby would do as an adult. Late in his life, Ken Trubey’s granddaughter was doing a school report on her ancestors and asked him, “Grandpa, what was the best day of your life?” Trubey, who was an octogenarian at that point said without hesitation, “The day I met Coy Butler, I was twenty one years old.” That same Coy Butler, who was so easily likable, was the husband of Florene and the father of the new baby everyone called Doug. Coy Butler was a congenial talented man who, led an interesting life, traveled extensively internationally and had significant corporate success in the utility industry. Yet, by his own admission, he would have achieved little had it not been for his wife, Janie Florene Mullens Butler. Because women in the Burgess/Jackson/Mullens clan were so long-lived, there remain in family albums many photographs of five generations of people who were alive at the same time. The first such photograph is above, taken near Christmastime in 1962 in Florene’s living room. [Actually, there could have been a six generation photo taken on this date, since centenarian, Anzanetta Burgess (Betty Jackson’s mother) was still alive on this date, and resided in Alabama.] Not only is it five generations, it is also the first born child of five successive generations. Betty Jackson, who was eighty-three at the time, is on the left. Her hand is being held by her daughter, Nettie, as if the mother-daughter roles had somehow been reversed, and in some ways they had. Nettie, at sixty three, is smiling and looking with pride at her first great grandson, Tab. Florene, a bit more solemn, is looking into the lens of the camera. It is as if she is looking to all her posterity to tell them, “This is how it all started.” Doug, well-groomed as always, sits next to his Mother who is holding his son. Tab, the baby, is being held firmly upright, seemingly unaware of the remarkable maternal heritage he will enjoy for his entire life.
Growing up in a small neighborhood of southwest Little Rock among a large extended family, that included eight aunts and many cousins, Florene was called “Sister.” It is appropriate that “Sister,” or sometimes just “Sis,” was her original nickname, because she had a strong sister-like allegiance even to distant cousins in the family and to many who were not even kin. Later in her life she was called, “Aunt Sister” because a single term of familial relationship was somehow incapable of describing how close people felt toward her. She was the ultimate kin keeper, keeping ancestors alive with oral accounts of their lives, creating albums of their photographs, organizing family reunions, writing long letters to family members who had moved away, faithfully sending greeting cards at birthdays and anniversaries, and encouraging her great-great grandchildren to establish friendships among their distant cousins. Florene recalls this memory from her early years at Garland Elementary School in 1927: Xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx “When I was in school they taught more than just arithmetic and reading, they also taught cleanliness, pride and decency. One day my teacher called the classes’ attention to a little bungalow house at the corner of Asher and Taylor Streets. She said, ‘Some of you children go by that neat tiny house every day to school, have you noticed how clean and tidy it is? Flowers planted all over the yard and with a garden in the back that has no weeds or grass. I’m told a poor old woman lives there with no husband and several little girls. Just because you are poor, doesn’t mean you have to be dirty and sloppy and not take pride.’ I knew that the teacher was talking about my Grandma Betty Jackson’s place but she didn’t even know Grandma’s name or that I was her granddaughter. I was so proud. I never told the teacher, because I thought she might think I was boasting, but her unsolicited remarks made me prouder of my family than anything I think I ever heard.” Florene Butler told in January 2020
Xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Florene started school at age five and was younger than many of her classmates, but she was a precocious child and made good marks in elementary and high school. She liked poetry, reading, and stenography. Her strengths were in the language arts, but not at the expense of math. [With only paper and pencil, she can calculate compound interest to the penny and to the day or hour by hand without any electronic device, even at age 99. A task that some bank tellers would never attempt, or even know how to begin.] She has excellent clerical skills and penmanship and it was Florene who addressed the letter for Oliver Jackson to conceal his whereabouts during his abandonment years. When Florene was young, she had few interactions with people of other ethnicities. Her neighborhood, church, and school were all white, mostly of Irish and English descent. She was smart enough to know, however, that people of color were elsewhere in Little Rock and that the race relations were strained. The black community was predominantly in the eastern part of Little Rock in those days. When she was nine or ten, she heard of a lynching that occurred about three miles west of her home in the Westwood community. Her father took her to the location soon afterward, but she never saw human remains or ashes from the event. She was aware of the seriousness of it all, and it is unpleasant for her to think or talk about it today. Her sons never heard the word, “nigger” issue from her lips unless she was reading Mark Twain aloud to them and speaking of the noble character Jim. If one of her son’s used the word within earshot of her, she would chastise them and tell them to choose the word “colored” instead. “That’s what they prefer to be called,” she’d explain, even though she probably never had a discussion with a black person to confirm or refute her conviction. Unlike her Mother and grandmothers, Florene’s life did not center on the garden. She was no stranger to gathering eggs, churning butter, planting potatoes or picking okra and peas or other rural chores though. Because her father was about, and because she was an only child for eight years, and because she could attend school regularly, she was spared the drudgery portion of working in the soil as Nettie, Betty and Ahyoka had endured. As a child she did learn a good bit about canning, drying beans, making jelly and how to distinguish good vegetables from inferior ones that had been picked too soon, bruised in handling or lacked flavor. That was a skill set she used all her life, when she purchased produce at farmers’ markets or grocery stores. Later, as an adult, she learned the best ways to put fruits, vegetables and meat in a home freezer as that technology emerged. She cooked nutritious affordable meals for her family. The rapid development of large scale farming, using tractors and harvesters that emerged during Florene’s early life, (between 1920 and 1940) made gardening less of an economic necessity. By the same token, Florene maintained the same habits of her maternal heritage when it came to using her time wisely and finding productive things to do with her hands. She did not scrape hides like Ahyoka, make feather beds like Betty, or quilt as much as Nettie, but she began even as a young school girl to develop skill in sewing, cooking and the economics of running a household. Eventually she became skilled in furniture refinishing and upholstering, all sorts of painting, laying tile and many building trades. Along with her husband Coy, she built a built a three bedroom home from the ground up, and drastically remodeled two others homes while she lived in them. In doing all this, Florene and Coy hired few professional carpenters, cabinet makers, plumbers, electricians, concrete workers, decorators or painters; preferring the economy and pleasure of doing those tasks themselves. During WWII, when Coy was away in the jungles of New Guinea, Florene laid, sanded and finished hardwood floors in their house with almost no outside help. Later, when she was holding down a fulltime job outside the home, she would take on formidable craft and building projects to help others. During summers, while Florene was a student in high school, and afterwards, she worked as a waitress at Gross’ Café on Asher Avenue. She earned $3.00 a week and all she could eat. There were few tips in those days. Mr. Gross, the owner of the café had considerable trust in her and her friend Margaret Brantley and would leave them to manage the running of the café for hours or days at a time. She would do everything involved -- wait tables, cook, order groceries, bookkeeping, open and close the café. Florene cannot specifically recall when her family first got an automobile. “I remember Daddy had the ice truck to use. I also remember that on the last day I was in High School [June, 1938] my Mother came to the school to pick me up in our coupe, so we had a car by then,” she said. Horse pulled wagons were in decline but still in use when she was a teen. Little Rock had a public street car and bus system that was used by many citizens. Black people could ride only in the back. That would change only in 1956. As a teen, Florene rode the street cars often; to school, to shop or to attend the picture show. The westernmost end of the street car line from downtown was a mile from their home on Asher. During her last year at Little Rock Senior High School Florene began dating Coy Butler. She had known the extended Butler family for years, because, Coy’s brother had married her Aunt Sam. Florene was a schoolmate of Coy’s sisters’ June and Eva. When Coy came home from a stint in the Army, Florene had tried to get him romantically interested in a friend of hers, but Coy had eyes for Florene. Their first date was with a group of picnicking friends who went to climb Pinnacle Mountain, a popular day hike west of Little Rock. The second was a trip to Pine Bluff, Arkansas to attend a high school football game between Little Rock High’s Tigers and the Pine Bluff Zebras. Florene married Coy in a Christmas Day wedding when she was seventeen. Coy was six years older than she was, he didn’t have a steady job or much money. Early on, her father, Lewis, disapproved of their union because of the age difference, and because Coy had not been working for his employer long enough to receive a salary. The wedding was performed in the home of the Methodist minister near what is now the Arkansas State Fairgrounds. It required a pleading effort on the part of Florene and her mother to get Lewis just to attend the nuptials. As the wedding party left the Minister’s home, Nettie picked a marble-sized sycamore ball from a low branch of a tree that was in the yard as a souvenir of her daughter’s wedding. Years later, she showed it to her great grandson. It had almost crumbled into dust, but she had treasured it and kept it in a tiny cellophane sack that once held lemon drops. Also, after the wedding, Lewis slipped Coy a twenty dollar bill to help them have a short one-night- one -day honeymoon. They spent their first night together at the Como Hotel, on Bathhouse Row in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Lewis, on getting to know Coy better, grew to have fondness, friendship and admiration for his son-in-law. When the newlyweds returned to Little Rock, they lived in small studio apartments for a while, and with Mr. Hogan, and his adult son, Bubba. Mr. Hogan, whose wife had left him, was Coy’s immediate boss at Arkansas Power and Light. He waived the rent and household expenses, in exchange for Florene doing the washing, cooking, cleaning, ironing and housekeeping for the men. That arrangement continued even after her first son Douglas Trubey was born. When Florene gave birth to her second son, they called him “Jerry,” a popular name at the time. Forty-four days after that, the United States was at war with the Japanese Empire and their ally Nazi Germany. The pejorative term for the enemy of the USA, Germany, was also “Jerry.” The name fell out of favor for boys born in the US after that, but for Jerry Butler and his cohorts who were born before the bombing of Pearl Harbor the name remained a source of angst. Work opportunities for Coy improved when America began mobilizing for war. Through Florene’s relatives in California, they learned of the possibility of lucrative work on a Naval Destroyer Base in San Diego. Coy and Florene loaded all their family clothes and belongings into a single trunk Coy had when he was in the cavalry. They put it in the back seat of a 1934 Ford. Atop the trunk they placed a baby bed mattress where the two toddler-sized boys could ride and sleep. All the dishes, pots, pans, household items and Coy’s tools were put in the trunk with the spare tire. Thus, the family of four squeezed together with all their possessions for the 1,700 mile, seven day car-trip to southern California. They camped out or slept in the car along the way, driving at night through Death Valley to avoid the heat.
Florene remembers that trip as one of the best journeys in her life. “We stopped often to let the boys out to play or splash around in little creeks or mountain streams. We didn’t have a strict timetable. Other times when Coy went away to work, he never seemed to want me along, but on that trip we enjoyed one another’s company so much. I had never travelled much before then, and I was interested in the deserts, huge rocks, mountains, animals and unusual birds we saw along the way.” Upon arriving in San Diego, Coy and Florene stayed at the residence of one of her aunts who lived in the area. After Coy began work and got settled in a bit, he and Florene moved into a mobile home park to live in a small house trailer on the bay. The boys played outdoors a lot in the warm California sun and got as tanned as their playmates, who were often Mexican children who spoke no English. The boys were soon able to communicate with these children in either Spanish or English as the need demanded. They could have been confused for Hispanic youngsters, had it not been for Jerry’s cotton-top hair. Florene regrets that her two sons did not stay there long enough to affix a second language permanently in their mind. When they moved away, the boys quickly lost their bilingual skills. The work at the destroyer base was not as lucrative or as steady as they had been led to believe. The cost of living in the Sunshine State was much more that living in Arkansas in a conclave of family members who grew large gardens, welcomed them into their home and shared expenses with them. They missed their family and friends, and Coy learned of the possibility of being hired back with Arkansas Power and Light Company. After six or so months, Coy, Florene, Doug and Jerry turned their little Ford back to the Land of Opportunity. This foray to the west coast was exceptional in that the couple remained in one another’s company. During the married life of Coy and Florene there were many occasions when Coy would be called away from his family for long periods of time. Sometimes these separations were unavoidable, other time they were not. The trend in which women were separated from their husbands had become a four generation pattern. Ahyoka had faced it with William, Betty had been neglected and abandoned by Oliver, Lewis’ work and untimely death had left Nettie alone, and now it was Florene’s turn. Florene would be left behind by Coy several times. During WW II in early 1944 he was deployed by the Navy to serve more than two long years in the Pacific island of New Guinea without a single furlough. They could correspond by mail while he was in New Guinea, but he was not allowed to write where he was for military security reasons. Outgoing mail from military units was checked carefully to insure no secrets were revealed. To mitigate that situation, Florene and Coy developed a code between them to keep her informed of his whereabouts before he left the states. They assigned a person’s name to latitudes and longitudes all over the globe. The names assigned were different than any one among their acquaintances. So if Coy wrote in his letters asking, “How are Abner and Ruby doing?” that might be their personal code for some place in the south Pacific. In 1951, Coy’s Naval Reserve unit was activated during the Korean War and he was stationed in Orange, Texas to help move the naval fleet there out of “mothballs.” Florene was able to join him there with the boys for six months and live in base housing, but he was there months longer than that. As a wizard of electrical construction organization, in the 1960’s and 1970’s on four or five occasions he was called away or volunteered to supervise the reconstruction of electrical power lines on the Gulf coast that had been devastated by hurricanes. On each of these trips he would be away from home for months at a time. In the 1980’s, after his retirement from the electrical utility industry he was interviewed and hired by Fluer Corporation, an international construction company. With Fluer, he traveled to the Arabian Peninsula to work in a fenced compound as an electrical foreman in the building of a liquid gas compression unit for the Saudi government. He was gone almost a year. Women were not allowed to enter that work site by order of the royal family of Saudi Arabia, even if Florene had been willing or able to accompany him. On their return to Little Rock from San Diego in 1943, Coy and Florene lived with her mother, Nettie, and her siblings, Soney Boy and Pat, in the house on Asher. Lewis, her father, was away working at Oakridge, Tennessee, unknowingly in a facility that refined uranium for the atomic bomb. It was while living there at this time that Florene learned of the railroad incident that killed her father. Florene was not idle during the two years Coy was in New Guinea. In addition to continuing to work on the house they were building when he left, she joined the host of women who entered the public workplace to aid the war effort. In 1937 one in four adult women worked in occupations outside the home. By 1945 that ratio changed to one in three. Florene’s was one of the faces in that crowd of women workers.
Xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Women in the Work Force during World War II Women have always worked outside the home but never before in the numbers or with the same impact as they did in World War II. Prior to the war, most of the women that did work were from the lower working classes and many of these were minorities. There were a variety of attitudes towards women in the work force. Some thought they should only have jobs that men didn’t want while others felt women should give up their jobs so unemployed men could have a job, especially during the Great Depression. Still others held the view that women from the middle class or above should never lower themselves to go to work. These and other viewpoints would be challenged with the United States’ entry into World War II. With men off to fight a worldwide war across the Atlantic and the Pacific, women were called to take their place on the production line. The War Manpower Commission, a Federal Agency established to increase the manufacture of war materials, had the task of recruiting women into employment vital to the war effort. National Archives Xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Florene took a forty hour a week job at-Tuff Nut making army fatigues for soldiers. Nettie kept the children while she was at work, and they lived together in the house on Asher. Florene’s job was mostly sewing, and she was paid a base salary (.50 cents an hour perhaps) for reaching a set quota of work. If she sewed on more buttons or collars than her quota demanded she made more money. Since she was accustomed to working with her hands and she was very quick, she could meet her weekly quota in only three days. Thus, she earned two days’ worth of weekly bonuses each pay period for her industry. The lady who was manager of the women who worked at Tuff-Nut, Mrs. Browning, was so impressed with Florene’s speed and skill at the sewing machines that she asked if Florene could recommend any other women who could work as productively as she did. Instead of doing the same job day in and day out at Tuff Nutt, Florene was eventually given the job of filling in on the production line for people who were absent, tardy, or behind on their work. Sometimes she worked in the cutting room and other times sewing buttons, making button holes, serging or inspecting. The hours were long, but she took pride and pleasure from the fact that she could perform any of a multitude functions swiftly, and when inspections were made, few of the stitches she sewed had to be redone. After the war, when Coy had returned and Tuff Nut had converted from military uniforms back to men’s work pants and shirts, she continued to work there for a short period. After that first foray into the public workplace, Florene would continue to find gainful employment in other environments, and would work in public until her retirement age. Coy’s absence from his boys during the war had been so long that his youngest son did not remember him at all upon his return. Doug, the oldest, had a better recollection, and had to convince his younger brother that the man kissing their mother was indeed their father. Coy was awarded the seniority he lost while in the service at Arkansas Power and Light and he resumed his career in overhead construction of power lines. He and Florene finished the work they had begun in building a house in the Geyer Springs area of Little Rock. They moved into it after the roof, windows and doors were installed, but before they had reliable water well and or a working septic system. Just as Florene’s life had mimicked the national trend of women moving into the work place, she was impacted by yet another national trend—the post war Baby Boom.
When Florene gave birth to her third and last son, she named him Toby. She had longed for a daughter, but Toby was such a happy and congenial child she soon forgot about her prenatal preferences. When Toby was grown he would remind Florene of her own father in ways that her older sons did not, and that made him special to her. All her boys were special to her in their own unique ways, but they bickered and teased among themselves as to; “Who does mother love best?” She had this little joke she sometimes pulled on the boys, if driven by sibling rivalry one of them was bold enough to ask her directly, “Momma who do you love best?” She would say, “Why I love you the best, of course.” “Why do you love me better than Doug and Toby,” Jerry might ask “Well,” she would say, “You are here, if Doug or Toby were here and ask me the same question I would say I love them best.” Soon after Toby was born, Florene did have a daughter of sorts when her brother Soney Boy Mullens and his wife had a little girl. The child’s name was Nita, and Florene could not have doted on her more had she been of her own flesh. In relatively quick succession, Soney Boy and his wife had two other girls, Tina and Mona. During these girls’ formative years, they spent a lot of time with Florene, and they called her “Aunt Sister.” Soney Boy was a lineman for Arkansas Power and Light so that kept the girls close too. Florene encouraged them to eat at her house and spend the night when they could. She made the girls Easter dresses, filled stockings for them at Christmas and took them camping during summer vacations. In short, they were her daughters from another mother and she taught her sons to treat them as sisters. They did; especially Toby, who was only six months older than Nita. Nita has this memory of her Aunt Sister. XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX Aunt Sister taught me so much when I was little. I even credit her with saving my life with her teaching. One time when I was about five, Daddy (Soney Boy) took me fishing at this lake and the water was very muddy. I bugged him to let me sit in a boat seat by myself while he fished, and promised him I would hold on tight. We never wore life vests in those days. A wind or a wave came up and rocked the boat, and I held the boat seat tight. But the screws holding the seat to the boat broke and I fell in the water still holding on tight. Daddy dove in to save me in his work boots. But the water was so muddy he couldn’t see me. I remember feeling the rocky bottom. He had to come up for air a couple of times, but finally he felt my hair with his hand, grasped it, and pulled me to the surface. I rode on his back as he swam to safety. About a week before then, Aunt Sister had taught me how to hold my breath underwater. Had she not done that, I don’t think Daddy would have found me before I drowned When I was in Central High School, Aunt Sister was a lifesaver too. Near the end of the school year, I had a lot of studying to do. My mother would not let me stay up late to do my school work. I was required to get up early to fix breakfast for my sisters and get them ready for school and it was a long way to school so I did not have much time for studying for final exams. Aunt Sister talked Mother into letting me spend a few weeks at her house. Aunt Sister would let me stay up as long as I wanted, to study or work on my projects. In the mornings she would fix me a proper breakfast and a sack lunch for school and let me sleep as long as possible. Then she would say, “OK Nita you have five minutes.” I could jump up, freshen up and eat breakfast quickly and she could drive me to school in a few minutes, ‘cause she lived nearer to Central than we did. She was like a mother to me, and it made my life so much easier. Nita Mullens Copeland recounted in March, 2020 XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX
Treating all people with kindness; and disadvantaged people with an extra measure of compassion was at the heart of Florene’s religious and spiritual being. As a girl, her parents had generally considered church membership and attendance a matter of convenience and social interaction, not theological correctness. The Methodist church had a congregation near them. The Methodists were congenial, and Lewis and Nettie had friends there so they went to the Methodist church. Florene, as a young child attended Sunday School and Vacation Bible School there and for all practical purposes saw herself as a Methodist. Had a Baptist, Presbyterian, or Episcopal congregation been close by she may well have considered herself a member of one of those denominations. In her teen years she went with her friends to a Baptist Church. As an adult, however, there was a shift in her attention to religious observance. The Jackson side of the family, like Betty, had always considered themselves Baptists, though they were not always regular church going people. Lewi’s family, the Mullens clan, had long been association with the Restoration Movement; a branch of Christianity that preaches that the New Testament should be the only guide in religious matters. Christians who followed in the tradition of the Restoration Movement called themselves “disciples of Christ” and were typically members of the church of Christ or the denomination known as The Christian Church. Florene’s upbringing, as a Methodist/Baptist did not fit her squarely into the religious culture of either of her grandparents. Shortly after the beginning of World War II, a group of members of the church of Christ established a congregation at a location nearer to where Florene and her family lived. It was actually only a few blocks from where the Methodists met. Florene’s aunt, Mae Mullens, who was diligent in her study of scripture, convinced Nettie and Florene and their children that they should join her in worshipping at that new congregation. Florene was soon converted to the church of Christ. After that, she no longer considered herself a Methodist or a Baptist, but just a Christian. Her conversion cast a long shadow on the religious habits of her descendants. For the next four generations, her family would, for the most part, be faithful to the church of Christ. Yet, for Florene, being Christian still meant, primarily, that you treat all people with kindness and the disadvantaged and needy people with an extra measure of compassion. Toby has this memory of growing up and going to church in Florene Butler’s family. “I remember we went to church twice every Sunday and again on Wednesday nights. Sometimes if Daddy was working on Wednesday night we wouldn’t have a car. Momma would walk us to the South Highland congregation on Lewis Street from our home on West 25th. It was almost two miles one way. We’d walk home too. Mother and my brothers and I would walk along together. I’m not sure how many times we did that, but we did it from time to time. Daddy didn’t usually have to work on Sunday, so then we could all ride in the station wagon together.”
Florene was so engaged in the activities of her church that she went to work part time in the church office. She began using the skills she had mastered in high school; typing, stenography, filing and clerical work. She found she enjoyed office work, and subsequently sought full time secretarial employment. By that time Toby was in school, and she no longer felt she had to be at home as much as when he was small. She found an office job, first in an insurance agency and moved from there to work for the Arkansas Rural Endowment Fund (AREF). AREF was a quasi-governmental agency that received funds given to the State of Arkansas through the Rural Rehabilitation Act. That Act set up a Corporation and Fund to aid farmers. [The Rural Rehabilitation Act was the same legislation that in 1935 loaned money to the poor Cash family of Cleveland County, Arkansas to buy forty acres and shot-gun house in Dyess, Arkansas. That house is now an Arkansas State Heritage Site; visited by thousands of people each year, and is widely known as the boyhood home of legendary country/folk singer Johnny Cash whose music immortalizes the poor, the disadvantaged and the incarcerated.] When post-depression funds were no longer necessary for agriculture, those monies were dedicated to educational loans. AREF invested money in stocks and bonds and used the interest and some of the principle to provide low interest loans to Arkansas’s rural young people who had no other source of income for their college educations. When students repaid those loans with interest, the money would then be turned back into the fund for additional college loans. It was a sustainable system of funding. Helping disadvantaged but promising students from depressed rural areas get a college education, was an enterprise that Florene came to see as imminently fulfilling. Her work at AREF helped provided thousands of student loans. All of those students were poor and many of them were black. She started as a temporary clerk to replace a person who was hospitalized, made this work her career, and retired twenty years later, as Assistant Manager and Secretary/Treasurer. She did not take her work frivolously. She became personally and emotionally attached to many of those loan-seeking students, inviting some of them live in her home without paying rent and helping them secure employment after graduation. They became teachers, doctors, business leaders, engineers and elected officials. Forty years later, some would still keep in contact with her, or stop her on the street to tell her how much they appreciate her help in furthering their education. At the office and among some of her friends Florene was called by her first name Janie. One of the persons who Janie helped get a loan for college was Peggy Hodge. This is her memory of Florene: Xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Janie came into my life when I journeyed from my northeast Arkansas home to Little Rock. I came to Little Rock to find a summer job so I could have some money to travel to Arizona to my first “real” job [teaching -- jpb]. Since I never would have graduated from any college if it had not been for Arkansas Rural Endowment Fund, I decided to stop by its office in Little Rock to say “thank you.” It was there I met Janie Butler. Janie told me not to leave until I met the director, Mr. Whitaker. Mr. Whitaker a true southern gentleman was very interesting. After meeting him, I prepared to leave and Janie asked me to wait a minute. She went in to see Mr. Whitaker and quickly returned. She informed me that Mr. Whitaker said, “We will be needing a summer clerical worker, hire her.” That began a beautiful relationship. Janie helped me find a room to rent within walking distance. She was always watching out for me to make sure I had everything I needed, a way to church, food to eat, etc. She took me under her wing, this little poor girl, who had never lived in a city before. Later, Janie told me that I was coming home with her. I was asked to come back the next summer. Janie amazed me that she was able to prepare meals for her family, preparing for trips to the lake on weekends. She treated me as if I were her daughter and I was loving every minute of it. She taught me to water ski. I observed how she loved her family and all the things she did for them. She had abundant energy to serve others. At work and home she demonstrated a penchant for detail, which made her work at home and work easier. Janie amazed me with her ability to remain calm in stressful situations. Over the years . . . I visited, I would find her doing things for others—making something to cheer a sick one or planning a baby shower/wedding shower, cleaning a house for someone. When my husband died, after nine years I remarried. I could hardly wait to introduce Mike to Janie. I knew he would adore her. She took him in as a son immediately, as she took me in many years ago. She told him that his pants were too long, and she would be glad to hem them, which she did. Peggy Hodge Brown Oss Retired Public school teacher in Arizona, recounted via e-mail March 2020 xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
The man who hired Florene was Eli “Whit” Whitaker, General Manager of AREF. Mr. Whitaker had been Under-secretary of Agriculture for President Franklin Delano Roosevelt with a long history of public service in agriculture. It was his vision and leadership, largely, that had brought the AREF into existence. One of his former positions, during WWII, was overseeing the relocation of Japanese Americans from the west coast to internment farms in Arkansas. It was a form of imprisonment for men, women and children that is now seen as an ugly stain on US history. The interment system was not of Whitaker’s making, but he administered it as humanely as possible. When he started AREF, the Fund value was valued at one million four hundred thousand dollars. He set it on a path that eventually led the Fund to be worth more than 18 million dollars for support of needy students. Whitaker was a man Florene respected and admired in many ways. He was generous in allowing Florene to use the office and her time for personal business when the work was slow. However, like many men, he and the all-male Board of Directors of AREF were unfair and unyielding in respect to equal pay of women in the workplace. Fifteen years after Florene Butler started working for AREF she had become indispensable to the organization. She worked with the Board of Directors, she oversaw the loan applications of students, she was on first name basis with the Chief Financial Aid officers at every college, university and trade school in the state, she helped collect of repayment of loans if students fell behind. No one in the office knew more about the day to day details of operating AREC than she, including EB Whitaker. Yet, when it came time to name an assistant to Whitaker, he chose a person with no experience in government, finance or higher education. That person was given a salary more than twice hers. She had to train him, and the only apparent qualification that he had was that he wore pants. Had there been an adequate Equal Employment Office in 1975, she could have made an overwhelming case for salary discrimination, but she went about her work without bitterness or complaint. She had a cordial collegial relationship with the man who cut in line in front of her. Three years later, when Whitaker stepped down in favor of his male assistant, he named that assistant General Manager, and Florene as Assistant General Manager, but she had to train the new guy for his new role again. Still, she was not given a salary comparable to his, though she spent many more hours in the office, tripled him in seniority, and was significantly more intragul to the Fund’s success. Though Florene did not raise a loud vocal protest against her own unfair treatment, she did work inside the AREF to assure that women and people of color were not discriminated against in favor of wealthier and more privileged students in the awarding of loans. Her dedication to those students gave her an abundant measure of personal pride. Her dedication to AREF was not entirely for naught; when the time came they gave her a real nice retirement party.
Over lapping the time Florene was beginning to work for Arkansas Rural Endowment Fund, securing educational support for others, her own boys were having their educations interrupted by the integration crisis at Little Rock Central High School. Things had reached a crisis in Little Rock’s public schools, of course, because like school districts all over the South, it resisted compliance with the 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown vs Board of Education. The court ruled segregated schools were inherently unequal and in violation of the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution; “No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States.” -- Amendment 14, US Constitution.
Arkansas Governor, Orval Faubus, activated the Arkansas National Guard on September 4, 1957 under the thinly disguised motive of “keeping peace” to further delay the enrollment of blacks into Little Rock’s largest white public high school where the two oldest Butler boys attended. In response, President Eisenhower federalized the National guard, taking them out of Faubus’ control, and then deployed an additional 11,800 paratroopers of the 101 Airborne Division, from Kentucky to Pulaski County to enforce the law of the land. The general public began to fear a violent armed revolt. “Crisis” seemed to be the best descriptor of the situation. Jerry, Florene’s middle son, has this recollection of the first day of integration at Little Rock Central High School: XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX As the day progressed that first day of integration, I noticed that the hallways between classes were becoming less and less crowded. Many of the white kids were simply walking out of the school building. Whether they were doing so out of prejudice, protest, fear of violence, or using the occasion to cut classes and go swimming at Lake Nixon I cannot say. I had a dental appointment that afternoon and Mother had made arrangements to pick me up outside the school at 2:30. At the attendance office to officially check out, there was a long line in front of me. Some students who were abandoning their school day were signing the sheet of paper that required students leaving early to write their name, time of departure and reason for leaving campus. When it came my time to sign, I noticed that those who went before me had written, “niggers,” “jigaboos,” “coons,” or some other such racial slur as their reason for leaving. Some had only put ditto marks in the space for reason, endorsing the slur above. The attendance monitor encouraged me to do the same, but I wrote “dental appointment.” I have sometime wondered if that sign-out document has survived after all those years, and if it has, would all of those people who signed their names be pleased to have it publically displayed. I suspect not. Jerry Butler Recollected on the 50th anniversary of the integration of LRCHS, September, 2017 XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX Less than a dozen of the three thousand white students enrolled at LRCHS came to school on September 26,th the second day of integration. Two of those students were Florene’s boys, Doug and Jerry. On subsequent days, more students began returning to classes and within a week or so most, if not all, of the student body was in attendance. Frequently the students were marched out of class on a fire drill, because of bomb threats. On graduation that year, Douglas walked across the stage with Ernest Green, LCHS’s first Afro-American graduate. With Dr. Martin Luther King in attendance, Doug was recognized as the only graduating senior with perfect attendance that year. (Doug did not miss any day of school during the six years he was in Little Rock Public Schools) Everyone else had missed days of class because they didn’t come to school when the black children walked through the doors. Once Jerry asked his Mother, “Why did Doug and I have to go to school on those days when so many others did not? Was our family more racially tolerant than others?” “I don’t know, probably not ,” she said, “but just because the colored children wanted to go to school, it was no excuse for you boys not to go and learn too.” For Florene, education was more important than protest, prejudice or false pride that led one race of people to lord it over another. She also thought that the Governor of the state of Arkansas should obey the law of the land like everyone else. Jerry’s senior year, the 1958-59 school year for LRCHS, is now known as the “Lost School Year.” The Little Rock School Board and the Governor indicated that segregated schools would soon be opening. When that had not happened by mid-October, discouraged students, who at first had reveled in an extended summer vacation, began a desperate clamor to enroll in any school possible. Many white students went to the Pulaski County Special School District, which though still segregated was operating. Mabelvale HS, Sylvan Hills HS, and Jacksonville HS were common destinations, but they soon became overcrowded and stopped adding new students. TJ Raney HS, a quasi-private academy which operated under legislation later declared unconstitutional, opened to more than 600 students. Parochial schools squeezed in additional students and prominent white churches opened schools by charging modest tuition. Thirty-one Central High students, many of them Japanese whose families had been placed on farms in south east Pulaski County during World War II, were allowed to enroll at North Little Rock High School. Jerry never graduated from High School. For black high schoolers in 1958-59, the options were limited. Pulaski County Training School in Wrightsville accepted some students, but the expense of transportation was a hardship for most families. A few students from Horace Mann High School (Little Rock’s only black High School in 1958) found classroom seats in high schools in Lonoke, Prairie and Saline Counties and lived with relatives. Some, like five of the famous nine who had entered LRCHS in 1957, earned high school credits through correspondence courses from the University of Arkansas. Some joined the military, moved out of state, or simply moved into the workforce without a high school education. XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX Historian Sondra Gordy documented the events surrounding the 1958-59 school year, in her book, Finding the Lost Year, What Happened When Little Rock Closed Its Public Schools, published in 2009 by University of Arkansas Press. Drawing from school records, newspaper accounts, legislative documents, court filings, diaries, analyses of voting patterns and interviews with hundreds of teachers, administrators, and students she has presented a thorough even-handed account of those events. Gordy’s book reports that among white students, “less than 7 % were unable to find any kind of academic training during the Lost Year.” As for black students, 50% ended up with no formal education at all during the 1958-59 schoolyear. The extent of this disparity remained unknown to most white citizens of Arkansas. It is perplexing why such data did not come to the attention of the general public until fifty years after the fact. “Remembering a Lost Year” Arkansas Democrat Gazette September, 2018 XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX Six years after Doug had graduated from Central, and Jerry had quit high school, their brother Toby and cousin Nita were enrolled in LRCHS for the 1964-65 school year. Because of the intervening years, there was less hubbub surrounding the integrated school. The ratio of black students was still very low, and it would have been inaccurate to say the school was truly integrated. Toby recalled; “After they cracked the egg of integration, it was a long time before they started cooking omelets.” “Seven years after the first nine black students came to Central with the help of the federal troops; there still were not many black children in school. Only six were in the class of ‘65 and maybe 20 in the entire school. I don’t remember a single one in any of my classes. I was not pals with any of them, and there was not much interaction between the races. I noticed the other day, one of them, Willy Harper, signed my Pix (the school year book). We were in Hi Y (a social club) together. So I guess we were acquainted, but not really close friends. I was in the senior play, “Our Town.” and it had a big cast, but I am pretty sure it was all white.” Nita Mullens, daughter of Soney Boy, recalled, “Of the three thousand total students at Central while I was there, I only remember one black student who was in any of my classes. She and I were part of the Acapella Choir and the Madrigal Singers. She was quiet, and we didn’t interact very much, but she had a beautiful singing voice and our music director was very glad to have her in our group. Her name was Edwina Williams, and I understand that later she sang in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.” In 2020 the ratio of black students to white students more balanced with the general population of the city than it was in 1965. A few blocks from the school, on the grounds of the State Capitol building, is a bronze casting of the nine brave children who endured harassment and threats to open the halls of learning for others in Little Rock. Across the street from the now historic campus, there is museum and National Park commemorating the events surrounding the first southern school to open its doors too children of color. Among the exhibitions at that museum is a continuously running video of one of Florene’s sons telling the story of how his mother steered him toward racial harmony, rather than prejudice, bitterness and discord in the fall of 1957.
Florene’s recreation of choice was swimming and camping outdoors, especially during the years her boys were teens and the two decades later as she began to have grandchildren, grand nieces and nephews. She and Coy had a pop-up camper and a motor boat and they would take them to Lake DeGray or Lake Ouachita on summer vacations and long weekends. She enjoyed water skiing herself and more than that teaching others to ski. Coy would patiently drive the boat and she would stay in the water wearing a ski belt to coach her pupils. If they fell she would remind them, “keep your arms straight, your knees bent, let the boat just pull you up”. If they fell again, she would say, “Good job! You almost had it, wait till your bottom is out of the water before you stand.” There were few, or none that she couldn’t have skiing in a day or two. As soon as the new skiers were proficient enough, she would urge them to go outside the wake of the boat to catch the smooth water and lean way over in a graceful arc as the boat made a turn. Then she would teach them to ski on a single ski, or in tandem with another skier. It was something she relished for many years. She water skied herself until she was in her mid-eighties; behind boats driven by her great-grandsons. After that she would still coach and encourage would-be family skiers from her lawn chair at the water’s edge. The camping trips she organized were planned out. She insisted that the children help with the setting up of the tents, stretching clothes lines, cooking, cleaning pots, shooing away flies and collecting firewood. If the group was camping over a weekend, she would have one of her sons arrange a worship service on Sunday mornings. They would have a church service sitting in lawn chairs around the fire ring. Not infrequently, they would invite strangers who were camping nearby to join in. The younger boys and girls would lead the songs and prayers. They sang acapella, usually the old gospel songs they all knew by heart, without the need of hymnals. One of the older boys might prepare and deliver a short Bible lesson. When the last “Amen” was said, everybody would run jump in the lake for a swim.
When it was time to break camp, Florene had a mantra she repeated to the youngsters. “Leave the campground better than you found it.” She would repeat it often, she would pick up, or have the children pick up, every scrap of paper or rubbish in sight and put it in the big campground trash barrels. It made no difference if the litter had been thrown away carelessly by others or people in their party, she held the children responsible for picking it up. When Florene left the camp ground, her campsite and the four campsites either side of hers would be better than they had found them.
Concern for the health, cleanliness and sustainability of the natural world was not restricted to just the campground where Florene camped. Long before Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring and gave impetus to the ecology movement, Florene was doing things every citizen should do to preserve the planet. She composted the organic leftovers from her kitchen, washed and reused plastic utensils, recycled newspapers and cardboard, didn’t heat or cool rooms in her house that she didn’t use, and fed bread crumbs to birds. The Depression had taught her to do these things. She was perplexed by Johnny-come-lately efforts initiated by environmentalists to encourage citizens to “Reduce, Reuse and Recycle”, because she had been doing those things all her life, and saw it only as common sense. Because Florene lived such a long life, she witnessed many changes in the natural environment and the wildlife that is dependent upon that environment. One of the species that changed most dramatically during her hundred year lifetime was the American Bald Eagle, the avian symbol of the United States. When Florene was born, the majestic eagle was abundant, with dense population across most of North America. One estimate of the number of eagles before 1492, sets the number of the birds in the lower forty-eight contiguous states at 100,000 birds. Eagles in Alaska and Canada were even more abundant than that. Precise numbers of eagles in 1920 when Florene was born are unknown but hunting, trapping, collection of their feathers for ornamentation and habitat changes had no doubt reduced their numbers from pre-Columbian times. From her birth, the numbers dropped precipitously, by 1963 there were only 417 nesting pairs of eagles south of the Canadian border. There were several contributing factors to account for this collapse in eagle population, but with the single most destructive factor was the increased use of dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, a colorless, tasteless, and almost odorless crystalline chemical compound, more commonly known as DDT. DDT was developed as a pesticide and used extensively to control mosquitos and malaria in the building of the Panama Canal. Its general use to control mosquitos, insect pests, and particularly boll weevils in the southern US began in the twenties, the decade of Florene’s birth. The cumulative effect of its application to agricultural fields year after year increased its poisonous effects, so that many birds were killed or rendered sterile. For eagles and ospreys, at the top of the avian food chain, the mortality rates were catastrophic. By the mid-sixties our national symbol, was in danger of extinction throughout most of its range. Government agencies began an all-out attack on the problem. Habitat protection afforded by the Endangered Species Act, the federal government’s banning of DDT, and conservation actions taken by the American public helped Bald Eagles make a remarkable recovery. Today their population is protected, healthy, and growing. Eagles themselves have helped swell the numbers in the lower forty eight by the very fact that eagles in concentrated areas, like Alaska and Canada, naturally migrate southward to increase their range and swell their numbers in areas where they have been depleted. In those areas they are no longer shot, collected or poisoned by DDT. On August 9, 2007 the Bald Eagle was removed from the list of Threatened and Endangered Species, Florene was eighty six. The decline and recovery of the Bald Eagles within Florene’s life span is one of the most notable stories in wildlife rehabilitation history. It is not the whole story, however. While Florene lives and breathes there is yet another threat to the species. XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX “Every autumn the largest congregation of Bald Eagles on the planet flocks to the northern Alaskan panhandle to feast on spawning salmon in the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve. As many as 4,000 of the imposing raptors hunch in frosty trees, dropping grandly onto gravel bars where they screech and squabble over fish carcasses alongside gorging grizzlies. . . .” “Land of Riches”, Audubon, Winter 2019 by Genesee Keevil XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX These same eagles, that once helped replenish the DDT-stricken population of their tribe in the lower forty-eight, are now threatened. Mining companies that plan to open pollution producing operations in the Chilkat valley have gained governmental permission to do so. The Environmental Protection Agency, a multimillion dollar commercial fishery industry, the Chilkat villagers who reside there, tourists who flock there to see the eagles and bears, and environmentalists have all opposed such operations for decades. Why, with all that opposition could such a thing happen? “The science didn’t change, the data didn’t change – it was the politics that changed.” says Rachel James for SALMONSTATE CAMPAIGNER. With the backing of copper mining’s millions of dollars and President Trump running rough shod over the good judgement and long held values, the copper mines could break ground in 2020. The run off of water from those mines will kill the salmon and starve the eagles. Florene may yet live to see a travesty play out for Bald Eagles, in spite of their century long struggle for their recovery. Just as the environment and all people are impacted by politics, so it was with Florene. She was not a political activist. Unlike her mother, she did vote, and she tried to keep herself reasonably informed in order to vote sensibly. She was not dedicated to a political party, so much as to a set of ethical principles that were important to her. She and Coy had an arrangement between them. If they agreed on a particular candidate, they would go to the poles to vote. If they disagreed on a candidate or some issue on the ballot they would, by mutual agreement, not vote, rather than cancel one another out. In 1952 Florene favored Ike Eisenhower for President. Coy favored Democrat Adlai Stevenson. As per their usual arrangement, it was agreed that they would not vote. Coy did vote though and someone who saw him at the polling station spilled the beans. Florene found out and had reason to be upset, but since Eisenhower won any way she cut Coy some slack. He promised again to follow their tradition. To Florene’s knowledge they both remained loyal to their pledge. In 1956, they both “Liked Ike” and cast a Republican vote. Though Florene was not politically active, she did participate in community, charitable and church related programs. She was president of the PTA at Geyer Springs Elementary; she marched for the “March of Dimes” to collect money in her neighborhood for crippled children; she worked at her church to distribute clothing to the needy. When she was in her eighties she participated in Sojourners, a church related group that travels in motor homes to volunteer help to orphanages, youth camps and areas hit by disasters. In that capacity she traveled with her son and daughter-in-law to Texas, Tennessee, Kentucky, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Vermont in addition to helping at orphanages in Morrilton and Paragould, Arkansas. Typically they would volunteer at those places for about two weeks and Florene would help with food, painting, cleaning and encouraging people who were in distress; tasks for which she was exceptionally well suited to perform. Florene also did a lot of caregiving for people in her own home. In 1991 her Mother, Nettie suffered a stroke. When she left the hospital, Nettie was confined to a bed in Florene’s house. Nettie could not talk, but Florene imagined that she could look into her mother’s eyes and fathom what she wanted to say or what she needed. If Florene asked, “Do you want a drink of water?” or “Do you want another pillow under your head?” Nettie was able to nod her head and in this way she would attend her Mother’s needs. No one else seemed quite as empathic with Nettie as Florene. Pat and Soney Boy came to help too. Soney Boy could always make Nettie smile, and Pat would amuse her with her stories of what all the grand children were doing. During Nettie’s stay with Florene after her stroke, Florene was also coping with Coy’s gradual decline in health. His ailment was emphysema; he had contracted it from a lifetime habit of a two-pack a day cigarette smoking. She tended him like a baby. After brief stays in the hospital struggling to breathe, and two winters when Coy and Florene went to Brownsville, Texas for a warmer and dryer climate Coy was finally confined to his home with hospice care. He passed away quietly in a house he and Florene had remodeled largely with their own hands in August of 1996 with his three sons, their wives, his oldest granddaughter and wife at his bedside.
In her nineties, Florene organized, and was the prime mover of a group of several elderly women seamstresses who called themselves the “Cottage Cutters.” The “Cutters” all lived in the Cottages, an independent living community in southwest Little Rock. It was purely a service organization and the work was done on sewing machines placed on the kitchen tables and cramped bedrooms of efficiency apartments. The Cutters purchased or asked vendors to donate fabric that these women sewed into aprons, adult bibs and other garments to donate to infirmed individuals, nursing homes, hospice groups or hospitals. They also made pillows for people who had heart surgeries, to hold next to their chest when they coughed thus making them more comfortable and preventing additional pain and suffering. The Cutters gave away hundreds of these items.
In the 1960s and 70s the aunts of Florene who had moved to California during the depression returned to Arkansas every couple of years for visits with their nieces and nephews who had remained in Arkansas. Florene would often invite them to stay in her home for a week or two, or host get-togethers among the family to help them reconnect. She would drive the aunts around to visit with the great nieces who they knew only from photographs mailed to them when these people were born. On one such occasion, Lonie, the third oldest daughter of Betty Jackson’s nine girls came for such a visit. Florene took her to see Nita Mullens Copeland and her family in North Little Rock. While Florene was being interviewed for this book, she told this story about that visit that she said she had never shared it with anyone else. XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX “Aunt Lonie went with me to see Nita’s house over near Gravel Ridge. While we were there we met some people who lived across the field behind Nita’s home in Cardinal Valley. Aunt Lonie struck up a conversation with them and found that they had roots in White County, Arkansas near where the nine Jackson girls were living when their father had abandoned them. Aunt Lonie whispered to me that the man in that family was the son Oliver Jackson had fathered with a married woman before he left his family. Aunt Lonie did not indicate to the man that she was his older half-sister. Aunt Lonie did not fill me in on the details about how she knew that. She wrote me a note of explanation and asked me to keep it. I put the note in a book to keep and I have never told anyone else about it until today.” She was asked if she could find that note and let others see it. She said, “I will look.” XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX Later Florene reported that she was unable to find the note and could not remember its contents well enough to reconstruct it. She seemed uninterested in giving additional information or talking about it further and it was impolite to pursue the matter. She may have been unwilling to tell what she remembered or felt it was better off left unsaid, or she may have simply forgotten. Unless she remembers, finds the note, or someone else was told about these matters we will never know.
In 2009 Florene and her sister, Pat, made a trip to Kingsport, Tennessee where their father, Lewis, lived in 1944, while working to build facilities for the refinement of uranium to build the atomic bomb. It was also the place where he met his death on a train track. Florene had never been to Kingsport before, though she and Coy had considered making the trip a number of times before he passed away in 1997. Pat was there at age four when her father was run over by the Southern Railway passenger train on which she and her mother, Nettie, were riding. But her memories were lost in a fog of immaturity and trauma. The reason for the trip was partly to accompany a cousin who wanted to attend a gospel singing concert, but for the two sisters it was mostly a chance to be together and away from home to enjoy one another’s company. For Pat, it was also to see if being in that place might cause her to recall some of the details for which she had only vague recollections. They had the return address of the house where Lewis lived on the saved letters he had sent to Nettie. They also knew, while on that trip, of the infidelity of Lewis because Nettie had disclosed the affair to Pat late in her life. Pat was hoping visiting the place where her father lived and the train station where he died might give her a measure of closure that she had never had before. When Pat saw the house where Lewis had resided, she recalled a few features she had forgotten; an outdoor stair case on the north end of the house and an upstairs apartment. She was tempted to ask the current residents if she could come inside and look around, but she did not. The sisters visited the local library and were able to find a newspaper account on microfilm of the tragedy at the train station. Florene was most interested in seeing the train station. She was struck by how well preserved the depot was and that it had become a museum. Though trains still passed on the rails outside, few stopped. Florene walked outside by the tracks and looked at the place where her father met his death. She gave this description to her son, “The train tracks at that place were set below grade and the ground between the tracks and the depot was at an incline upward toward the depot. Daddy was a big man and he always complained that he had weak ankles. I guess he did because he would often sprain them. When I saw that spot, I could understand how as he was jumping off the moving train on to that incline he might have twisted his ankle and fallen backward down beneath the wheels.” She was somewhat overwhelmed by emotion that swelled up within her as she realized she was standing only a few feet from the very spot her father died. She had always wanted to have a clear image of that place in her mind and had imagined it over and over. It did offer a kind of relief, she was glad she came, but she felt no need to ever revisit the place again. On that trip they did not visit the Oakridge facility where the bomb material was extracted, nor did they get a broader view of the historic importance of the locale. Had they done so, they may have had a different interpretation of the events surrounding Lewis’ death.
As of this writing in March of 2020, Florene still lives alone in her independent living apartment. Her thinking, hearing and vison is good. Her memory is good most of the time. But in telling about events she sometimes jumps from one tale to another, and in her accounts she is distracted by trying to remember extraneous details unconnected to her primary narrative. She has had a ruptured aneurism, bouts of pneumonia and TIA’s in the past, but she has recovered from these ailments in remarkable fashion. She prepares her own meals and tends to her own financial affairs. She voluntarily decided to stop driving in the past year, but could still do so if necessary. Her most worrisome health issue these days is itching. She is kept awake at night by it and has sought any number of remedies with only little success. The most successful way of combating the itching, she has found, is to keep her hands and her mind busy doing or making things for others, like phone calls to those who may be sad and sending cards and letters to family and friends. She has a measure of contentment, social and psychological health that many seek, but few achieve. She looks to the future with optimism. If she becomes infirmed and unable to care for herself, she has already made arrangements to live in a care home in a neighborhood with two other elderly people. It is a model of eldercare that her grandson, Koy Butler, has developed. He calls it “House of Three,” and he has a room waiting for her. She has given instruction that when her obituary is written the final words be, “What a ride! Thank you, Lord.”
Forest Hills Memorial Park
Tuesday, August 4, 2020
Tuesday, August 4, 2020
Janie Florene Butler
August 4, 2020
Aunt Florene was the most wonderful woman to ever walk this Earth! I loved her and admired her tremendously! She will forever hold a piece of my heart! Until I see you again again Aunt Florene, I love you and will miss you so much! See you on the flip side!
August 3, 2020
I will always be grateful for the love Janie gave to me and my children. We will miss her so badly. I know she is so happy to be home now, She was such a great example to us and a true friend to me.
Sending up prayers to the family,
Sherry Packer Halbert
August 2, 2020
Florene, was a dear friend to my mother, Jimmie Packer and also mine. We have known her forever and she was a very fine lady who will be missed greatly. After my mother died in 2002 she always kept in touch with me. I spoke to her last year when she said she was cleaning out stuff and sent all kinds of pictures she had kept of our family over the years. I told my kids at that time she was trying to say goodbye. My kids loved her as much as I did. Please accept my prayers for your family. I am going to miss her.
August 2, 2020
When our family moved to Little Rock, AR in 1960 we met Florene along with her family, her brother Sonny and sister Pat while going to the South Highland Church of Christ. She along with her family were always a gracious family with the youth. Even later on in her life she would come visit us at the Geyer Springs Church of Christ.
My sister Sandra and I will get you in our prayers at this difficult time in the loss of your mother.
In Christian Love
Sherry Gibson and Sandra Herrod
August 1, 2020
Aunt Florene was truly a sweet lady, and an example of strong woman of the Lord. She was definitely a rock of this family I (Kristen) have many memories with her when she still lived in the little apartment before Jerry & Sharon moved and even when she moved to the The Cottages in Otter Creek. I was blessed that I got to grow up knowing her as I did.
Love and prayers to you Jerry & Sharon and family.
Jan Butler & Kristen Oslin and Family.
August 1, 2020
Florene looked after my grandmother and grandfather during the years he was house and bed bound with dementia. My father lived out of town as I did. When we called or visited, she was always available. My grandmother relied on her greatly for transportation, help with groceries, home upkeep, good company and probably so much more that I’m unaware of. She loved my Uncle Mike who is handicapped and gave selflessly. She also had a very energetic and happy personality! Being out of town, I never got to know her as well as I would’ve liked to, but my grandmother loved her and I was grateful for her!
July 31, 2020
To Miss Jamie's Family: please accept our condolences at this time. Miss Janie was a sweet loving lady. The Cottage family will certainly miss her! May Heavenly Father bless and comfort you and your family.
Marvin and Belinda Greene
July 31, 2020
I did Janie’s hair before my untimely retirement. She was still working and I admired her so much. She and Mary Jo could make me laugh and we had many happy times .
Jimolee Butler Blackwood
July 31, 2020
She was the hands and feet of the Lord while here on this earth. Her bright smile and devotion to family will be missed! We will see you on the flip side Aunt Florene!
July 31, 2020
God surely blessed our family with this angel! She was a extremely giving woman...always there for anyone anytime and always prepared meals to go with the stories she had to tell...deepest sympathy to all. She will be missed..she left behind a fortune of memories cherished by many .
July 31, 2020
Sister will be greatly missed. I loved listening to her stories about all the family. I remember her always bringing fruit salad to my Granny Jannette's house and playing frakle. She always put a smile on my face. My deepest condolences and prayers go out to all the family and friends.