Illinois News

Hull native, author, Naval officer dies

By Herald-Whig
Posted: Dec. 7, 2018 10:30 am

HULL, Ill. -- Joe Butters, 83, who spent the early part of his life in Hull and flourished after joining the U.S. Navy, died Oct. 30 on the island of Saipan.

Eddie Johnson of Hull learned of his friend's death recently through a Facebook post from one of Butters' grandchildren. Johnson said Butters had an interesting life and wrote an autobiography "All in All" several years ago.

During an interview with The Herald-Whig in 2008, Butters said he wrote the book so that the many children he and his wife adopted would know about his life.

"All of our children were born to others in the Philippines or Guam and raised by us," Butters writes in the first chapter of his book. "As a consequence, they know nothing of my life; I want them to know."

Johnson said Butters "really didn't have a purpose" when he was in high school.

"He always had a job so he'd have money. He didn't participate in school activities. He was kind of drifting."

Not long after graduating from West Pike High School in 1953, Heitholt said Butters joined the Navy on a lark after he and a group of friends found themselves driving through Hannibal, Mo.

"He told them he wanted to stop at the post office. They asked him why, and he said he wanted to sign up for the military. They asked him which branch, and he said whichever one I come to first," said Dick Heitholt, a former school teacher and administrator.

According to what he's been told, Heitholt said Butters showed an aptitude for figuring out codes on his entrance exam and was put in the signal corps. His book mentions work as a radio operator.

Butters' first posting was in the Philippines, where he met and married his wife, Feline, in 1957. She moved to Hull while Butters continued to serve in the Navy. Butters joined her in Hull after his first enlistment ended.

Johnson said, "He came back home for about a year and worked with my father in the hardware business. Finally I said, ‘Joe, you're Navy, you might as well go back. You're never going to be happy here.' "

Butters re-enlisted and soon started climbing the ladder to become an officer. He was known as a mustang, which is slang in the Navy for any officer who started as an enlisted sailor. Eventually, Butters achieved the rank of lieutenant commander.

Heitholt said during a posting in Ethiopia, Butters came into contact with royalty. First he became acquainted with a rich woman who wanted advice on breeding her horse. Then she introduced him to King Haile Selassie of Ethiopia during a function at the palace.

"When a drought occurred in Ethiopia, Joe remembered that they used lespedeza on the farm at home," Heitholt said.

The legume is higher in protein and several minerals than the native grasses and is fairly drought tolerant.

Butters got the U.S. Department of Agriculture to send over some seed, and it was such a success that Selassie wanted to make him Ethiopia's director of agriculture.

Butters served for 31 years in the Navy. He eventually retired to Saipan. Over time, he and his wife adopted more than a dozen children. Some of those children went on to be schooled in the United States.

"He had a very good life. He found his true calling and really made something of himself," Johnson said.

Through Facebook, Johnson learned that Butters died Oct. 30 and was buried on Nov. 7.

Heitholt said Butters "is truly an example of a student with latent abilities that was overlooked."

"I wish he could have returned home for the local acclaim he deserved, but he knew he would never return," Heitholt said.

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