Ron Butler retires, damn it!

By Frank Schier
Editor & Publisher

Editor’s note: I have to admit more than my usual bias (if any journalist says they’re unbiased, regard them as untruthful) regarding Ron Butler. I really like him. Always have. I’ve known him for years, but I really started working with him on a regular basis during the two years of the Winnebago County Green Business Awards in 2009-10 (also, thanks to John Peterson, “Mr. Logistics!”), and then when I started the Rock River Trail Initiative in 2010. Even in awkward situations, where much was being asked of him, he was sincere and forthright. He never said, “No, we can’t do that.” When we had insurance issues we couldn’t handle, he found someone else to pay for them; when I asked for RRTI campgrounds on the Rock River, he created five at Sportscore and five at Park District property a few miles upriver from the mouth of the Kishwaukee. These are the first urban campsites on the Rock River! He gave me a complete pricing of those campsites, which the RRTI still uses frequently when we are pitching the creation of campsites to other cities and counties on the Rock River. Cindy Bacher is his assistant and is much better at answering the phone than he is, but what a team! They always delivered before I expected it. The last thing he did was put his cell phone number on the 4-foot by 8-foot, red and black RRTI sign at the Riverview Ice House boat ramp to ferry canoers and kayakers around our dam and Morgan Street Bridge project to South Park. Yes, we really have a South Park. And he could make me laugh. I really miss that, and I’m just one knucklehead he has helped. Think of his impact over 37 years! Ron represents the best of the Rockford Park District, and he is a primary contributor to our Park District winning the National Gold Medal Best Park District in the Nation, Population 250,000. Our Park District team beat out thousands of other cities, and we only had one Ron Butler. We should introduce him to the Forbes magazine people.

As Rockford Park District’s Deputy Director of Operations, Ron Butler made many people very happy. He worked hard at saying “Yes” to all requests, and he retired last month after 37 years of good-natured service. To say Ron is easy to get along with is an understatement, lacking the everyday laugh that accompanied his excellent work.

Butler could handle anything, including his long-time friend and co-worker becoming his boss, Tim Dimke, now the executive director of the Park District.

What others say about Ron

We miss him already,” said Dimke. “Ron is a genuine person, first, and a great team member for the Rockford Park District, second. He is the real deal and redefined how to say ‘Yes’ to our citizens by fulfilling their needs and solving their problems.”

Dimke was brought along for many years as the successor by Director Emeritus and Park District Historian Webbs Norman, who has also watched Butler’s progress for 37 years.

Ron Butler was an ideal public servant, the role he fulfilled for the Rockford Park District for three-plus decades,” Norman said. “In his role as deputy director, he was very responsive to others’ needs, a great team player, very knowledgeable, with a marvelous sense of humor. He was a warm and vital man who instilled energy, enthusiasm, and inspiration wherever he went and whatever he did. He was always a man of his word. And his passion to serve contributed greatly to the success of the Park District.”

Jay Sandine, the new deputy director of operations, said: “Ron was something else. What I always remember and learned from Ron is how he interacted with our public. He always went out and solved problems. A woman lived across the street from the Ingersoll Golf Course, and a spotlight became misaligned and was shining across right into her bedroom window. Ron took me out there at 9 o’clock at night, so we could set it right. And before we left, the woman invited us in, and we were eating ice cream and listening to her stories. He was a consummate servant leader. He’s taught a lot of us that, and we are all trying to carry his torch. You could see the type of man he was by all the people who came out for his retirement parties.”

Jodi Carroll, deputy director of recreation and systems development, said: “Ron has a subtle, loving sense of humor. Most of the time he was laughing at himself, and his sense of humor makes him more endearing, and I don’t know why he always wanted to dress up as me. I think I’m a little bit prettier.” She was joking about a famous Park District video, where Butler wore a wig similar to Carroll’s hairstyle, along with her trademark neck scarf. “That was shown at Jim Reeves’ retirement party as our deputy director of capital planning and assets management. We had many a good-natured disagreement in our management meetings, but we always parted as friends. They were doing a parody of me scolding Jim. It was a classic Ron Butler moment. He’s a good guy, and I miss him every day here at work.”

Senior Manager of Community and Recreation Services Laurie Anderson said: “Ron’s an excellent example of a public steward. He always shared we are here to help people, solve problems and fulfill needs. We are here to help people; and with the way he was every day is a true example of how local or any government should be. For example, Harlem Community Center had a fire, and Ron was the first one on the scene so those kids could continue to play with out any interruptions.”

Rockford Park District Board of Directors’ President Jack Armstrong said: “Ron was great about supporting his staff; and if a job needed to be done, he was right in there.He wasn’t one who just gave the orders; he got right in there and helped to get the job done. One time after a severe rainstorm, the Park District received a call from a lady who had lost her power next to Ingersoll Golf Course because of a downed tree limb. Ron went over and saw it was not on Park District land. He just went ahead and restored her power. When he saw it was not on our property, he could have left it alone, but he stepped over the line and helped a Rockford citizen. He did things like that many times.”

I worked with Ron for nine years as his assistant,” said Cindy Bacher. “Ron always saw the best in everyone. He never asked anything of his staff that he wouldn’t do himself. If an employee was struggling in his work performance, Ron would always ask the supervisor what they had done to help that person be successful. He is a generous and kind man who always stood behind his employees and was right in the trenches working alongside them. It was an honor and a privilege to work for Ron.”

Ron’s Park District bio

The following was provided by the Rockford Park District:

Ron Butler is a native of St. Louis, and graduated from East High School in 1975. He started working for the RPD in 1976 as a seasonal employee at the Alpine Park shop. He began working at the district through a CETA program, working night maintenance at Riverview Ice House.

He attended Rock Valley College for two years before attending Bemidji State University in Minnesota.

He began his long and distinguished full-time career with the RPD on June 10, 1977, when he was a General Maintenance 1 in Support Services with Tim Dimke as his supervisor. He became the foreman of Support Services, then supervisor of Support Services for about 10 years, working the concerts and special events.

Eventually, Ron became supervisor of Support Maintenance and oversaw Support Services, the carpenters, signage, etc. He worked in all the positions that he supervised.

Ron recalls in his storied career that he once received security clearance for an event featuring Vice President George H.W. Bush, and met former pro football player and entertainer Rosey Grier.

Special projects near and dear to his heart include the Project Playworks playgrounds, Snow Sculpting Competition, and Public Service Forms. Yes, that is correct. We call them Request Partner or Service Improvement these days, but he actually likes dealing with the public through this source of communication. “A lot of times, people just like having someone that will listen to them. I like dealing with all the different people we come in contact with . . . the staff, the citizens, and the contractors.”

Ron thinks one of the biggest and best things the RPD has done was to go to contractual maintenance and taking it to the next level, where contracted workers could deal with repetitive chores like mowing, while freeing up RPD staff to handle immediate services.

Ron was a Senior Manager from 2000 to 2006, and appointed Deputy Director of Operations in November 2006 where he served until retiring in January of 2013, overseeing the golf operations, sports facilities, district-wide park and maintenance services, Support Services, Security/Police, and Nicholas Conservatory & Gardens maintenance.

So, what is Ron doing now?

I was very shocked when Ron actually answered his own cell phone and I didn’t have to call Cindy. After reminding him that I’m a knucklehead, I asked what he’s been doing since his retirement in January.

I’ve been pretty busy ice fishing and being with family,” Butler said. “I’ve got two fishing and one hunting trip planned to Canada. All of my friends bought me one of the fishing trips, and my wife bought me the hunting trip.”

And what is retirement like after 37 years of service?

The first week seems like you should be somewhere, and every day after that is Saturday. I’ve got a grandson who lives with me, and he keeps me pretty busy. My wife is keeping me busy with projects; she’s actually still working. What do you call them, ‘Sugar Mamas?’ I’ve taken quite a few phone calls helping people out [at the Park District], and I’ll do that as long as they need me to.”

That’s Ron Butler.

From the March 13-19, 2013, issue

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