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A History of Giving
Alumnus Dan Butler ('75) establishes book fund to aid students
by Justin Smith
(Edited from the original version that appeared in the January 2014 History Department newsletter The Primary Source)
Esteemed alumnus Dan Butler (PhD Class of ’75) continues giving back to the University of Idaho History Department by establishing a need-based book fund. The fund creates scholarships awarded to financially strapped students to help them afford books and educational materials.
Born in and raised in northern California, Butler was the product of his Irish ancestors who had migrated during the Gold Rush in the 1850s. He says that it was this background that gave him his initial love of things from the past.
“Growing up, history was all around me,” he remarks.
After earning a B.A. in History and a minor in speech from the University of Wyoming, he moved to Alaska and taught U.S. history at a junior high on a U.S. Army base, where Butler was known for the stringency of his courses.
Furthering his own education, he went on to earn an M.A. from the University of Arkansas-Fayetteville, where his advisor suggested he get a PhD at the University of Idaho. This suggestion was due to Butler’s interest in transportation and the knowledge that the UI offered Dr. William Greever who was a specialist in railroads and mining. Butler took this advice and in 1970 became Greever’s last doctoral student and lifelong friend.
Greever was, “A no nonsense kind of guy. But if you did your work and played by the rules he was right there with you.”
While earning his doctorate, he paid for tuition by working on campus as an Area Coordinator for seven dormitories, including overseeing Wallace Residence Center and McConnell Hall. He said it was not only a “great job” but that get got to meet many students from the Camas Prairie, which ultimately influenced his decision to write his dissertation on the history of the Camas Prairie Railroad. Greever enthusiastically supported Dan’s choice to look at the railroad, which was headquartered in Lewiston, Idaho.
Butler received permission from the company to do the study. And on his first day at work he was given a desk near the chief dispatcher, free access to the facility, and access to the attic where fifty file boxes containing the vast array of records and primary sources--which historians so deeply cherish. He began work with file number one. Initially he was unable to bring files home, but that changed as his working relationship with the Camas Prairie Railroad expanded into a kindred friendship. A week later he was allowed to take files home for two or three days, but by the sixth week of work, the chief clerk told Dan to take what he needed and bring them back when he was finished. This laid the foundation for a wonderful dissertation and the railroad, owned by the Union Pacific and Burlington Northern, asked for ten bound copies, and asked for another ten a few years later.
“I really enjoyed my years at Idaho. . . The University was a great place to go to school, the faculty was outstanding.”
Beyond Greever, Butler notes Fred Winkler as an outstanding mentor, an “awesome man with a steel trap for a mind.” Winkler was known for U.S. Diplomatic History and was a favored speaker whom students loved to listen to. Dr. Carlos Schwantes and Dan also became friends. The two met, at a western history conference after Butler had graduate. Butler recognized Schwantes’ name tag said University of Idaho. When Dan introduced himself, Schwantes replied, “Ah, Greevers’ boy.” In fact Butler and Griever’s friendship was so deep that to this day Butler visits his widow, Mrs. Greever, whenever he is in Moscow.
After earning his PhD in history with a minor in geography, Butler taught at a community college in Arkansas and then went on to be dean of a Kansas community college and then spent over twelve tears at the University of Arkansas-Fort Smith. Despite his love of teaching and interaction with his students, his passion for trains drew him to Amtrak, where he worked for the next twenty years. Butler enjoyed the excitement of riding the trains.
“I rode them more than anyone else.”
Butler’s love of travel and desire to give back has extended beyond the United States and the UI. He became involved in teaching Peruvian children, where children are only compelled to attend school until the fourth grade. After this, children must pay to ride the bus into town for further schooling. Butler supplies funds for their bus fare and teaches in person every couple years. He hopes to establish a fund for the children.
Currently living in Spokane, Washington, Butler maintains a relationship with the University. In addition to creating the Need Based Book Fund, Butler serves on the University of Idaho’s Library Committee. In addition, he has served as a member of the Lexington Transportation Group for the past 37 years and is currently working on a paper regarding the Camas Prairie to present in 2015 at a Moscow conference.
“It’s important to give back. . . I left UI in 1975, for most people that is long ago, but for me it was just the other day.”