Frank and Ruth Butler, an alumni couple committed to working for world peace, have given a $5,000 gift to the University of Maine’s Peace and Reconciliation Studies program after being inspired by another UMaine graduate and peace building advocate during Reunion ’08.
Arthur Serota ’66 was presented with the Bernard Lown ’42 Humanitarian Award at the University of Maine Alumni Association awards breakfast where Frank’s sister, Dorothea Butler Marsden ’50, received the Alumni Career Award. Executive director of the United Movement to End Child Soldiering in Northern Uganda, Arthur spoke about his work to educate and rehabilitate children and youth affected by conflict, support school-based peace education, and end the abhorrent practice of using child soldiers. He also mentioned that he was involved in a collaboration with the Peace and Reconciliation Studies Program. Frank and Ruth were immediately impressed with Arthur’s passion and commitment and their interest was piqued in the Peace and Reconciliation Studies program which focuses on justice, human rights, nonviolence, tolerance and environmental responsibility, with special emphasis on reconciliation – or forgiveness – as a vital factor in the realization of building a culture of peace.
“We got excited and decided this was something we ought to support because of our lifelong commitment to peace,” said Frank, who graduated in 1952 with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in chemical engineering. He served in the Army Chemical Corps during the Korean War and is now a life member of Veterans For Peace. He is a retired president of Eastman Gelatine Corporation, a subsidiary of Eastman Kodak Company. Ruth, meanwhile, earned a bachelor’s degree in English from UMaine in 1954 and is a former literature professor who taught at Gordon College and Simmons College, both in Massachusetts.
The couple was delighted to hear about UMaine’s Peace and Reconciliation Studies program, which includes an interdisciplinary minor, a graduate concentration, a certificate program, and a wide array of educational and public service programming.
“This country spends more on its military budget than the rest of the world combined and it has disturbed us,” Frank said. “We have these military academies and they’re all great schools, but we know very little about their efforts to teach peacemaking. We are very interested in doing whatever we can to help build a sustainable and enduring peace here in the USA and throughout the whole world. We want to help the Peace and Reconciliation Studies Program inspire others to hear the call and find their own way to promote peacemaking and reconciliation with the same passion that our military academies inspire devotion to the military.”
The Butlers’ gift will support Peace and Reconciliation Studies projects and programs during the upcoming year, including a new class created in collaboration with the United Movement to End Child Soldiering. The class, which will focus on world views of violence prevention and healing through forgiveness, also may be offered to students in Northern Uganda. It will be an on-line course with possibilities for in-person components as well as opportunities for international travel. Discussion about the healing and rehabilitation of former child soldiers also will be included so students can get a sense of those peace building activities that are unique to Northern Uganda and those that are universal.
The collaboration with Arthur Serota and UMECS is a critical opportunity to gain a more international perspective through personal relationships, according to Phyllis Brazee, associate professor of education and director of Peace and Reconciliation Studies. “The connection also enables us to strengthen our belief in what we’re teaching and to look at peace building cross-culturally,” she said, adding that the new class is a timely addition to the approximately 20-year-old peace studies program which recently changed its name to include the word “reconciliation.”
“Central to building a culture of peace is the idea of reconciliation – healing, forgiving and letting go. The whole idea of our program is to deconstruct war culture, but if you deconstruct it without an alternative – without addressing the skills, attitudes and values of a culture of peace – there’s the ever present danger of gong back to a war culture.”
A staunch believer in mainstreaming peace building activities into the education system, Arthur has visited UMaine several times during the past few years, presenting lectures both on and off campus. He plans to return to Orono in the spring of 2009. He is excited about collaborating with the Peace and Reconciliation Studies program and relishes the opportunity to help students become lifetime peace building practitioners.
During visits to UMaine he says he has noticed that students in Peace and Reconciliation Studies are particularly empathic about the plight of child soldiers and that they exhibit a “sincerity about having a just world.
“I realized that Peace and Reconciliation Studies was a very important program on campus – possibly one of its best kept secrets,” he said.
A former member of UMaine’s ROTC and an opponent of the U.S. involvement in Viet Nam, Arthur said he wishes there had been a peace studies program when he was at the University because it would have been a source of strength and a validation of his decision not to participate in the war.
Born and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., he came to UMaine to study agriculture and felt comfortable and happy from day one. He joined Phi Gamma Delta, played racquetball, and made many friends – a number of whom he still sees. He was mentored by two of UMaine’s legendary agriculture figures – Professor Bruce Poulton and Dean Winthrop Libby, who later served as president of UMaine. His agricultural background stood him in good stead when, in the 1980’s, he moved to Zimbabwe to teach, build schools and assist with various agricultural projects, said Arthur, who divides his time between Africa, the Netherlands, and Washington, D.C.
Frank and Ruth also thrived at UMaine.
A member of UMaine’s ROTC, Frank was honored as a Distinguished Military Student. He joined Tau Beta Pi and Phi Kappa Phi honor societies, as well as Sigma Chi Fraternity. He served as President of the Maine Christian Association when Dorothy and Elwyn Wilson bought the College Avenue home which held the MCA Center for many years. Dorothy was a noted author and strong peace activist. She won a cash award for her book, “The Prince of Egypt,” and used it to help buy the home.
Ruth was a member of the Sophomore Eagles and All Maine Women. She was the first president of the Student Union and was named the American Association of University Women’s Outstanding Student at commencement. After her youngest child entered college, Ruth earned a master’s degree in Children’s Literature from Simmons College. A book editor and literature professor, she served as book review editor for the national magazine, “Faith at Work,” for about 20 years.
UMaine strengthened the moral and social values they learned at home, the Butlers said. A former recruiter for Kodak, Frank said traveling around the country to various universities “reinforced my feeling that UMaine did an outstanding job of training young people to be hardworking employees. I think that has a lot to do with Maine as a state and with the University representing those types of values.”
The Butlers’ lifelong commitment to peace has taken numerous forms. In the 1960’s they marched against the U.S. involvement in Viet Nam and in the 1980’s they helped lead “Pilgrimages of Reverse Mission” to Kenya, India, Thailand, and Haiti as part of their volunteer work with the Ministry of Money, an outreach of The Church of The Saviour in Washington, D.C.
On these pilgrimages they worked in some of the homes for the destitute and dying, orphanages and soup kitchens founded by Mother Theresa. They even got to spend an hour with Mother Theresa herself. When Frank told the Roman Catholic nun and humanitarian that he and Ruth were considering joining one of her missionary organizations, she suggested that they return to America where God had put them and help their own people who, she said, were in dire straits.
“In all my travels, I have never seen such loneliness as there is in the poverty of affluence,” she told him.
Frank and Ruth took Mother Theresa’s advice. Back in Massachusetts they helped start a homeless shelter and a soup kitchen. Frank went on to serve as Board Chair of the Ministry of Money and continues as an Emeritus member. He has also served on the board of the Institute for Servant Leadership for the last 20 years.
“A peace activist once told me to ‘be the change you want to see,’’’ Frank said. “So, we try to live in ways that bring peace.”
Supporting UMaine’s Peace and Reconciliation Studies Program is one more way for this loyal Black Bear couple to do just that.
“There aren’t enough environments where young people can talk about peace rather than war,” Ruth said. “I hope students come away from UMaine’s Peace and Reconciliation Studies understanding that there’s an alternative to war and determined to do something about it.”