LAKEVIEW — Some people see retirement as a chance to finally kick back, relax and enjoy the fruits of a lifetime’s labors.
Then there’s Juanita Butler, who at age 98, recently “retired” from mentoring Lakeview Middle School students. She didn’t go willingly; it took a serious bout of pneumonia in December to slow her down.
Before that, Juanita spent the previous 14 years working at the school through the Foster Grandparent Program. The program provides, among other things, mentors for students who may need a little help in various subjects.
For Juanita, volunteering for the program was just another way of giving back to the community that has been home for most of her life. In 1934, her husband, Frederick, purchased the Lakeview Enterprise, the village’s weekly newspaper. For many years, Juanita assisted in the paper’s day-to-day operations.
She raised one son and five daughters in Lakeview; one of the daughters wound up taking over the family business with her husband.
Juanita’s roots delve deep into the town’s bedrock; there are few longtime residents who don’t know her, at least in passing. Her work with the Foster
Grandparent Program simply cemented that convivial familiarity, adding new layers with each passing school year.
Most every Lakeview Middle School kid knows “Grandma” Butler. And since December, when the pneumonia forced her to curtail her four-day-a-week volunteering, she has been sorely missed.
According to at-risk teacher Kathy Nerychel, who has worked alongside Juanita for most of her tenure at the school, her retirement has left a hole in the lives of her students.
“I miss her, the kids miss her,” Nerychel said. “She’s been wonderful with the kids.”
Juanita’s association with the school goes back much further than her 14 years mentoring, however. While still working at the Enterprise, she designed the original Wildcat logo that still serves as the school’s mascot.
At 98, she remains active in her church and the community at large. But even someone as full of life as Juanita cannot entirely stave off time’s relentless forward march. It may be, she admits, time to slow down a bit.
“When you’re 98 it takes a while to get over pneumonia,” Juanita says. “I’m still being a little careful with it. But I’m going to miss the one on one with the kids. I’m sure I’m going to miss it. I enjoyed being with the kids.”
During her recuperation, some of her former students — as well as teachers and administrators from the school — found time to stop by and wish her well.
She enjoyed the company, she says, but at the moment a lot of her free time is being taken up with what may prove to be her opus: the writing of her memoir.
“I’m writing the story of my life,” Juanita says. “That’s quite time consuming. I started way back and I’m working forward on it. So far, I’m up to 1988. I don’t know what I’m going to do with it when it’s done, but everybody said I should write it, so I got all my old journals out and decided to give it a try.”
It might be published or it might not, Juanita admits. In the larger scheme of things, that matters little to her. What matters, is telling the story, putting words to paper.
Of course, it would only be fitting if one day, one of her students — a little boy or girl she mentored, now grown — picked up that memoir and fondly remembered “Grandma” Butler.