I was saddened this week to learn of the passing of Howard Butt Jr., a kind and intelligent man who dedicated his life to promoting Christian thought and action, especially among laypersons.
Five years ago I wrote a column about Laity Lodge, which was a special project of Howard Butt Jr. and his mother, Mary Holdsworth Butt. It would be impossible to count the number of lives touched by Laity Lodge, and I think it was among the most important achievements in Mr. Butt's long and successful life.
Here's that column from my files:
In the summer of 1961, a group of people met for a retreat on the banks of the Frio River in a newly-constructed hall. The featured speaker was Elton Trueblood, a Quaker philosopher, who emphasized "the ministry of common life." Joining him in leading that weekend's retreat was Keith Miller, an oil company executive from Oklahoma.
It was the first retreat ever held at Laity Lodge, near Leakey, the facility owned and operated by the H. E. Butt Foundation, which has its offices here in Kerrville. Laity Lodge is celebrating fifty years this summer.
As most of you know, the H. E. Butt Grocery Company started here in Kerrville, back in 1905. The family of Charles C. Butt came to Kerrville around that time because he suffered from tuberculosis; in those days our dry climate was thought to be beneficial to tuberculosis. Charles' wife Florence opened a grocery store on Main Street here in 1905, and it continues to this day. Let's just say the grocery enterprise has been successful.
The H. E. Butt Foundation was chartered in 1933, by Charles' and Florence's youngest son Howard and his wife, Mary Holdsworth Butt. Howard was a Tivy graduate, as was Mary. I have photos of them as Tivy students in my collection.
The 1900 acre property on the Frio River was purchased by the foundation in 1954, "to provide a place where boys and girls, men and women could further their knowledge of God and His creation while enjoying the freedom of camp life that had so appealed to [Howard Butt] during his youth. Mary Holdsworth Butt joined her husband in this dream," according to the foundation's website. In fact, "Mrs. Butt’s diary records their hope to provide a camping experience for 'maybe 100 boys and girls at one time.'" Let's just say that goal has been exceeded.
Their eldest son, Howard Butt, Jr., a gifted Christian speaker, encouraged the development of Laity Lodge, and it became a family project. "My mother worked tirelessly," Howard Butt Jr. wrote recently, "and we spent long hours planning the design of the retreat center, the design of the buildings, the building locations, the interior design, and even the location of the parking lot. She felt compelled to build the camps; building Laity Lodge in particular gave her great satisfaction, and she was pleased when the buildings were ready for the first retreat."
Keith Miller served as the first director of Laity Lodge, from 1962 to 1965. He was followed by Bill Cody, who served until 1979. My long-time friend Dr. Howard Hovde served from 1981 until 1999; Eddie Sears, another long-time friend, served during the same time as Associate Director. In 1997 Don Murdock took the executive director's post, and in 1999 the title of director was held by Dr. David Williamson. The current director, Steven Purcell, was hired in 2006, and the current Director of Operations, the talented Tim Blanks, was hired in 2003.
This special place in a stark canyon overlooking the crystal Frio River has been an active part of a greater spiritual community for fifty very good years. Laity Lodge has its beginnings here in Kerrville, starting when a woman of faith prayerfully opened a little grocery store and taught her children (and they their children) the importance of hard work and spiritual values. Those lessons continue to this day at Laity Lodge.
Until next week, all the best.
Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who wishes his former editor Mark J. Armstrong the best of luck as he starts a new chapter in his life. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times September 17, 2016.