Leonard "Len" Anthony Butler, Colonel, USAF (ret.), resident of O'Fallon, Ill., passed away peacefully at Sycamore Village Assisted Living in Swansea, Ill., on his 80th birthday, July 23, 2020.
Born in Baltimore City, Md., Len was the youngest of three boys who grew up camping, swimming, visiting Ocean City, attending Catholic School, and getting into childhood mischief. After graduating from Immaculate Conception school, he attended high school at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, and then was accepted to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, entering in 1958. He went to West Point to play lacrosse, which he loved, and he and his team were 1961 national co-champions. To his surprise, according to his storytelling, he only later realized he would also be entering the military after graduation in 1962.
Len entered the Air Force in 1962 and went straight to pilot training, beginning his career as a C-130 pilot. In 1965, he was stationed at Ernest Harmon AFB in Stephenville, Newfoundland and Labrador. His father had told him that when travelling, he should always make every effort to get to know local people, and he did just that, marrying Marina Bennett of Seal Rocks within months of meeting her. Together they raised two kids while moving from place to place across North America. Len's Air Force service included a tour in Vietnam, a masters in nuclear engineering from the Air Force Institute of Technology, promotion to Squadron Commander of the 62nd Tactical Air Squadron at Little Rock AFB, Ark., and Wing Commander of the 1st Special Operations Wing at Hurlburt Field, Fla. He retired in 1992 from Kirtland AFB, N.M., in the rank of Colonel. Family activities during that time included camping, jogging, visiting National Parks, visiting the island of Newfoundland, and encouraging the development of critical thinking skills by challenging his two kids to "look it up" when they had questions.
Len was an active member of St. Nicholas Parish, in O'Fallon, Ill.; on parish council, as eucharistic minister, and with Men's Gathering. He was also active with Daedalians, Air Commando Association, and MOAA. In retirement, he continually challenged himself to step outside his comfort zone. This included taking a luthier course and making two guitars, and returning to college at 61, graduating from SWIC with an associate's degree in fine arts just shy of his 64th birthday. While at SWIC he produced beautiful ceramic pieces, sculpture, watercolor, and learned the guitar, giving a recital as part of his final project. He then began a second career teaching math at McKendree University. He taught there for 7 years, discontinuing at 71 due to Marina's cognitive decline, from then on focused solely on her care. His final years were spent at Sycamore Village, where he developed great friendships with the staff and enjoyed sharing stories of his and Marina's life together.
He was preceded in death by his wife of 53 years, Marina; parents Jim and Mary Butler; parents-in-law Hayward and Blanche Bennett; stepmother-in-law Marion Bennett; brothers Dick and Jay; sisters-in-law Claudia and Marylee Butler and Alma, Gert, and Laura Bennett; and brothers-in-law Harold and Eddie Bennett.
Len is survived by his children, Kelly and Mark; sisters- and brother-in-law Sr. Gertrude Bennett and Anne and Fintan Alexander; and numerous nieces, nephews, cousins, and special friends.
In lieu of flowers, memorial donations are suggested to the Marina Bennett Butler Mi'kmaw Nursing Scholarship: www.gofundme.com/marina-bennett-butler-award. Share a memory or post a tribute at www.wfh-ofallon.com.
A special thank you to the staff at Sycamore Village Assisted Living in Swansea, Ill., who became family to Len and Marina, and cared for them both with love and respect.
Funeral: A Memorial Mass will begin at 11:00 am, Friday, July 31, 2020, at St. Nicholas Catholic Church, 625 St. Nicholas Dr., O'Fallon, Illinois, with Msgr. William J. Hitpas presiding. Burial will take place at Arlington National Cemetery at a later date. Arrangements entrusted to Wolfersberger Funeral Home, O'Fallon, Illinois.
Courtesy of Legacy.com. Published in Albuquerque Journal on Jul. 28, 2020.