By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — Since his days as a student at St. Ambrose College, John Butler and his wife Holly have maintained a love for the Catholic university. In recognition of that love, the couple has established a $2.5 million charitable gift commitment for a permanent endowment in honor of the late history professor Agnes Renner.
On Sept. 28, the couple signed the paperwork to make it official in the presence of Renner’s family members and representatives of the university. Renner’s family members at the gathering were Lenice Renner of Grand Rapids, Michigan, the widow of Renner’s nephew Gene, and Dan Renner of Cedar Rapids, the son of Lenice and the great-nephew of Agnes Renner.
As a youth living in Muscatine, John Butler attended St. Mathias Parish, St. Mathias Elementary and Hayes Catholic High School. He planned to attend the local community college but received a scholarship that made it possible to attend St. Ambrose.
Considering a major in history, Butler signed up for an 8 a.m. class with Renner his freshman year. “She kept my attention,” he said. While he loved other history professors and faculty members at St. Ambrose, Renner was one of the biggest influencers in his life, he said. She joined the history and geography faculty at St. Ambrose in 1946 and continued teaching there until her death in 1973.
She had a love of travel, which led Butler to sign up for geography classes; he eventually minored in that field. “Miss Renner made her geography courses come alive based on her many foreign travels.” She showed slides from those travels. “She told me to aim high,” he noted.
After two years in the Army and a move out East, Butler continued to keep in touch with Renner about what was going on in his life. “I called her to let her know I was going to Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies.” Renner died later that year.
Butler earned his master’s degree and went to work for U.S. Representative Jim Leach (R-Iowa). He later held senior positions with the U.S. House Committee on Banking, the Treasury Department, Federal Home Loan Bank Board, National Credit Union Administration, KPMG Peat Marwick and Lehman Brothers.
“There is no better place to make a commitment than to this institution,” Butler said. His wife accompanied him to St. Ambrose reunions over the years and met former St. Ambrose president Ed Rogalski and current President Sister Joan Lescinski, CSJ. “We have so much love for St. Ambrose,” Butler said.
The lasting effect of St. Ambrose as a university and Renner as an inspiring professor motivated Butler to establish the Alice C. Renner Chair in History endowment. “We are always humbled by a gift of this magnitude, particularly coming from a member of our St. Ambrose alumni,” Sister Lescinski said.
The Agnes C. Renner Chair in History joins a growing number of academic endowments at St. Ambrose University. Annually, the endowment will cover the salary and benefits of a history faculty member, chosen on a rotating basis, who will teach a reduced class schedule to accommodate scholarship research that ultimately will augment faculty knowledge for the benefit of students.
“These enhanced opportunities raise our academic reputation and profile and introduce our students to a level of academic rigor that will better prepare them for their profession,” Sister Lescinski said. Professor Dan LaCorte, a senior member of the history department, will serve a two-year tenure as the inaugural Agnes C. Renner Chair in History, Sister Lescinski announced.