Marion Mayor Bob Butler has served since 1963 — for 54 years. He is believed to be the longest serving mayor of Illinois, and the second longest serving active mayor in the United States. In an interview for this piece looking back on his life, Butler said he does not intend to seek a 15th term after his current term expires in 2019.
On the eve of his 90th birthday, below are 90 facts about Bob Butler. Happy birthday, mayor.
1. Marion Mayor Bob Butler was born on Jan. 23, 1927.
2. He will be 90 years old on Monday.
3. His full name is Robert Lee Butler.
4. He is the son of Homer and Eva Butler, of Marion; his mother's maiden name was Clarida.
5. Butler’s parents used to call him "Bobby" until he came of age, during which they then referred to him as "Bob." "But I'll answer to most anything," he said.
6. There were not any hospitals in Marion in 1927, the year he was born. The closet hospital was located in Carbondale. His mother, Eva, gave birth to him in his childhood home at 704 N. Garfield St. in Marion.
7. The home was recently destroyed in a string of fires in December of last year.
8. Butler considers the destruction of his childhood home as a bad omen upon his 90th year.
9. Butler, who grew up in Marion, attended the local elementary, junior high and high schools, all of which have been relocated.
10. He graduated from the University of Illinois College of Law in 1952.
11. He is one of two children.
12. He has a younger brother, Bill.
13. Butler said his interest in local government stemmed from his family's long-standing history in city politics.
14. In the 1930s, his father, Homer, served six years on the Marion City Council.
15. His father also served on the local school board and spent 16 years in state legislature.
16. His grandfather, Henderson Clarida, served as the mayor of Marion from 1923 to 1927.
17. Clarida also served as chief of police in Marion.
18. Beyond his family's long-standing history in local government, Butler said he felt that the city council, at the time that he decided to run for election, was incompetent and corrupt. He campaigned on a platform of economic development and more jobs.
19. Butler was elected as mayor of Marion on April 16, 1963.
20. He defeated the then-incumbent Robert Cooksey by 687 votes with Butler receiving 2,914 votes to Cooksey’s 2,227.
21. He was 36 years old.
22. The year Butler won his first term, 1963, has been called “the year that everything happened.” That same year, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech and President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas.
23. He served as the assistant state's attorney for Williamson County for 10 years before being elected the mayor of Marion.
24. In the 1970s, Butler ran for a seat in the state House but was unsuccessful.
25. He is believed to be the longest serving mayor in Illinois.
26. He is believed to be the second longest active serving mayor in the United States, bested only by Charles Long, the mayor of Booneville, Kentucky, population 80. Long’s first term as mayor began in 1959, four years before Butler’s.
27. Butler has served through many disasters which include a tornado that killed 10 and injured 200 in 1982, and a fire that destroyed the city's Civic Center in 1997.
28. Butler said he believes that his successes as mayor of Marion stems from his contribution in the improvements of the city and the condition of life for its citizens.
29. He has been elected to 14 consecutive terms as mayor of Marion.
30. At the end of his term, Butler will have served as the city's mayor for 56 years. He does not anticipate another run. "I think that is long enough," he said in an interview with The Southern on Jan. 17.
31. In 2007 Butler was featured in the New York Times. In the article, Butler discussed spikes in electricity for residents of Marion and his efforts in buying power from an independent contractor. He was joined by other local officials in Southern Illinois.
32. He also was featured in a separate article by The Associated Press for his 42nd year in office.
33. As a teenager, Butler enjoyed reading.
34. Butler said his interest in literature grew when a friend recommended that he read Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini. The book remains a top favorite in relation to government for Butler.
35. Despite having a full day's work Butler said reading remains a "principal" hobby.
36. Butler said he enjoys a wide variety of literature.
37. Mark Twain and Charles Dickens are his favorite authors.
38. His favorite novel by Dickens is the Pickwick Papers.
39. He also lists Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes as a favorite from his current collection.
40. Butler has written columns for local newspapers in the region.
41. He father, Homer, was also an editor and columnist for The Daily Republican newspaper in Marion.
42. Butler said that he would like to write a novel one day about politics and local government.
43. Butler served in the U.S. Army Counter Intelligence Corps after the wars in Japan and Korea.
44. In his youth Butler was a member of the local Boy Scout Troop in Marion.
45. He earned the rank of Eagle Scout in the local troop and later served on the summer camp staff.
46. He is also a charter member of the Ney-A-Ti Lodge, the local chapter of the Order of the Arrow honor society in Scouting.
47. Butler is married to Louetta.
48. The pair married September 1, 1951.
49. Butler said he and his wife went on frequent dates to Jim Kupelian, a restaurant that use to be located on the square, and Motel Marion.
50. The couple has one daughter.
51. Her name is Beth.
52. Beth, currently retired, has worked in school administration in several different cities which include her service as a principal in Deerfield and Phoenix and as a professor at Southern Illinois University.
53. Butler keeps a painting by Ray Evangelista in his office.
54. Butler said the Philippine artist completed the painting in 2001.
55. He also made note that he and the artist had no personal relationship. "He came by and took a couple of photos and that was the ending result," Butler said.
56. In 2013, Butler was honored for his service with a monument. That monument, a life size bronze statue of Butler, is located on Tower Square in Marion.
57. The statue is placed on a base that includes a history of Butler's service as mayor, a history of the city and a list of council members who had served with him up until his 50th year of service.
58. Kevin McConnell, president and CEO of Lifeline Ambulance in Marion, thought of the dedication ten years ago.
59. The monument was dedicated to Butler at a special ceremony held in Marion for his 50 years — and 13th term — in office.
60. The Illinois Municipal League awarded Butler with a “Lifetime of Service” award in 2015 at its annual conference in Chicago.
61. During the years Butler served as mayor, there have been 11 U.S. presidents.
62. His time in office has spanned 10 Illinois governors. Four of them served time in prison (and one, Rod Blagojevich, remains in prison).
63. Butler was a delegate to the 1970 Illinois Constitutional Convention from the 57th District.
64. Butler also has an industrial park named after him.
65. The park is four miles west of Interstate 57.
66. In recent years, Butler deemed the city of Marion the "Hub of the Universe."
67. Butler said he recycled the phrase, which was coined by Oliver Wendell Holmes in 1858, of "Hub of the Solar System," and "Hub of the Universe," for the Massachusetts State House. "I started using that several years ago and I didn't expect that it would catch on, but it has really generated a lot of interest," Butler said.
68. Butler said he decided to use the phrase because he thought it was fitting for the city of Marion.
69. Butler said the 1991 opening of what is now called the Illinois Star Centre Mall, a development aided by city incentives, was a turning point for business development in Marion.
70. The population of Marion has grown more than 50 percent since Butler took office. The population in 1960 was 11,274, compared to 17,803 in 2015, according to the U.S. Census.
71. In 2014, Butler recommended Dawn Tondini to serve as chief of police; she is Marion’s first female to lead the police department.
72. Butler is a Republican but has endorsed and supported Democrats as well over the course of his lifetime.
73. He lists Harry Truman as a Democrat he admires. "I think he did a commendable job as president," Butler said.
74. He also names former President Ronald Reagan and former Gov. Jim Thompson as Republican politicians he holds in high esteem.
75. Butler has done a considerable amount of traveling around the country.
76. He enjoys travelling to historical towns such as Savannah, Georgia, and San Antonio, Texas.
77. He lists the San Antonio River Walk and his visit to Mount Rushmore as most memorable. "It gave me a sense of the country's size and diversity," he said.
78. Butler attends First Christian Church Disciples of Christ in Marion.
79. Butler said he has been a member of the church since birth.
80. Butler said he has an admiration for his pastor Bill Rucker.
81. Butler said he also admires the Christian evangelist Billy Graham. "He has lived an exemplary life," he said. "He certainly preached the gospel, lived the gospel and spread the gospel."
82. Butler said he believes he receives more credit for positive developments in Marion than what he deserves.
83. By the same token, Butler said he has received a fair share of criticism that he does not believe was warranted.
84. Butler said as mayor he has learned not to let most things bother him. "Most things that I meet being mayor I consider as part of the territory and I don't let most things controversial bother me," he said. "I like to believe that I am usually right and people who oppose me are usually wrong."
85. Butler said his favorite place in Marion is "home."
86. He enjoys other places like the Marion Cultural and Civic Center for entertainment.
87. Butler said he enjoys the many diverse programs that are featured in the center, which is an entity of the city and was rebuilt in 2004 after a fire.
88. He list the First Baptist Church's Christmas program as a frequent favorite. "That is professionally done and very worthwhile," Butler said.
89. In his earlier years, Butler said the center also featured enjoyable performers such as Red Skelton and Randy Thomas, prior to his stardom.
90. Once he retires, Butler said he plans to continue his hobbies of reading and writing. "I enjoy putting pen to paper on some occasion," he said. "My main focus would be to rest, relax and enjoy."