Celebrating his golden anniversary in office, Marion Mayor Bob Butler was honored Tuesday as hundreds of residents, officials and regional dignitaries gathered at Tower Square for a ceremonial unveiling of a life-size bronze statue of the nation’s longest active serving mayor.
During a reception at the civic center, Yolonde Peterson, chairman of the board at the Marion Cultural and Civic Center, said she’s known Butler since high school, but came to understand the mayor during the seven-year-long process to rebuild the civic center following arson in 1997.
She said Butler understood the importance of having the civic center as an anchor on the square which other businesses could build around. She shared many kind words about the mayor and what he has been able to accomplish during his 13 terms.
“He doesn’t see into the future,” Peterson said. “But he does see future possibilities.”
G. Patrick Murphy, U.S. District Court Judge for the Southern District of Illinois, said when Butler took the oath to serve Marion, John Kennedy was in the White House, Vietnam hadn’t begun and the very same day Butler took office, Martin Luther King Jr., penned his now famous “Letter from Birmingham City Jail,” which preached nonviolent resistance.
Murphy said he was a freshman in high school when Butler took office. While he is preparing to retire from public service, Murphy noted, Butler remains the mayor.
Murphy believes Butler’s legacy will be the economic development the city enjoyed over the last five decades. Detractors will say Marion had an advantage because it sits on Interstate 57, but Murphy said so does Benton, West Frankfort, Johnston City and Cairo.
Scott Eisenhauer, mayor of Danville and president of the Illinois Municipal League, said the league is honored to have Butler as vice president of its board of directors.
“It is his wisdom that he has brought to our board that makes our board a little more successful,” he said. “He has incredible passion, passion for everything that he does. That’s what we appreciate most about your mayor.”
In a roughly 15 minute address, the mayor shared stories and accomplishments from the past 50 years and joked with the audience.
Butler said he considers it a privilege and pleasure to serve Marion in what he calls the city’s golden age. He said when he first told his wife Louetta that he was going to run she responded to him “I’m not going to vote for you and I might work against you.”
During his first election, Butler said there was a major flooding issue at Illinois 37 and West Main Street. During the campaign Butler went after the incumbent mayor for being unable to fix the flooding issue after two terms in office.
“Twenty-five years later,” he joked. “I was able to help cure that problem, so if it had not been for longevity I would not have been able to make good on that campaign promise.”
Butler shared his approach to leading that has been a key to his longevity in office.
“It’s always been my view we ought to do everything we can to be progressive, to look forward, to have a vision,” he said. “Be realistic. It’s OK to dream, but be sure you’re feet are on the ground. That’s always been my philosophy.”
As much as he joked, the mayor said he was touched by the outpouring of kindness and support.
“This whole occasion has been overwhelming,” he said. “Obvious appreciation and sincerity has been shown here today. It is most touching and it is something I will always remember.”
The statue was funded entirely by donations; no public money was used.