1949 class picture
Tom Brokaw called them “The Greatest Generation,” those men and women who struggled through the Great Depression, served their country in World War II, and went home to build a stronger, better nation. Robert Heberton “Heb” Butler was one of that generation’s finest examples.
Butler, a 1949 graduate of Pennsylvania Military College and one of the first wave of veterans to earn their degrees on the GI Bill, died on July 18. He was 87.
Heb, as he was known to his friends, was a regular at Widener University events. From Alumni Weekend to Veteran’s Day ceremonies, Heb and his good friend Big Fred Shahadi were always ready with a smile and a story.
Not only did Heb attend events, he helped organize them, and he served the university in so many other capacities. He served as president of the Widener-PMC Alumni Association from 1987 to 1990, and during that time represented the association on the Widener Board of Trustees. He also served as a class reunion volunteer, chairman of the President’s Council’s Bullock Society Committee, and a member of the PMC Museum Committee. In 1995, Heb received the Alumni Service Award from the university, and received a Lifetime Volunteer Award in 2008.
During World War II, Heb helped supply fuel to General Patton’s troops, and he celebrated victory over Nazi Germany with the throng of revelers on the Champs Elysees in Paris on V-E Day in My 1945. A year later, he was home in Swarthmore lugging a 150-pound box of tools for a mechanic.
“I figured there has to be a better way,” Butler told Widener Magazine in 2010. “I really didn’t have a burning desire to go to college when I got out of high school. We were working on coming out of the Depression, and there wasn’t a lot of money in the household. College really wasn’t talked about.”
The GI Bill gave Heb the opportunity to attend PMC, and Heb returned that contribution to his community and to Widener in more ways than can be measured. We are better nation and university because of him.
–Dan Hanson ’97, Director of Public Relations