Colleagues, friends and family gathered Friday afternoon in the Montante Cultural Center for the college’s annual Celebration of Service. Canisius recognized faculty and staff members for 20, 25, 30, 35, 45 and 50 years of service to the college, as well as those retiring following the spring semester. Fifty-three employees were honored for a total of 2,375 years of service!
Associate Campus Minister Sarah Signorino began the event with an invocation. Margaret McCarthy, PhD, vice president for academic affairs and Terri Mangione, PhD, vice president for student affairs, assisted President John Hurley in the presentation of the awards.
During the presentation of her award for 30 years of service, Kathleen Dierenfield, PhD, received a surprise serenade from husband Bruce Dierenfield, PhD, professor of history, and Sister Pat Brady, SSMN, director, center for service learning, to the audience’s delight!
Attendees also enjoyed a musical interlude by Cantio Sacra under the direction of Bradley Wingert. The performance included “There is No Greater Love,” by Carmen Scialla and “Prayer of St. Richard of Chichester,” by Malcolm Archer.
President Hurley noted that the Celebration of Service is among the highlights on the Canisius calendar. He thanked all for their outstanding contributions to the campus community.
A benediction by Mike Hayes, director of Campus Ministry, concluded the event. Guests continued the celebration at a reception.
Below, enjoy a photo gallery and read more about Dr. Butler’s 50-years of service at Canisius College.
Robert J. Butler, PhD, Professor of English
Robert Butler, PhD, says he is just as excited about being in the classroom today as when he joined the Canisius community 50 years ago.
“The 1960s were going full blast,” recalls Butler. “Change was in the air on many levels.”
Most notably, Butler says the college was becoming integrated in terms of gender. “I was delighted,” he says. “It took a lot of courage for women to come to Canisius in what was known primarily as an all-male school.”
Butler originally planned to stay at Canisius for a year to earn some money, and return to Notre Dame to finish his doctoral degree. He didn’t return until eight years later, however, when Canisius granted him sabbatical leave. “I am forever grateful.”
Prior to Canisius, Butler worked as a community organizer and teacher in Tougaloo, MI, and Tuscaloosa, AL. He applied his commitment for civil and human rights to his study of literature. His teaching interests include modern American literature and culture, Russian literature and African American literature – a course of study he pioneered at Canisius as a result of the Martin Luther King Project in the fall of 1968.
Other favorite courses include Heroes and Anti-Heroes in American Literature, a study of the problems and possibilities of modern heroism from the end of the 19th century to the present. In his courses, he also sheds new light on Richard Wright’s masterpiece, Native Son.
Butler’s compelling courses and lively classroom discussions make him a favorite among students.
In the Canisius Magazine story “The Professor Who Influenced My Life” (fall 2014), Sherrie Riles-Martin ’06 wrote: “I’ve put many of the things that I’ve learned from Dr. Butler (patience, passion and love for my craft) into play in my own classroom.” If imitation is the sincerest compliment, then Riles-Martin gave Butler the highest form.
“Dr. Butler seamlessly blends education with life experience,” says Victoria Niedzielski ’14. “He encourages his students to look past the words in a book and see how the stories apply to the real world.” She says Dr. Butler’s students leave better people, with bigger hearts and wider views of the world. Dr. Butler teaches more than classes, he teaches how to live a worthwhile life. “When I think of Canisius, I think of Dr. Butler.”
For Butler, he says it’s the college’s emphasis on academic excellence and care for students that he appreciates most. In the early days, he was encouraged to develop a wide range of courses and present them in fresh, sometimes experimental ways. Recalls Butler, “Free University met two nights a week at a local tavern – the legal drinking age was 18 in the 60s and 70s!” Students read poetry and discussed topics such as politics, all while having a pint. Butler also credits the environment on campus as “warm, with a strong sense of camaraderie among the faculty for making it easy to get to know and work with people in many different departments.”
His colleagues share the same respect and admiration for Butler.
“When I came to Canisius in 1985, Bob showed me by example how passionate scholarship and teaching enrich and enhance each other,” says Mick Cochrane, PhD, professor of English. “As a writer myself, I admire Bob’s ‘writerly’ commitment and determination, the way he shows up every day, sometimes on weekends, and gets to work.”
Butler published dozens of critical essays in distinguished, highly-selective journals, and authored or co-authored numerous books including The Structure of Ralph Ellison’s Juneteenth, one of the first studies of a great American writer’s epic posthumous novel, and The Richard Wright Encyclopedia.
Butler is particularly proud of his resurrection of a “near-defunct” All-College Honors Program. He served as its director for 21 years. In 2008, he became the inaugural recipient of the Honors Professor of the Year Award, which recognizes a professor who made exceptional contributions to the All-College Honors Program. He is also a recipient of the Kenneth L. Koessler Distinguished Faculty Award.
Service is an important part of Butler’s life. He holds a special place in is his heart for his work teaching inmates at Attica, Collins and Wyoming County Correctional Facilities. “Teaching at these sites has been a deeply rewarding experience,” says Butler. “I am proud to teach at a college that views such activity as fulfilling an important part of its mission.”
In his spare time, Butler enjoys gardening and traveling to see his children in Houston and Seattle. He cites Walt Whitman, Henry David Thoreau and Mark Twain as some of his favorite writers.
Butler is also an avid cyclist. He purchased his most recent bike 10 years ago from an employee in Facilities Management. He rides his bike to work every day from Tonawanda – last year he was able to ride past Thanksgiving! Butler initially started riding his bike to work 40 years ago because he and his wife could only afford one car. He has grown to love biking to work saying he enjoys the fresh air, meeting people along the way and having a good appetite when he gets home! Butler often rides on the new bike paths in the Town of Tonawanda.
The campus community wishes Dr. Butler many more years at Canisius and many more miles on his trusty Schwinn!
Ronald R. Reiber, PhD, Associate Professor of Economics & Finance