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Butler, Kalmar, Cook share Tuscola memories, road to success

By Kayleigh Rahn
Janet Spence Butler – Class of 1968

Janet Spence Butler says she attended TCHS in a different time, what she called the olden days. She mentioned the gas wars, days without cell phones or GPS tracking, no female athletics, and strict dress code that required girls to wear dresses or skirts.

“When it was really cold we could wear pants underneath our skirts then we had to take them to put them in our locker,” she said. “I remember having to kneel when I was a freshman on the gym floor and if our skirts didn’t touch the floor we were sent home to change because that was just unacceptable. So many things have changed, and thank goodness for a lot of those changes.”

Butler said her parents moved to Tuscola from Charleston when she started first grade, and she has grown to be grateful for her parents’ work ethic and sacrifice to provide music lessons and all “the extras.”

“My dad was a man ahead of his time I always thought,” she said. “He always encouraged me to dream big. If I said, ‘Maybe I’ll be a nurse,’ he’d say, ‘No, you’ll be a doctor.’ He didn’t want me held back in my thinking or my ability because I was a girl, and that wasn’t the value everyone held 50 years ago. Our folks definitely taught us by example.”

Butler noted the teachers who left lasting impressions on her life including history teacher Mrs. Ethel Snyder and Latin teacher Mrs. Mary Iles.

“They challenged me; they encouraged me; and they really made me better,” she said.

Butler said meeting her husband of 49 years was a huge turning point in her life. She was a pre-med student while attending the University of Illinois. She met David at a Young Republicans Convention in Chicago that she hadn’t planned to attend.

“Apparently we liked each other, because we got married when we finished that year in school,” she said. The couple moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, which was a culture shock for the new Mrs. Butler.

“Let me tell you, there is a big difference in the 60’s between Tuscola culture and California culture,” she said. Two years later David received his draft notice, and after looking at the options he signed up for the Army for three years. When his orders came, they were headed to Thailand.

“I kind of knew where Thailand was on a globe, but I didn’t know too much about it,” she said. “Considering the orders didn’t say Vietnam I was thrilled and I was able to go over with him. When I thought California was a culture shock, oh my gosh, Thailand was a totally different experience.”

Buddhism is the most prevalent religion in that area of the world and Butler realized their philosophies of life are very different from where she grew up.

“It gave me such a great appreciation for being in America and for having the opportunity to be American,” she said. “It made me a better person. It was one of the best things, and I think David would agree, that happened to us. It also started my interest in volunteering.”

Military dependents who were located in Thailand were not allowed to work, though Butler began to volunteer teaching English.

“They were so much fun, and it gave me that bug of volunteering and doing something to make a positive impact on other people’s lives.”

The couple returned stateside and resided in Tuscola while David completed his degree at the University of Illinois. Eventually the Butlers landed in Des Plaines where Janet began a job with GTE that would become her career.

Throughout her career, Butler says she looked back on her experiences from home and Thailand, which allowed her to become set apart from those around her through kindness, professionalism, and dedication. Butler went back to school and earned her master’s degree in business administration while working fulltime for the company.

“I really felt like my education at Tuscola Community High school served me well for going on to higher education,” she said. “It may not have been the fanciest school, but the smaller schools we all learned a lot.”

Butler moved up the ranks to management and served on various special projects and teams, which gave her opportunities to meet President George W. Bush and grace the cover of Forbes magazine. GTE would eventually become Verizon Information Services after a 2000 merger.

“When you manage people you have the opportunity to make a positive impact on other people’s lives,” she said. “I was always very careful to treat people with respect and courtesy, even if it was a difficult situation.”

In her role, oftentimes Butler found she was the only woman in many meetings and she discovered that many of the business circles were “good ole’ boys’ clubs.”

“That became a wake up call for me to think about what I could do to help other women be success in a corporate environment,” she said. She then looked for opportunities to mentor other women.

Eventually, Butler took an early retirement in 2003 and returned to Tuscola with David.

After returning the couple attended at Kiwanis Club meeting and never looked back. They joined the club, and the two continued to search for ways to give back to the community.

Today, Janet is the secretary for six different community organizations, including the Douglas County Museum Historic District.

“I have been able to fulfill my wishes to give back, and I continue to give back,” she said. “I have probably put in close to 10,000 volunteer hours since David and I moved back and to be recognized for this honor means very much to me.”

Tim Hoel nominated his sister-in-law for the 2018 Hall of Fame honor. He said that her character and dedication to community are just a few of the many qualities that qualify her to be recognized.

“When I look at the others who are in the hall of fame I do feel so privileged to become part of this group,” she said.

John Kalmar – Class of 1973
John Kalmar admits his family name isn’t original to Tuscola. The family moved to town in 1962; however, the Kalmar family has become intertwined with the city’s history, which is something John is proud to claim.

“There are teachers and people here from Tuscola who were very instrumental in providing the nurturing, safe environment to learn, to trust, to communicate, not with my thumbs on an electronic device, but one to one with other people,” he said.

He mentioned the McCarty and the Cross families.

“That was really part of the push for me to consider being a dentist, because I loved the ability to be a professional while also having time for family,” he said.

John noted that his Catholic faith, while he realizes isn’t the only religion or way of life, has served him well throughout his adulthood.

“Having faith and having a belief, not only just in your self, but in others, I think it helps us get through life, get through the tragedies and there are a lot of them,” he said.

John mentioned Kay Kleiss, who he saw Saturday morning prior to the luncheon.

“What a remarkable role model as a woman in the 60’s and 70’s,” Kalmar said. “She was strong, she was smart, she was witty, she was beautiful in all the good senses of the word beautiful.”

He also recognized Anita Brown, who was his high school biology teacher.

“Ric Izquirdo and I were the first students at TCHS to be able to take biology in our freshmen year,” he said, “and she was remarkable. I lived and breathed biology in that year. It led me to consider getting into medicine and doing research.”

The University of Illinois is John’s beloved alma mater, he said, where he threw the javelin.

In the last throw of his college career, John set the school record at 221 feet, and he still sits in the Number 2 slot. In 1976, Kalmar attended the Great Relay.

“A guy comes running up to me, and this had a different meaning back then,” he noted. “He said, ‘Can I borrow your javelin, I need to get some pictures taken.’ I said, ‘fine.’ Another guy comes running up and says, ‘Do you know who that is? It’s Bruce Jenner.’ In a sport magazine back in 1976, my javelin is pictured.”

The winters of ’78 and ’79 encouraged Kalmar to move south for several years before he landed in Rochester, N.Y., where he was introduced to his wife Eileen by her father, an oral surgeon.

“It was a weird thing and it happened, but arranged meetings can still work and I loved them so much,” he said.

The family settled in Columbus, a halfway point between their families, where John joined the faculty of The Ohio State University College of Dentistry and has since served there in several capacities, including Associate Dean, Graduate Program Director and Director of the oral biopsy service as well as the sterilization monitoring service, according to his biography. Most recently, John was elected President of the Dental Faculty Practice at the College.

“My wife, Eileen, I owe you the happiness that has come with our families and I come back to this idea of where we learn how to trust and communicate, and for me that was here in Tuscola, Ill. You opened your doors; you opened your hearts. You allowed me to deliver the paper a little bit ate every once in a while. It was, and it is still, a community that may be a little different, but love, security, and communication one to one–that’s what this place taught me about how to treat life and hopefully stay open to the miracles that happen everyday.”

Kathy (Kalmar) Frye introduced her brother during the luncheon.

“John (the oldest of seven) going to the U of I seemed like oceans away,” Frye said. “Every weekend when he left, the rest of us siblings would almost cry and when he came home, it was ‘the king coming home, John’s home.’ Now, all of you go to Champaign to get a cup of coffee, but Champaign was so far away back then. When he got done at Champaign, the rest of us were so busy with our lives that we had no idea he was continuing on with schooling and schooling and schooling some more.

“He might still be going to school,” Frye joked. “Anyway, John set the bar high for all of us. Obviously we were all so very proud of his accomplishments.”

Following Kalmar’s presentation, luncheon host Ryan Hornaday mentioned how neat it was for him to look up to the three Kalmar brothers who were each Warrior quarterbacks.

“Well, we also have three wonderful daughters who also graduated from college and have done wonderful things, as well,” Mary Kay Kalmar corrected Hornaday, drawing applause and laughter from the audience.

Rebecca Cook Carroll – Class of 1966
Barb Utterback introduced Cook, who Utterback says is a professional in every sense. Utterback says she is convinced Cook has touched thousands of lives through her work with students but also future teachers who went on to work with children.

Cook said she never considered her career as significant until recent months when she was asked to compile her accomplishments. She has found interest in a variety of subjects in a variety of places until she landed back at home in Tuscola.

During her Doctoral program, she began teaching at Eastern Illinois University in 1993, according to her biography notes.

In her 25-year career at Eastern, she has received many university awards including the Gholson Endowed Faculty Service Award, two Achievement and Contribution Awards, and two Excellence in Research and Technology awards. In 2006, she was awarded the Excellence in Teaching Award from The Illinois Teacher Education Division of the Council for Exceptional Children, awarded annually to a college professor within Illinois. She has published many professional peer-reviewed articles plus has made over 100 presentations at professional conferences across the nation. She voluntarily created an online mentoring program for first year early childhood special education teachers based upon her concerns about the alarming rate of early burnout. This led to her appointment as Coordinator of a state grant for mentoring new teachers at all levels.

Throughout her international travels for missionary work and volunteerism Cook has realized how bless she is to live and work where she does.

“I learned so much from how gracious people are, people who the less they have, the more gracious they are and kind,” she said.

Cook noted that early childhood education is relatively new, and she said that experiences from her youth in Tuscola pushed her to try something that is new and maybe a bit uncomfortable. She said she was a shy child, who never wanted to attend school at all. Cook said Dr. Cross, Miss Deer, Mr. Meyer, and Mrs. Allen taught her about trust, hands-on learning, persistence, and caring for others.

“When you walk into my office you see toys all over my shelves,” she said. “I want to teach teachers how to make learning hands on… Young children need to learn to play, and we need to bend their goals and objectives into that play, so that’s very different than sitting at a desk, following directions, doing worksheets.”

Cook thanked Utterback for her leading her nomination.

“What a wonderful opportunity for people in our community to see what so many have done as they go through life,” Cook noted of the Hall of Fame process.

She did note that it is a bit difficult to be married to Michael Carroll and find your own way in the world of Tuscola. The community-minded man has a long list of public accomplishments, and Cook said it was quite the experience to be on the other side of the podium on Saturday for a change.

“When we are out in public people typically refer to me as Mrs. Carroll, Mrs. Judge, Mrs. Mike, or my favorite, Lady. If you could just call me Becky that would be great,” she said with a smile, provoking a laugh from the audience. “But in all honesty it’s wonderful being married to Mike, and thank you to him for helping me realize the worth of my career.”

Alumni Association member Hornaday served as host for the event, and TCHS FFA assisted with dinner that was catered by Tuscola IGA.

Tammy Snyder, Class of 1998, donated the centerpieces in honor of her Aunt Cheryl Lynn (Little) Sanderson.

“We welcome her family here today as she never missed a class reunion or the chance to gather with friends or family,” Hornaday said. “Cheryl Lynn Little was married to Steve Sanderson, member of the class of 1974. She very much enjoyed this event each year. We are thinking of her as her ‘73 class celebrates its 45th class reunion.”

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