4-H honors the Butler family

OKEECHOBEE — The Butler family was honored for more than 50 years invested in the lives of Okeechobee County 4-H families, as they were presented with the Friend of 4-H Award at the annual 4-H Awards Banquet on Sept. 17 at Okeechobee High School.

The Butler Family

The Butler Family


“The highest honor that the Okeechobee County 4-H program bestows is the ‘Okeechobee County Friend of 4-H” Award,’” explained Okeechobee County Extension Agent Debbie Clements.

The award was first established in 1989 and continues to honor persons or organizations that have performed exemplary service to the Okeechobee County 4-H program. In the past, honorees have been individuals, families, businesses and governmental organizations that have gone above and beyond to provide resources, time and expertise to the 4-Hers of Okeechobee County.

Continuing in the established tradition, this year’s honorees have distinguished themselves as invaluable contributors to the success of the 4-H program in Okeechobee County. This year, the Okeechobee County 4-H program, in conjunction with its members and volunteers, has chosen the Butler Family as the recipient of their greatest honor.

“The Butler family has been a respected leader in the dairy industry for more than eighty years,” Mrs. Clements said. “In the mid-1930s, Robert K. Butler and his father, B.W. Butler started milking cows in Hollywood, Fla. in a small flat barn that included an icebox room that held 20 milk cans. They started with 12 milk cows and hauled milk in 10-gallon cans to the milk plant in Miami. They wrapped the milk cans with wet feed sacks as natural refrigeration for the long ride to supply fresh milk to Miami consumers.

Robert K. Butler married Mildred Thomas in 1948, three sons followed and the family dairy legacy continued. As with many other dairies, the explosion of urban development led Robert K. Butler and his father to relocate their dairy operation in September 1965 to their current location in Highlands County near the Kissimmee River. All three of the R.K. Butler sons became involved in the dairy. Over the years, Butler Dairy has evolved into two milking operations, dairy heifer and forage operations and a beef cattle ranch.

When the decision was made to divide the farming interests, Butler Oaks Farm was formed by oldest son Robert L. and his wife Pam. Bob and Pam have three children that are now married with families of their own, sons Ben and Will are now Butler Oaks Farm Managers. Second son, R.D. and his family formed the beef cattle ranch and youngest son, Roger and wife Zoe and family formed B-4 Dairy. All of the members of the Butler family have been recognized countless times with numerous awards for the important environmental initiatives they have implemented, for being good stewards of the land, for their civic involvement, their innovative forward thinking production practices and their leadership skills.

“Times have changed and dairy farming has made tremendous strides over the years, with Butler family members at the forefront.

“In addition to the outstanding dairy legacy, the Butler family has an amazing 4-H legacy that spans over fifty years. Butler Dairy moved to our area in September of 1965, but the Butler family did not move to Okeechobee until June 1966. While still living in Broward County, Bob and Ronnie, the two oldest Butler sons, had joined a 4-H Dairy club and enjoyed participating and showing their calves at the fair. When the family moved to Okeechobee, Mrs. Butler called the County Extension office to enroll the Butler boys in the 4-H Dairy club in Okeechobee County, and much to her surprise, Okeechobee County did not have a 4-H Dairy club. Okeechobee County Extension Director, Cliff Boyles (1945-1971) was excited about the idea and the first Okeechobee County 4-H Dairy club was created with Mrs. Mildred Butler as the leader and 13 boys as members. Under the leadership of Mrs. Butler, those 13 boys showed their animals at the South Florida Fair as well as the State 4-H Dairy Show in Orlando. They practiced Showmanship in addition to Fitting and Grooming in her backyard. The county agent was so impressed that he bought green cow blankets with Okeechobee County in white letters on the sides. That first Okeechobee 4-H Dairy Club, with 13 boys and cows in green and white blankets really put on a display.

“Okeechobee County 4-H, FFA and the Butler family are “the gold standard” when it comes to Dairy Judging, Mildred Butler was the first Dairy Judging coach in Okeechobee County. She attended the cow sales with her husband and developed an “eye” for quality cows, she taught her 4-H club members to compare the animals they were judging to the ideal animal. To this day, that is still the basis of a good judge.”

Three generations of Butler family members have served Okeechobee 4-H in an official capacity. Mildred Butler started the first 4-H Dairy club, as well as serving as the first dairy club leader. R.D. Butler, Bob and Pam Butler all served as Udder Bunch leaders, and now April Butler is an Udder Bunch leader in addition to starting a new club named “Leading the Way.” Ben Butler is president of the Okeechobee Youth Livestock Show Committee, in that capacity serves all Okeechobee 4-H members; in addition, he is a member of the Florida 4-H Youth Dairy Advisory Committee and assists when club help is needed. Lauren Butler is the new Okeechobee County Extension Director. Four generations of the Butler family have been active 4-H club members, beginning with Mrs. Butler as a member in the 1940s in South Broward High School, Bob, R.D., and Roger, Ben, Katie and Will and now Ben’s daughter Hannah is starting her second year as a Cloverbud.

When asked why they support 4-H, the answer from all generations was similar. Bob and Pam said that the 4-H motto says it all, “TO MAKE THE BEST BETTER,” and the 4-H Creed is the path to accomplish that. 4-H is not about showing cows; it is about raising kids to become responsible adults.

Ben said that he supports 4-H because of what it does in developing student’s leadership skills and the relationship and friendships it fosters among students. “I am a product of 4-H, and I understand the valuable skills it teaches students. I also enjoy working with the people associated with 4-H.”

Ben said, “My favorite 4-H memories come from the state dairy judging team. The lifelong friendships I made, and the opportunities I was given opened my eyes to a whole different world outside of Okeechobee.”

When asked about favorite memories, Bob and Pam said, “There are so many, but Udder Bunch was like a big family, if there was a need, there was always someone, great 4-H leaders and parents as well as club members there to genuinely help and offer advice. Overall, working together as a team to be good herdsmen (and winning top herdsmen honors many times) gave everyone such a feeling of accomplishment. I always thought the Udder Bunch would have been great spokes groups for a Tide commercial … the after-show pictures of tired dirty little kids are priceless!”

When asked to name the proudest moment as a 4-H parent, the answer spoke volumes about why generations of the Butler family have remained involved in the 4-H program. They said there are so many, there is no ONE moment, but every time I see a former Udder Bunch member or other 4-H members who are now responsible, grounded adults, that really makes me proud that our family was a part of 4-H. So many of those 4-H youngsters now have families of their own and are now starting new 4-H memories.

The most valuable things that Ben said he learned in 4–H are the things that molded him into the person he is today, leadership skills, public speaking, decision making skills, parliamentary procedure, and the lifelong friendships made with other peers and adults.

Ben said the one thing he wanted people to always remember about 4-H as a 4-H member and as a 4-H volunteer is, “The harder you work and the more involved you become, the greater your reward. The only thing better than the pride of doing your best, is helping to lead a student to do their best.”

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