Bittersweet retirement for Jerry Butts

Posted Online: Feb. 09, 2014, 6:05 pm
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John Marx,
Few can match the yarn-spinning and relationship-building skills of one Gerald "Jerry'' Butts, civic dynamo and first-team all-class-act. He is the people-person poster child.

For 61 years, Butts cultivated personal and business relationships in the world of insurance, also playing a major role in a host of community-growth projects. For 50-plus years, he led the Oakleaf-Butts Agency and then helped lead the charge for the Rock Island-based Cleveland Agency.

And now, after six decades of being far more than the "Insurance Guy,'' Butts -- at-the-plenty in-the-tank-age-of-83 -- has retired.

"Now they have to take down the GLB Tolerance Award my longtime assistant had hanging in her office,'' Butts said, just before going into one of a dozen hilarious career-related stories, of which two could be printed in a family newspaper.

"This has been in the works,'' Butts added, full of vim and vigor, who 26 years ago was told cancer soon would get the best of him. "I told the (Cleveland) agency two years ago I was leaning toward slowing down. The hip I had replaced three years ago keeps me from moving as fast as I once did. It's just time. I feel good about stepping away.''

Now, Butts said, there will be time to travel, to spend more time with his three children and to visit friends and relatives scattered about the country. A three-week journey through the South and the West is on the agenda, but Butts said it could take longer.

"It will be at my pace,'' said Butts, a Moline civic giant who has served on several local foundation boards but helped take Renew Moline Inc., the award-winning, non-profit economic development organization devoted to the development of the city of Moline -- to great heights. Butts will continue to serve Renew and Moline's Project Management Team.

"I will see a cousin I have not seen in 50 years,'' he added. "I will visit several close friends, and I will close the trip in Kansas City, Mo., visiting a high school classmate I have not seen since high school. We were in the choir and a quartet together. I'm looking forward to making the trip. As soon the weather breaks, I'll start that journey.''

Living in Charleston, W.Va., at the time, Butts answered answered an ad in 1962 placed by Moline's Joe Oakleaf in a national insurance publication. Oakleaf wanted someone 26-35, with kids, and a chartered property casualty underwriter designation. Once he reached the Quad-Cities, Butts found everything he was looking for in a community. In 1972, he purchased the Oakleaf-Tabox agency and things took off.

"I found the perfect fit,'' Butts said. "The right pace, the right time and people whose word was their bond. So many wonderful people.''

And while some live by the "business-is-business'' motto, Butts has forever seen it differently. You can mix the two and form friendships from business that last a lifetime.

"That's why retiring is bittersweet,'' said Butts, the 2009 Moline Rotarian of the Year. "Business brought me here and through business so many friendships -- deep, lasting friendships -- have been formed. I think the nature of my business has had something to do with that, but there are so many wonderful people in this community, you can't help but make great friends. I'm awfully lucky. If you love what you do, you will never work a day in your life. That's me.''
Columnist John Marx can be reached at 309 757-8388 or


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