Celebration of a milestone

For 25 years, Leadership Butler has been “taking leaders to the next level.”

In celebration of this milestone, a reception was held Saturday afternoon, followed by members attending the Butler Community College football game.

“Twenty-five years,” said Becky Wolfe, executive director. “It’s hard to believe it’s been that long.”

She said they have had a lot of great people involved with the program over the years.

Ed Gard, who graduated from the first class of Leadership Butler in 1988, talked about the history of the organization.

“It was about this time in 1988 that first class was getting ready to graduate,” he said.

To give some perspective to the year, he told the group in 1988 gas was 91 cents a gallon, a stamp cost 24 cents, the Dow Jones closed at 2168 and the federal debt was $2.6 trillion. It also was an important year in the history of the Internet, the first well-known computer virus was identified and the record album of the year was “Don’t Worry Be Happy.”

“That same year people came together to form a leadership program,” Gard said.

A nine-member board was created and they established basic goals and began creating a network of people to work together throughout the county.

“I’ve met some terrific people,” he said.

In all, Leadership Butler has graduated 469 people and of those about 2/3 still work in Butler County and slightly more still live here.

He went on to talk about that first graduating class and their speaker Judge Charlie Heilman, who in his address said leadership is needed in every level of activity.

“As the program evolved, the need for a county-wide youth program emerged,” he continued.

“For me, my Leadership Butler experience ranks above my highest experiences.”

Leadership Butler Founder Jack Oharah also talked to the group, talking about the thoughts behind forming the organization.

“My intent was kind of entwined with my efforts at Butler County Community College at the time,” he said, explaining the college was known as El Dorado Junior College, even though it served five counties.

“I wanted to enhance communication across the county,” he said.

He thought they could present a better profile of Butler County as a whole.

“I thought our graduates would populate school boards, economic development, local organizations and some elected offices,” Oharah continued. “I also thought as we had alumni developed, alumni could identify important county-wide issues.”

He said the youth program was an opportunity to show the best and brightest of the youth and inform them of the kind of issues facing Butler County and how they could impact that.

“I feel compelled to offer a challenge to the current Leadership Butler board to continue to evolve the program to face the issues we face in our county, state and the nation because they are all intertwined,” he said. “I encourage the board to be those who make things happen.”

Steve Gillies, with the class of 1998, also was involved with the program’s development over the years.

“I came in in very exciting times for Leadership Butler,” he said.

He said in 1998 the Kansas Health Foundation had started an initiative to make Kansas the best place to raise a child and during their listening tour what they heard was the need for leadership. Leadership Butler was one of 17 chosen to participate in a new leadership model and in 1999, Wolfe started a three-year training program.

“It’s building sills and capacity for you to face those challenges in Butler County,” Gillies said. “In late 2000, we reworked the curriculum to begin in 2001. We said leadership is important at every level in our community.”

In 2001, a class project focusing on children became required, with the first one being Bigs in Schools with Big Brothers Big Sisters. They also started the Community Foundation around that same time.

“Think just since 2011, the people we’ve touched,” he said. “The reach has been significant. We have something very special here.”

Gard also said the program would not exist without the help and support of a lot of people, businesses and organizations.

“Leadership Butler is a volunteer organization just as it was back in 1988,” Wolfe said. “Things cannot happen in Leadership Butler without you.”