Surprising gift

Published 10:31 pm Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Miss Gertie Cleo Butler led a full, if rather unremarkable, life.

Butler, a lifelong Suffolk resident, was one of four children of Hurley Franklin and Victoria Lewis Butler. She was a member of Suffolk Christian Church since the age of 18, and worked at the Planters Division of Nabisco for 25 years. She passed away Nov. 14, 2008, at the age of 85.

However, one of her greatest contributions to the Suffolk community may have come after her death. Butler had no surviving relatives, and therefore ordered that her estate be split equally four ways upon her death.

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On Tuesday, the last of four checks for $191,461 was delivered to the Suffolk Salvation Army Corps board of directors. The other three previously had been sent to the Nansemond Suffolk Volunteer Rescue Squad, Suffolk Christian Church and the American Cancer Society.

“This lady just did these wonderful things, not only for the Salvation Army but for her church and the rescue squad,” Jack Eure Jr. said Tuesday. Eure was Miss Butler’s power of attorney while she was living.

Eure told the Salvation Army board — for most of whom the gift was a surprise — that Miss Butler sent $5 checks to every charity that sent her a request, which resulted in an ever-growing stack of mail from various worldwide charities.

“I just think it was such a wonderful gift that she did,” Eure said. “We didn’t realize until a couple of years ago that she had a much more valuable estate than we realized. She made four very nice gifts.”

Miss Butler’s gift is a timely one for the Salvation Army — the board voted to put the gift into its capital campaign for a new community center. Eure also delivered on Tuesday the deed to a 1.9-acre lot next to the present building at 400 Bank St. The Salvation Army negotiated the purchase from the Norfolk Southern Corporation for the purpose of a new, 22,500 square feet community building.

“We’ve been waiting a long time for this moment,” said Sammy Copeland, chairman of the advisory board for the Suffolk Corps of the Salvation Army.

Major Cal Clatterbuck of the Salvation Army concurred.

“This has been a long, drawn-out process for about 15 years,” Clatterbuck said.

With the donation from Miss Butler’s estate, the capital campaign is up to about $744,000, Copeland said. The Salvation Army hopes to use the building for a computer lab, gymnasium, fitness room and meeting rooms for use by the surrounding community. About 9,400 people within one mile of the proposed building live in poverty, and many are unable to get to the East Suffolk Community Center, Copeland said. Of those, about 2,900 are children and 1,300 are senior citizens.

The capital campaign aims to collect about $2 million for the construction of the building and enough operating expenses to get it off the ground, Copeland said. Construction could begin as early as March 2010.

Clatterbuck said the delivery of the deed and the large donation made for good news in a time of bad news for charities.

“This has probably been one of the best meetings we’ve had for a long, long time.”