Kay Butterfield Celebrates 100th Birthday at Wesleyan


Friends and family celebrated Kay Butterfield’s 100th birthday July 27 in the Office of the President. Kay Butterfield is the wife of the late Victor Butterfield, who served as Wesleyan’s president 1943-1967. Pictured above is Middletown Mayor Sebastian Giuliano declaring July 27 Kay Butterfield Day in the City of Middletown.
Posted 07/28/06
Kay Butterfield, wife of former Wesleyan President Victor Butterfield, turned 100 July 27. She celebrated the day with friends and family during a celebration at the President’s House.

Kay has lived a life of idealism and service. She was born July 27, 1906 in Brooklyn, N.Y., the daughter of Philip Geyer and Sophie Westerman Geyer. Her grandfather, Philip Geyer, Sr. had emigrated from Bavaria, settling first in Newark, N.J, where he and his brothers established a brewery. The family moved to Brooklyn, and Kay’s father followed his father into the profession of Master Brewer, eventually owning Frank’s Brewery.

In 1919, the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, prohibition, caused a reversal of fortune for the Geyer family, which had all its assets invested in the family brewery. One result was that Kay would eventually have to finance her own college education.

Kay graduated from Girls’ High School in Brooklyn in 1922, one month shy of her 16th birthday. In the spring of her senior year, searching the school bulletin board for employment opportunities, she spotted a notice for a city-wide essay contest for a one-year scholarship to the Manhattan Business School. She won the prize, attended in 1922-23, and then earned enough money as a legal secretary on Wall Street to pay for her first year of college.

In 1924, Kay entered Cornell University as a freshman. She was the publicity manager for the Women’s Varsity Council; the women’s editor for the Cornell Daily Sun, a varsity member of the women’s basketball team; and president of Delta Gamma Sorority. She also was involved in Alpha Chi Alpha, the honor society for journalism; Raven and Serpent, the junior honor society; and Mortarboard, the senior honor society.

During her junior year at Cornell, Kay met Victor Lloyd Butterfield at a dance. The duo got married June 11, 1928. Two days later, Kay graduated with a bachelor’s of art in English. She had paid her entire way through college by working as a secretary and typing student papers, and as a legal secretary in Manhattan during the summers.

The Butterfields moved to Deerfield, Mass. where Vic taught and coached at Deerfield Academy and Kay taught fifth and sixth grade in a single classroom in the Deerfield Elementary School. She called it “baptism by fire.”

In 1929, Vic joined the faculty of the Riverdale Country School in the Bronx. Kay taught mathematics to all grades at the Neighborhood School in Riverdale. An apartment and meals were included at Riverdale, allowing them to save all their earnings for graduate school for Vic. In 1931, the couple moved to Cambridge, Mass., where Vic entered Harvard as a Ph.D candidate. Kay became a door-to-door salesperson and typed doctoral theses for extra income. Her habits of thrift and industry enabled Vic and Kay to spend the summer of 1934 in Europe after Vic’s resident Ph.D work was completed.

Vic was hired by Wesleyan as the dean of Admission from 1935 to 1941, and worked as the associate dean from 1941 to 1942, acting president in 1942, then president from 1943 to 1967.

In 1938, the Butterfields built their first house on a four-acre plot on Randolph Road in Middletown. Kay cut all the studs and joists with a power saw, cut rock wool into bats for the insulation, and secured them with slats that she nailed in. They lived there until Vic’s appointment as president in 1943 and, then moved to a brick house on High Street. When the war ended, they moved into the President’s House at 269 High. After Vic’s retirement, they went back to their beloved small house on Randolph Road.

During the years of Vic’s presidency, Kay was heavily involved in college life. She loved the seminars, conferences, concerts, and the sporting events. She was a regular at games and matches, particularly football, basketball, and wrestling. She volunteered for decades at the Wesleyan Blood Drive, registering donors, as well as donating blood herself.

Much of her energy went toward the job of entertaining at the President’s House. Money was scarce in those days, and badly needed to improve faculty salaries. So Kay economized by cooking and baking for receptions and dinners for trustees, faculty, students and honorary degree recipients. On one occasion, during a period of intense rivalry in football between Trinity and Wesleyan, she even cooked and served dinner for both varsity teams on the night before the big game.

Kay became involved early on in the Middletown community. Before her own children were born, she was a Girl Scout leader. The YMCA was her earliest and longest commitment. As a member of the Women’s Board, she help nurture the girls’ club. She also raised large sums of money for the YMCA through her chairmanship of the Y’s annual Tour of Homes. When the women’s lounge needed new slipcovers, Kay and her fellow board members brought their sewing machines for a bee, and made them all themselves. It was through the “Y” that Kay was a long-time member of the Middletown League of Women Voters, as well as its president from 1936-37. She was also a member of the Board of Education (1952-1965), an annual campaigner for the United Way, and a Board member of Connecticut Citizens for Public Schools.

She also had a long connection with the Davison Art Center. In the early 1960s, Curator Heinrich Schwarz, hoping to add to the large print collection left to Wesleyan by George W. class of 1892 and Harriet Davison, proposed to Kay the idea of forming a “Friends of the Davison Art Center” to raise money for acquisitions.

Kay has been the recipient of a number of awards for her service, including the B’nai B’rith “Woman of the Year” award in the 1950s, the Baldwin Medal for service to Wesleyan in 1982, and received an honorary “Doctor of Humane Letters” from Wesleyan in 1997.

In the late 1960s, after Vic’s retirement from Wesleyan, Kay renewed her ties to the First Church of Christ, Middletown, which she had joined in the 1950s. Kay taught Sunday School until she was in her 90s, and after the Vietnam War, she tutored children from Vietnam and Cambodia through the church.

In the mid 1990s, she wrote a series of essays for the Middletown Press on backyard bird-watching, on her particular pleasure in crows, on Elderhostels, on her two hip replacements, and on her decision at the age of 94 to leave her beloved Randolph Road home and move to One MacDonough Place, where she now resides.

Another great love of Kay’s throughout her life has been music, and particularly singing. She had a huge repertoire – everything from Vaudeville to Negro Spirituals. Kay still loves singing – now with the One MacDonough Singers.

In honor of her 100 years, the Governor’s Office proclaimed July 27 as Kay Butterfield Day in the State of Connecticut, and the Mayor’s Office declared July 27 as Kay Butterfield Day in the City of Middletown.

 
Photos by Olivia Drake, Wesleyan Connection editor. Text contributed.