2020 Veteran of the Year has left musical heritage in Lebanon

By Scott Swanson
Lebanon Local

PETER BUTLER as a U.S. Air Force recruit.

Peter Butler enjoys surprises – most of the time.
There was that draft notice he got back in 1961, the year he graduated from Lewis & Clark College, which wasn’t exactly what he was hoping for.
“I was kind of shocked,” he recalled last week, relating the story. “All my high school buddies were getting drafted, but I had just graduated from college.”
More recently, Butler had another shock, more positive: He’s been named this year’s Linn County Veteran of the Year.
“I’m kind of overwhelmed,” the retired Lebanon High School music teacher admitted.
Life’s been a little complicated, as his wife Anna Marie is in a care home and he’s still involved in a lot of activities, mostly musical and veterans-related.
“I’ve never been around a more veteran-, military-type person than Peter,” said Mary Blanshan, who nominated Butler for the honor. “I don’t know a man more giving than Peter, more giving than Peter’s wife Anna Marie.”
Butler, who will turn 83 on Nov. 14, is heavily involved in the American Legion Post 51 in Lebanon, where he buys every veteran a pin commemorating their service to a particular branch of the military, she said. He also serves as bugler for the post’s honor guard.
Music has been a central point of most of Butler’s adult life and his community involvement, particularly in Lebanon.
Growing up, his parents played instruments – his father the tuba and clarinet, “an

Photo courtesy of Mary Blanshan

interesting combination, observed Butler, the music teacher – and his mother the flute and piano.
“We had music in our home,” he said. “My father talked about how he enjoyed playing in the band in high school.”
But though Butler enjoyed singing, he didn’t get into playing instruments himself until he ran into a neighbor in Seattle, where they lived at the time.
“There was an old gentleman named Tony, who lived down the street. He was a World War I veteran.
“One day he asked me, ‘Hey, do you want my bugle?’ I didn’t know what he was talking about.
“Tony goes down in his basement and comes back up the stairs with a beat-up bugle. He says, ‘Blow it.’
“I did, and he said, ‘It’s yours.’”
Butler said his mother introduced him to “Taps” and “Reveille,” the military’s morning wake-up call.
“She taught me, ‘I can’t get ‘em up, I can’t get ‘em up.’”
Butler was a sophomore at Lewis & Clark College in Portland when he literally got into band, which turned out to be a life-changing development.
He was already involved in singing groups, but one day he mentioned to a friend that he’d like to learn to play an instrument. A head popped around the corner. It was the college band director, John “Doc” Richards.
“He looked like Al Capone’s sidekick – hair parted down the middle, double-breasted suit.”
“‘You,’ he said. ‘Come with me. We’re going down to my office.’”
When they arrived, Richards asked Butler what instrument he wanted to play.
“I told him, ‘Well, my dad played tuba.’ He said, ‘No, that’s too heavy. French horn.’”
Richards produced a beat-up French horn and picked up a sheet of musical note paper, sketching out a fingering chart.
“OK, here’s the horn. Here’s a fingering chart. I’ll see you in band next semester.”
Butler said he took it seriously, going to Cooper Mountain in Beaverton, where his family was building a house, and practicing there on the hillside, learning to play scales.
Richards would stop him in the hallway, checking on progress.
Despite the fact that “I didn’t have a clue” when he started band, Butler survived and added that to his repertoire of choir, madrigal singers, men’s chorus and the college quartet.
He graduated in 1961, after a few hiccups, with a degree in music education, just in time to get a draft notice.
His dad suggested he shop around and “see what the best deal is you can get.”
He decided he wanted to fly airplanes, but when recruiters found out he had a musical background, they told him he wouldn’t qualify for pilot school.
The Navy wanted to send him to music school, “which was one of the finest music schools, but I didn’t know that and I’d just gotten out of school. I didn’t want to go back.”
He got an audition for the Air Force band and, despite the fact that he hadn’t touched a horn for eight months since graduation, he was accepted.
Butler played for a year and a half in a 50-piece Air Force band at Mather Air Force Base outside Sacramento, Calif., where he married Anna Marie in 1962.
After the band was reduced to 35 musicians and moved to McCord Air Force Base in Tacoma, he served close to three years there.

THE BUTLER FAMILY — Peter, Anna Marie and daughters Rebecca and Rachel.

After his discharge, he taught music and coached wrestling for a year at Taft High School in Lincoln City, then decided to pursue a master’s degree. He wanted to study musicology, but opted to study choral music at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn., a renowned music school and his wife’s alma mater.
Finished, he decided to look for a job in Minnesota, but after an offer in Roseau, home of the Polaris plant, located on the Canadian border, “I decided to go back home to the green forests, where there was not so much ice and snow.
He taught four years at Woodburn, then got a call one day in 1972 from Mel Knight, band director at Lebanon High School.
“They had an auditorium,” he said. “Wow, I’d been doing concerts in cafeterias and gymnasiums forever.” Principal Bud Page offered him the job as choir director after Knight and his wife Pat “went out and looked for houses for us.”
“That was 48 years ago.”
He retired from Lebanon High School in 1993, but spent another decade as a substitute teacher before finally calling it quits for good.
“It was in my blood. The kids knew me and I knew them,” Butler said.
The Butlers raised their two daughters, Rebecca, now of Concord, Calif., and Rachel, of Lake Stevens, Wash., in Lebanon. Anna Marie is in a care home and they help with her care, he said.
Butler said he’s been able to continue, although his wife’s singing career ended when she was in her 60s.
“Her voice just left her,” he said. “Anna Marie was a beautiful singer. People couldn’t figure out how such a powerful, beautiful voice could come out of a 17-year-old kid. I enjoy singing, but I limped along. She was way above the staff. I’m so glad we have recordings of us together.”
He’s sung in the American Legion’s Male Chorus for 42 years and performs with other area vocal groups as well – such as the Corvallis Repertory Singers.
Butler also is involved in the Northwest Steelheaders Mid-Valley Chapter and the Forty & Eight, a fraternal organization committed to charitable and patriotic aims, with ties to the American Legion.
“It’s been a good run,” he said.