JEA remembers 1990 Carl Towley Award recipient Bob Button, who passed away Dec. 23, 2021

JEA remembers 1990 Carl Towley Award recipient Bob Button, who passed away Dec. 23, 2021

By Valerie Kibler, MJE, and Carol Lange

When Bob Button moved to Charlottesville, Virginia, in 1994 to become Virginia High School League assistant director for academic activities, he was a Michigan scholastic journalism legend and nationally respected educator. He shared his cheerful smile, effervescent personality and commitment to the success of students and their teacher-advisers without reservation.

Phoebe Wall Howard, Detroit Free Press reporter, wrote the obituary for Button “as journalists across the country mourned the loss of a mentor, friend and father figure they met as students at Grosse Pointe South High School between 1966 and 1994.”

Ken Siver, former JEA president, 1987-93, remembers asking Button to be Write-Off chair and help secure featured speakers for the 1980 Detroit convention. In 1984, Siver heard of one of Button’s students covering the adopt-an-animal promo at the Detroit Zoo. What might have been a “routine school story” was picked up by local media because Phoebe Wall asked probing questions about how the money was being used.

“The Mayor had some explaining to do,” Siver said. “This is just one example of how Bob Button taught and inspired his students. This story became the impetus for the JEA Student Impact Award.”

Michigan journalism leaders Larry Mack and Cheryl Pell also recalled the impact Button had on everyone.

Mike McCall, VHSL director of communications, issued a statement for VHSL. He highlights Button’s influence on all VHSL academic programs. 

Bobby Hawthorne, Button’s friend since the 1980 Detroit convention when Button invited him to be a speaker, wrote a moving tribute to his longtime friend.

“It breaks my heart to know that this is likely the last piece I’ll write on behalf of my dear friend,” Hawthorne said. “I’ll never forget his boyish enthusiasm, his laugh, his selfless and endless contributions to our profession, his unshakeable commitment to a free and vibrant student press, and — most importantly — his smile.”

Founded in 1924, JEA supports free and responsible scholastic journalism by providing resources and educational opportunities, promoting professionalism, encouraging and rewarding student excellence and teacher achievement, and an atmosphere which encompasses diversity yet builds unity. It is headquartered at Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kansas.

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