When Cuyler “Butch” Berwanger walks out of L.J. Hauser Junior High School in Riverside after the last bell on June 9, it will mark the end of a remarkable era.
For nearly two-thirds of his life, Mr. B (as thousands of students have known him) has dedicated his life to the school and has made an indelible imprint on it.
Last Friday afternoon, in front of hundreds of junior high students from both Hauser Junior High and St. Mary School in Riverside, Berwanger was honored for his 37 years in the district as a teacher and guidance counselor during the school’s annual Career Day, just one of many events Berwanger himself began during his tenure at the school.
“Butch has reached inside himself to help people, and he has touched the lives of many young people,” said Christopher Robling, president of the Riverside Elementary Education Foundation (REEF), which has helped fund many of Berwanger’s special initiatives, including the Career Day.
Robling and Career Day keynote speaker Anna Davlantes, NBC5-Chicago news anchor presented Berwanger with an original commemorative plate from Riverside’s Higgins Glass studio, acknowledging Berwanger’s retirement at the end of the school year.
In addition to the plate, Robling announced that future Career Days would bear Berwanger’s name and that a local family had anonymously donated $1,000 to start a specific Berwnager-REEF Career Day fund.
“Butch has said that the definition of success is doing the best you can with what you have in the time allowed, and happiness is the result,” Robling said. “Butch has a lot to be happy about today.”
Raised in Hinsdale and with a newly minted degree from Denison University, Berwanger came to L.J. Hauser Junior High in 1969 as a 23-year-old science teacher, who soon found that his real calling was teaching through counseling.
One of Berwanger’s first initiatives at the school was to add a sports program, which he did in 1975. He coached every sport the school offered”volleyball, basketball (both boys and girls) and track”and served as the school’s athletic director.
In addition, Berwanger began the school’s Student Council, creating a truly meaningful organization that has raised money to benefit both the school and others. Under his tutelage, the Student Council raised money to buy scoreboards, banners and signs for the gym; memorial benches in the main hallway, music equipment and much more.
One of the most impressive annual feats the Student Council has accomplished over the decades is collecting over 1 million cans and boxes of food during the school’s annual holiday food drive for the Salvation Army.
“I’ve always said that I wish I had been to other schools to compare the kids we have here with others,” Berwanger said, “because we have the greatest kids anywhere. They’re so energizing, so involved, so willing to help.”
Now students routinely collect 50,000 to 70,000 cans and boxes of food, which are arranged in what can only be described as prepared-food sculptures and presented for viewing to both students and community members before they are collected by the Salvation Army.
In 1989, he started the school’s SMART (Students Making A Right Tomorrow) Club, a drug- and violence-awareness group for seventh and eighth graders. Following in the same vein, Berwanger afforded eighth-graders the opportunity to attend the PRIDE International Drug-Free Conference beginning in 1992.
During the first year, 12 students attended the PRIDE conference in Nashville. This year, 97 eighth-graders will be making the trip to the conference in Washington, D.C. Over 600 students have attended the conferences (the trips are funded by donations from individuals, businesses and community groups, including REEF) since Berwanger took his first group.
Although his official title is guidance counselor, Berwanger said he still refers to himself as a teacher.
“I teach all the time,” he said. “I left the classroom to do individual counseling, but when someone asks me what I do, I introduce myself as a teacher at Hauser.”
Despite putting in countless hours before and after school, on weekends and during summers, Berwanger said it wasn’t his choice to leave. If not for an early retirement incentive program he likely would have kept going indefinitely.
“[Former Superintendent David] Bonnette said the best career is when the vocation is your vacation,” Berwanger said. “This isn’t what I do, it’s who I am. It’s never been a job to me.”