Bloomington plane crash victim 'was really good at being a friend'

Bloomington plane crash victim 'was really good at being a friend'

CHAMPAIGN — Andy Butler thrived on sports and relationships with friends — many, many friends who are mourning the loss of the fun-loving 40-year-old Champaign native who was one of seven who died Monday night in a plane crash east of Bloomington.

Justin Kirby of Champaign has known Butler since his elementary school days at St. Thomas, where he played basketball and ran track against Butler, who attended St. Matthew. Their lifetime friendship grew stronger when the two roomed together in college at Illinois State.

"He probably went to more basketball and football games than anybody I know," Kirby said. "He just loved sports. The other thing about him is, he was really good at being a friend. He was always trying to connect people, help somebody out, make an introduction, help someone out with a job, a referral. He was just very others-focused.

"Well before Facebook, he was maintaining 30 to 50 relationships and keeping in touch with them all. He could tell me everything about every one of them at any time. That was a gift of his. He was truly interested and he cared. He never let go of any friendships."

Mr. Butler was with friends Monday night, including two members of ISU's athletic department, attending the NCAA men's basketball championship in Indianapolis.

The group was flying back to the Bloomington area when their private plane crashed. All seven aboard were killed on impact, according to officials.

Mr. Butler lived in Normal and worked as a national account executive for Sprint Nextel, but his roots were in Champaign. He graduated from St. Matthew, then Centennial High School, where he played golf and cheered on the Illini until he went off to college in Bloomington.

'Hi, Mrs. Custard Cup!'

"He always had a smile on his face," recalled Kathleen Marietta, who taught Mr. Butler in the third grade. "He was a good student. He was always very helpful, and he was well-liked by his peers.

"When I heard about the accident, I got this vision of a sweet little cherub face. At the time (he was in school), he had blond hair, but the smile and the eyes were the same. They were always happy."

Sara Seed, a former physical education teacher at Centennial, had Mr. Butler as a student on and off during his four years of high school. She'll remember him the same way.

"He was such a happy-go-lucky kid," Seed said. "He was a very witty guy, and he had the best personality. He had a ton of friends, and he was very loyal to his friends from high school and college."

Seed also recalled Mr. Butler worked at Jarling's Custard Cup. "I always made sure to get in his line," said Seed, who liked to joke around with him.

On Wednesday, Custard Cup co-owner Christy Jarling wrote on Facebook:

"Andy Butler was a great employee from Centennial, (and) worked for us during the early 90s. He was a wonderful young man with a great smile (and) personality. His parents raised him well ... When he was about 13, I met up with him riding his bike near Old Farm Shoppes. He called out 'Hi, Mrs. Custard Cup! How old do you have to be to work @ the Cup?" I told him '16.' His reply, 'I'm going to work there when I'm old enough.' And he did. Our condolences go out to his family."

Jennifer Nelson met Mr. Butler in the first grade. They were part of a tight-knit class of about 50 students and had the same circle of friends, she said.

"He always had a smile on his face, and you could go to him about anything," she said, adding the two attended Centennial together, along with Nelson's future husband, Mike. Then, she and Mr. Butler attended ISU at the same time. "He was always so positive, and so fun to be around. He was a very loyal friend."

'He sincerely cared'

Nelson said she and her husband, who live in Champaign, kept in touch with Mr. Butler through Facebook. They last saw him at their high school class's 20th reunion.

"The day before the reunion, the guys got together to play golf, and my husband played on his team," recalled Jennifer Nelson, a post-anesthesia care nurse at Carle Foundation Hospital. "They had a really good time, and it was so fun catching up with him. He was such a great person, and he'll really be missed."

Rick Percy of Bloomington has known Mr. Butler since he was in high school at Normal Community and competed against him in golf. They both attended ISU, and ran in the same crowd there, along with Kirby. But Percy said in the last 10 years his friendship with Mr. Butler had really grown, mostly due to their mutual love for ISU athletics, which took them to lots of games and fundraisers together.

"He was just a super fan for ISU. One of the greatest people you'd ever meet. Very genuine," Percy said.

Percy said he's still in "total shock" over the loss of his friend.

Percy said he and Mr. Butler lost a mutual friend a couple years ago to cancer, and Mr. Butler was often at the friend's side, asking what he could do, even helping him pursue things on a bucket list.

And after their friend died, Percy said Mr. Butler and his girlfriend took his widow under their wing, spending time with her, taking her to games or out to dinner, always making sure she felt included.

"That was Andy in a nutshell, figuring out what he could do to make people's lives better," he said.

Kirby said his friend was always coordinating trips, usually to see the Redbirds or another team somewhere. Mr. Butler had to have a lot of friends, he said, because no one pal could possibly make all the events with him.

Mr. Butler hardly ever missed an ISU football or basketball game, home or away, Kirby said. Among his recent worries: trying to figure out how he was going to attend a mandatory work conference at the same time that the Redbird men's basketball team would have played in the first round of the NCAA tournament had they won the Missouri Valley Conference tournament.

"That was literally his biggest concern in the month of March — seeing his beloved Redbirds and pulling off this conference, too," he said. "He was just a genuine, loyal guy, authentic.

"He was who he was — a little goofy, a little funny, very laid-back, and a sports and relationship fanatic who thrived on keeping in touch with a lot of people."

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