By Meredith Hughes
A fractured pelvis and a broken elbow? A year before that, a compromised femur? These are mere blips impeding Nancy Butler, age 90, for whom movement and activity are all-important. One of her goals? To compete in ping-pong/table tennis in the 2021 National Senior Games in Fort Lauderdale, November 5-18. She’ll be in the penultimate age bracket then, 90-94… and her forehand is her best shot.
Thanks to her personal trainer, Maureen Healey, for whom she has high praise —“she is keeping me mobile”— Butler likely will make it. In fact, Healey, along with several of the volunteers at Seed2Need, the Corrales non-profit that grows food for distribution to local food banks, recently arranged for a “drive-by-plus-pie” socially-distanced birthday surprise for the indefatigible Butler on September 20.
Car after car slowly moved past Butler, seated out front of her home, people cheering, waving, hooting and hollering. A few days later, veteran master gardener Judy Jacobs welcomed Butler and celebrants to her place for pies, mostly blackberry. Not certain as to who made them all, Butler joked, “Penny Davis has enough pies in her freezer to feed all of us!”
Davis is the co-founder of Seed2Need.
In fact Jacobs is one key reason why so many have such affection for Butler. Several years back, after time in Santa Fe and Velarde, Butler made a beeline to volunteer for and learn from Judy Jacobs’ longtime garden project at Corrales Elementary School —on hold for now— and also became a stalwart at the Seed2Need project, where she digs, plants and harvests, usually two times a week.
Growing up in San Marino, California, where her father worked in real estate, Butler early on was a dog person. At age eleven, she was showing dogs, mostly cocker spaniels. As Butler put it, “I worked for a pet store, and in those days nobody paid much attention to my age.”
Her life-long dog involvement shifted to an Irish breed, the Wheaten terrier, so named for its bread-dough-like appearance, as in wheat, and for years she was a breeder. Her kennel’s name was Trigo, Spanish for wheat. “These dogs are smart, affectionate and have mostly positive terrier characteristics,” as Butler put it. As a mover and shaker with the Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier Club of America, and its chair for 20 years, in 2019 Butler helped place 100 dogs in good homes. Thanks to her terrier club activities, she has received The Fellowship Award, the American Kennel Club Sportsmanship Award and the Lifetime Achievement Award.
Two Wheaten Terriers live with her and her son, Michael, in Corrales. Hers is named Lark, her son’s, Gator. After California, where her older brother introduced her to ping-pong, Butler lived in Arizona, meeting her first husband at Arizona State University. Four children and some years later, she was divorced and working as a special ed teacher, which was her career until retirement at age 66. A second marriage also ended in divorce, but produced another son.
Five children, five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren comprise part of her joyful life, along with friends and activities. “What comes through so loud and clear at my age,” says Butler, “is gratitude.” A few years ago, she back-packed in Canada with one of her grandsons, and has done much travel in Mexico. And possibly influenced at least one offspring, her daughter, Laurie Blitz, to go the garden route. Blitz is involved in an Arizona “rent a plot” community garden project, the Mesa Urban Garden, established in 2012 and described as “a community organization that aims to create a gathering space in the heart of Mesa’s downtown. Our mission is to inspire sustainable urban living through gardening opportunities.”
In spite of pandemic restrictions, Butler is keeping up her ping-pong skills (“I am better than ever!”) playing with a friend in her Rio Rancho garage, as the Meadowlark Senior Center Table Tennis Club of about 25 people, is Covidly-closed. And she gathers with three to four close friends outdoors weekly to eat food picked up from local restaurants. “It’s just one way we keep our sanity.”