Volunteer retires after 23 years at The MERL

Jan and Ron Butler with their distinguished volunteer award in the garden at the MERL

Staff and volunteers gathered for a special celebratory coffee morning honouring the sterling service of volunteer, Ron Butler, who is retiring after volunteering for an amazing 23 years at The MERL.

The icing on the cake was that Ron was selected to receive the 2018 University of Reading’s Alumni Society’s Distinguished Volunteer Award. Ron and his wife Jan were recognised for their outstanding contribution to the University of Reading.

Initially, Ron brought his technical expertise from a career at Reading’s Sutton Seeds, to shed light on the Sutton’s archive. He advised on crop photographs and providing information for exhibitions, and providing expertise at special events.

Ron went on to volunteer week-in, week-out, carefully repackaging archival materials to ensure the long-term preservation of items from a wide range of The MERL archives, including the publications Farmers Weekly, and Farmer & Stockbreeder.

In more recent years (a mere 15!), Ron’s wife Jan Butler has worked by Ron’s side to help with the repackaging, which also enables easier retrieval when items are requested.

The MERL’s Volunteer Coordinator, Sheila Fisher, calculated that Ron has given approximately 1,000 days over the 23 years, donating over 3,000 hours, which equates to two full years of time equivalent staff hours in total.

Director of The MERL, Kate Arnold-Forster, presented the award during the celebratory coffee morning.

Volunteers Ron and Jan awarded Distinguished Volunteer Award by The MERL Director
Volunteers Ron and Jan awarded Distinguished Volunteer Award by The MERL Director

A tribute from colleagues at The MERL

Ron and Jan are described as “wonderful” and “completely dedicated” by archive colleagues based at the Museum of English Rural Life.

In a speech at the reception, Principal Archivist Caroline Gould summed up Ron’s contribution:

“Ron has seen lots of changes at The MERL over the years. Ron started when The MERL occupied the temporary – or not so temporary – accommodation on Whiteknights campus. We then moved down to The MERL’s current location and now we have emerged from the redevelopment project a fully-fledged museum with an ever-increasing social media presence!

Throughout this time Ron has assisted the archive team especially with their work and turned his hand to a wide range of tasks. Here are some highlights…

Jonathan Brown remembers not only Ron’s help with the Sutton Seeds archive, but also the local photography collections including the Philip Osbourne Collier Collection and Dan Lewis collections.

In those days, Ron was part of a partnership with Gerry Westall, who was a Sutton Seeds colleague and also a long serving member of The MERL volunteer team, and a great double act he and Ron both made.

Ron was part of a team for the glass negatives project, where once a week, ten volunteers worked with Brenda Lee repackaging over 200,000 glass negatives ready for their move to this site.  This was when Ron also suggested Jan may be willing to volunteer at the Museum. Since that project, Ron and Jan have worked together volunteering on a long list of projects.

Most recently, Ron and Jan worked on re-packaging our D series collections, an-often neglected collection holding some real gems – to date they have processed around 124 boxes.

Ron and Jan repackaged the Porter Collection of Letterbox Ephemera, where they had to deal with over 24 boxes of ephemera, which had landed on Mr Porter’s doorstep over the course of nearly 40 years, encountering in this material samples of shampoo and cleaning products and the odd cereal box!

Ron was first interested in volunteering with us because of his long association with Sutton Seeds, but as we have demonstrated, Ron has turned his hand to help with whichever collection has needed the attention, always with a smile and never fazed by the task in front of him.

So we would like to say “Thank you, Ron!”

Update, 13th January 2020: Ron died, peacefully, on 22 December 2019. He is much missed by all his friends at The MERL.

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