Community Response Fund gets a boost as SI re-runs Reilly column

October 26, 2007

"I now realize that while I was picking Butch up, he was also picking me up as a fan and his strength and optimism have provided me inspiration throughout my life!"

- Sean Fitzsimmons '91


One of Middlebury's longest service traditions is the special relationship that the College shares with Butch Varno. Butch is a Middlebury native with cerebral palsy. Back in 1960, Roger Ralph '63, saw Butch's grandmother struggling to push Butch in his wheel chair through snow and mud on the way home from a football game, and offered to pick them up. Little did Roger know that "picking up Butch" would become a 48-year tradition that continues today.

Reilly column
appears again in
Sports Illustrated

The much-publicized Sports Illustrated column by Rick Reilly, "Picking Up Butch," appeared again in SI this fall as part of a collection of Reilly's best work. The column ran in the issue dated October 1. The piece originally ran in the issue for March 10, 2003. The best-of version includes an update with info on the current Butch Varno Initiative.

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

 Butch's story has drawn national attention, inspiring coverage in Sports Illustrated (see box),ESPN, and at the Emmy Awards. The deep and abiding friendships that have developed over the years between Butch and countless Middlebury volunteers and student-athletes are truly remarkable. As a fan, a friend, and an inspiration, Butch has picked us up in ways we never imagined.

Outpouring of Support
On March 16, 2007, the apartment that Butch shared with his mother, Helen, was flooded in ankle-deep water. Community members found temporary housing for the Varnos, while the College renovated a house near campus and told them they could live there as long as they wished. This outpouring of support was not surprising; the College wanted to give as much back as it had received from Butch.

Presently, Butch and his mother are living at Helen Porter Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center in Middlebury, where they receive the level of care they both require at this time of their lives. Friends from the College and town visit regularly, and the College works closely with Butch to enhance his living arrangements. And, of course, athletes still pick him up for games.

Honoring Butch's Undaunted Spirit
Witnessing the Varnos' courage in the face of this dilemma provided the genesis for a new direction in helping our community: The College is establishing an endowed Community Response Fund that can be used to provide assistance to community members who, like Butch and Helen, need a helping hand.

The Community Response Fund will be administered by the Alliance for Civic Engagement, which is actively involved in community-based learning and service and is in a unique position to identify local needs. The fund can be used to provide supplemental support for Medicaid benefits, for example, or to buy equipment not covered by insurance. Upon Butch's death, the fund will be renamed the Butch Varno Community Response Fund-honoring the man who has been an inspiration to so many for so long.

How You Can Help
It is currently estimated that $200,000 is needed to endow the Community Response Fund, which will yield sufficient expendable income to provide assistance within the community. Make your gift to the Community Response Fund today.

Make your gift today to the Community Response Fund on-line at https://www.middlebury.edu/forms/alumni/giving_form.php. (Write "Community" in the designation box.)

  • Send a check. All checks should be made out to Middlebury College and sent to the following address:
    Gift Administration Office
    Old Courthouse, 5 Court Street
    5370 Middlebury College
    Middlebury, VT 05753
  • Identify other alumni who befriended Butch by forwarding their names.
  • Volunteer to call others to encourage their participation.
  • Reconnect with Butch by posting on the message board at http://www.middlebury.edu/academics/tools/ace/service/Butch_Varno_Team.htm.

Please note that all these efforts will also help us as we look ahead to 2010 when we will be celebrating 50 years of Picking Up Butch!

For More Information, Contact:

Russ Reilly, emeritus athletic director and former men's basketball coach, reilly@middlebury.edu

Tiffany Nourse Sargent '79, director, Alliance for Civic Engagement at Middlebury, tiffanys@middlebury.edu

Patrick Berry '91, major gifts officer, pberry@middlebury.edu

Kristy Laramee Kerin '01, senior annual giving officer, kkerin@middlebury.edu