2014-15 Kiwanis International President John Button mourned

| Jun 16, 2020
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Dr. John R. Button, 2014-15 Kiwanis International president, died Monday, June 15. He was 68.

Dr. John, as he was known, loved Kiwanis from an early age, often tagging along as his father attended Kiwanis club meetings. John loved to tell the story of peering through the church windows, watching club members make plans to serve the community. In 1978, John joined that club and later served as its president, just as his dad had decades earlier. Later, John wore the ring the club presented his father to honor his term as club president. He remained a member of the Kiwanis Club of Ridgetown, Ontario, Canada, until his death.  


“Dr. John was a good man. He cared very deeply about Kiwanis and making sure clubs never lost the fun, fellowship and service they were created for,” said 2019-20 Kiwanis International President Daniel Vigneron. “I will miss him and his dedication to making sure Kiwanis would grow stronger so more kids could be helped.”

John Button 3 Dr. John, from Ridgetown, Ontario, Canada, was a family physician until he retired in 2011. He rose through the ranks of Kiwanis, becoming lieutenant governor, governor of the Eastern Canada and the Caribbean District in 2004-05, before being elected to the Kiwanis International Board of Trustees in 2009. He was elected vice president of the board in 2012 and became president of Kiwanis International during the 2014-15 administrative year. He served during the Kiwanis International Centennial Celebration — traveling the globe with his wife, Debbie, to help clubs celebrate 100 years of serving the children of the world. He often joked about the many chicken dinners, the “Centennial 15” weight he gained and blue cake frosting dying his tongue.

Dr. John was a member of Key Club and Circle K. “My memories of Key Club are amongst the happiest of my high school days,” he recounted in an interview.  

“It was about fun and fellowship, but it was also about community engagement and service,” Dr. John told his local newspaper. “This is where I began to experience how life fulfilling service to others can be. And that belief has remained unshaken.”

After college, John joined his father’s medical practice. The two worked together, treating and healing thousands of people in the community. He retired from his family medical practice in 2011 and remained an active coroner for the province of Ontario.

“Dr. John was a contributor to our organization in so many leadership roles. And in every role, he seemed to be the right leader at the right moment,” said Stan Soderstrom, Kiwanis International executive director. “He helped frame the vision for The Eliminate Project. He inspired thousands of donors to give generously to eliminate maternal and neonatal tetanus. He led us as we celebrated our 100th anniversary and built Kiwanis playgrounds around the globe. We will truly miss Dr. John.”

dr_john and Debbie Dr. John recounted his favorite Kiwanis memory in the many speeches he made as Kiwanis International president. He was visiting Guinea, Africa, to review Kiwanis’ investment in eliminating maternal and neonatal tetanus. The delegation was in a remote village where a UNICEF team was going to administer vaccinations. The team had been there for hours to prepare. No women or children were waiting for their immunizations and Dr. John and Debbie were growing discouraged. All the work and planning for the vaccination clinic appeared to be for naught. Suddenly, Debbie saw a large group of women coming over a hill, singing and dancing. The UNICEF group shouted with joy — knowing many women and babies would be saved that day from the ravages of MNT. (Dr. John speaking about the positive, unintended consequences of The Eliminate Project)

Dr. John was a champion of The Eliminate Project and went out of his way to support it. He once took a cream pie to the face to raise US$217 during a visit to Anaheim, California, as part of Kiwanis International’s Centennial Celebration.

He was a charter member of the Walter Zeller Fellowship, a Major Gift donor to The Eliminate Project, a Diamond-level George F. Hixson Fellow and a member of the Founders Circle and Heritage Society.  

John Button 2 Before The Eliminate Project, Dr. John chaired the Iodine Deficiency Disorders Worldwide Service Project committee for his club and division.

While addressing convention delegates in 2013, he said, “Through my many opportunities to travel across the country, I have met many inspiring Kiwanis family members like you: members that show the defining variables of our organization. The Kiwanis family is a way for each person to be themselves, discover their potential, and become leaders in community service.”

“John loved making the world a better place,” said 2013-14 Kiwanis International President Gunter Gasser. “His legacy will live on in the lives he made better through his Kiwanis work.”

John Button In his community, he received Queen Elizabeth's Golden Jubilee Medal and her Diamond Jubilee Medal, was inducted into the Ridgetown District High School Hall of Excellence, was awarded the Rotary International Service Award for Professional Excellence, the Chatham-Kent Health Alliance Tri-board award for medical excellence and was named Chatham-Kent Citizen of the Year for 2010.

“Not only was John a great Kiwanian, he cared deeply about his family,” said 2015-16 Kiwanis International President Sue Petrisin. “He always smiled and laughed when he told stories about his grandchildren. That’s what I’ll always remember about him.”

John is survived by his wife, Debbie, a son, daughter and several grandchildren. A memorial service is being planned. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to The Eliminate Project through either the Kiwanis Foundation of Canada or the Kiwanis Children's Fund.

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