Wes Butterfield ’91
I grew up in a middle-class family in the middle-class community of Port Charlotte, Florida. When I was in fifth grade my mother, two siblings and I moved to Port Charlotte while my father remained in Queens, New York, to continue working at Paine Webber. My mother worked as a physical therapist’s assistant at an area hospital for years and, in general, our parents did a terrific job of providing for our family. We were Boy Scouts, athletes, and active in our church. Neither of my parents attended college, yet they instilled in us the importance of continuing our education beyond high school.
As I concluded my college selection process, it seemed my best option was to attend the local community college. I received a scholarship that would have made attending this school practically free—but it just didn’t feel like the right fit for me. Jerry Voss ’79 was my basketball coach at Port Charlotte High School (PCHS), and after several conversations about college, he encouraged me to look at his alma mater, Cornell College. When he pointed out Cornell’s location on the map of the United States that hung in his office I thought to myself, “Idaho, I mean Iowa … I can do that.” I can still remember having a discussion with him about small-town Iowa: “Wes, I bet you’ll love it up there. I can see you falling in love with the area and starting a family there.” Of course, I thought to myself: “Four years and I’ll be out of there.” As I started talking with my parents about Cornell and the distance from home, their first concern was whether or not we knew anyone at the college or in the area. Thankfully Eddie Moore Jr. ’89, a PCHS graduate a couple years older than me, paved the path to Cornell ahead of me. Otherwise I’m not sure they would have let me move so far away from home.
I can still remember that drive to Mount Vernon with all of my stuff, making the left-hand turn onto Main Street off of Highway 1 and my mom freaking out when she saw the quaint little three to five block downtown. I had decided to attend Cornell late in the recruiting cycle, so I never visited the campus before enrolling. My parents were so traumatized by the small town that we drove right past the campus. After a few minutes of cruising on Mount Vernon Road, I said, “I think we missed the college.”
My four years on the hilltop were terrific; I made great lifelong friends and took full advantage of all the benefits a small liberal arts college offers its students: I participated in sports (basketball and track), sang in choirs and performed in plays—all while receiving an excellent education. After walking across the stage with a history degree and shaking President Marker’s hand I thought to myself, “Done and done.” The summer of 1991 must have been quite special for my parents as my older brother also completed his bachelor’s degree. Just a few years later, my sister earned her bachelor’s degree.
In the fall of 1991 I began working for Cornell in the admissions office. After a few years in admissions and moving into an administrator role, I realized I was passionate about higher education; if I wanted to stay in the field, I would need an advanced degree. So I went back to school. This time I chose to earn a master’s degree in higher education at the University of Iowa. I didn’t realize how applicable the fast pace of One Course At A Time was for graduate school. Although there was a great deal of work in my graduate classes, I was never overwhelmed by the academic rigors of the program. At the time, I was juggling full-time employment, was a part-time student, and had started a family with the birth of my first child in 1994. After completing the degree, I needed a new work perspective and moved to the development office at Cornell and, from there, to the University of Iowa Foundation.
I’ve been employed at Ruffalo Noel Levitz in Coralville, Iowa, for the last 11 years in the Financial Aid Services division as a consultant. Just this past fall, I started chipping away at a Ph.D. in higher education at the University of Iowa. It will be years before I am done, but it has always been a lifelong goal.
My parents weren’t pushy about attending college, but I always knew I would go and am thankful for their encouragement. Life is about those interactions you have with key people who influence your life—people like Eddie Moore Jr. and others.
Carry on Cornell!
Oh yeah, Jerry Voss was right about eastern Iowa. I’ve lived in Cedar Rapids since graduating from Cornell. This is where I’ve raised my kids (my stepson, Quinn Wicher ’13, is even a graduate of Cornell), met my wife, and where I call home.