Fifty years ago, a Muscatine native was inspired by a St. Ambrose University professor who could make geography really come alive first thing in the morning.

St. Ambrose University at 518 W. Locust St., Davenport.

That 1971 SAU alumnus, John L. Butler, announced Wednesday that he would give $2.5 million to the private university to permanently

SAU history professor Agnes Renner died in 1973.

endow and name an academic chair in the SAU History Department in honor of that professor, Agnes C. Renner.

Butler, who graduated summa cum laude with a degree in history, went on to receive a Master of Arts degree from the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. He was on the original staff in Washington, D.C. of U.S. Rep. Jim Leach (R-Iowa), and later held senior positions with the U.S. House Committee on Banking, Treasury Department, Federal Home Loan Bank Board, National Credit Union Administration, KPMG Peat Marwick and Lehman Brothers.

Butler has established the Agnes C. Renner Chair in History in partnership with his spouse, Holly E. Herman. She is a former chief of staff to the chairman of the National Credit Union Administration and president/CEO of the Kraft Foods Federal Credit Union.

“We always are humbled by a gift of this magnitude, particularly coming from a member of our St. Ambrose alumni,” Sister Joan Lescinski, president of the university, said at a Wednesday press conference. “Like many others, this gift honors the impact a St. Ambrose education has had on a lifetime, and especially the influence a great and dedicated educator can have on a student.”

Agnes C. Renner joined the SAU history and geography faculty in 1946 and taught there until her death in 1973. She received a Distinguished

Sister Joan Lescinski, president of St. Ambrose.

Service Certificate from St. Ambrose in 1971, and, in 1970, she was among three SAU faculty members honored as “Outstanding Educators of America.”

Butler, who came to St. Ambrose after earning valedictorian honors at his Catholic high school in Muscatine, Iowa, never forgot the

SAU history professor Dan LaCorte.

outstanding experience he had as a student in Renner’s classroom.

“As a St. Ambrose freshman, Miss Renner always kept my interest during her 8 a.m. western civilization class,” he said. “Miss Renner made her geography courses come alive based on her many foreign travels.

“Miss Renner cared about her students succeeding at St. Ambrose and beyond,” Butler said. “Holly and I are very happy to support St. Ambrose University deservedly naming an academic chair in Miss Renner’s honor.”

The Agnes C. Renner Chair in History joins a growing number of academic endowments at St. Ambrose. The endowment annually will cover the salary and benefits of a history faculty member, chosen on a rotating basis, who will teach a reduced class schedule to accommodate scholarship research that ultimately will augment faculty knowledge for the benefit of students.

Professor Dan LaCorte, PhD, the senior member of the History Department faculty, will serve a two-year tenure as the inaugural Agnes C. Renner Chair in History.

“Academic endowments position St. Ambrose for next-level success,” said Sister Joan. “It enhances our academic reputation and strengthens our brand. Philanthropic support from our alumni affirms the value of a St. Ambrose education and experience.”

For more information, visit


Jonathan Turner has been covering the Quad-Cities arts scene for 25 years, first as a reporter with the Dispatch and Rock Island Argus, and then as a reporter with the Quad City Times. Jonathan is also an accomplished actor and musician who has been seen frequently on local theater stages, including the Bucktown Revue and Black Box Theatre.