“When Irish Eyes are Smiling” is a song that could have been written for Margaret Ryan Butman. When you first meet her you are immediately drawn to her sparkling green eyes that seem to smile, making you feel comfortable in her presence. If you are fortunate enough to get to know her you may even be privileged to have her share a limerick she recalls from her younger days. Those days began in Marinette, Wisconsin where she grew up with her older sister, three younger brothers and her parents, Joseph and Jenny Naismith Ryan. Margaret was a daughter of the Great Depression. The Ryan family got by on the meager wages her father, plagued by illness, made doing odd jobs. Jenny took in laundry and worked in a factory. Margaret's stories about those difficult days are rarely told with sadness, but with a sense of pride at having overcome the hardships her family experienced and an appreciation for better times.
Margaret often relates what life was like during World War II. Her brothers were called to their country's service and Margaret began working in a factory that made special gloves for the soldiers overseas. Pearl Harbor, DDay, VJDay and other historical events come alive with her vivid personal accounts. There are also stories of romance. The war had ended. The boys were coming home. Margaret's sister, Eleanor, was convinced that she'd found the perfect man for her. She arranged a meeting between Margaret and Captain Eugene Butman, who had just returned to Marinette, his boyhood home. The details of that “love at first sight” introduction to the strikingly handsome young man are a favorite of her daughters. Gene soon realized that Margaret was the girl for him. They were married in 1946 in Madison while Gene was attending the University of Wisconsin.
“When the E.G. Wiedman Ford dealership on Pearl Street in Ypsilanti became available for purchase in 1957, Margaret and Gene moved the family of one son and three daughters from Dearborn to Ypsilanti. Gene Butman Ford Sales, Inc. was a dream that they had shared and a goal that they had finally achieved together.”
Opportunities in the automobile industry eventually brought the young couple to several Michigan cities. When the E.G. Wiedman Ford dealership on Pearl Street in Ypsilanti became available for purchase in 1957, Margaret and Gene moved the family of one son and three daughters from Dearborn to Ypsilanti. Gene Butman Ford Sales, Inc. was a dream that they had shared and a goal that they had finally achieved together.
The white colonial on beautiful, tree-lined Cambridge Road became home to the Butman family of six and their collie, Charlie Brown on March 10, 1957. They became active members of St. John the Baptist Catholic Church and the children attended St. John's school until graduation. Gene became involved in community business and civic groups, and charitable organizations. Margaret joined the Ladies Literary Club, where she eventually served as head of the knitting booth at their annual Christmas bazaars. She had a reputation for her fine knitted sweaters, hats, and mittens. She made friends with every neighbor and began her love for the Ypsilanti Community. This loyalty to community has been instilled in her four children, three of whom continue to live and work in Ypsilanti with their families.
Friends often asked Margaret what it was like having Gene at home when he reluctantly retired well into his seventies. Her answer? “A retired husband is like having a piano in your kitchen.” An empty nest made it easier for them to travel to warmer weather in Florida during the winter months and to the “Red House” in Bellaire, Michigan. However, Margaret would much rather stay at home in Ypsilanti in the company of her children and grandchildren. Her fondest memories of life in Ypsilanti involve family and friends. With their home beautifully decorated for the holidays, she and Gene would host a “Hair of the Dog” brunch for many years on New Year's morning. Guests looked forward to Margaret's egg dishes and Gene's legendary bloody Marys. Their children would serve the friends and neighbors who dropped in for holiday cheer.
Gene's death in October 2002 was a huge setback for Margaret. They had been married and best friends for 56 years.
While Margaret's family always ranks number one in her top three reasons for living, a close second is her dear circle of friends, fondly named the Higgins Lake Hussies. These eight ladies shared loves, losses, happy times, and sad times during most of their lives. Three of the original Hussies have passed away but the remaining five continue their close friendship. Each year they travel North to one of their vacation homes to spend time reminiscing, eating, shopping and just being together. This past September, just before the Hussies' annual Northern adventure, Margaret broke her hip in a fall on the wet pavement. With the help of great doctors, caregivers and her strong determination she has recovered and is so happy to be back in her own home on Cambridge. The best evidence of Margaret Butman's amazing sense of humor and congeniality is her relationship with her eight grandchildren ranging in ages from 17 to 42. Each genuinely enjoys her company, visits her regularly and calls her often. They insist that the only place to celebrate Christmas is at Grandma's and have done so every year since each of their births. They are delighted when she quotes her own mother, which she is known to do regularly.
On any given Tuesday, late in the afternoon, you'll find Margaret doing the third of her top three reasons for living. Five friends (one lucky gentleman and four ladies) come together to reminisce about days gone by and share a glass of wine. They bring jokes and Margaret is said to be the best joke teller of the group. When she's unable to attend the “Tavern on the Green” her friends agree that their meetings just aren't the same without her.
It's a sure bet that Margaret will tell you that Ypsilanti has been good to her and her family. Those in her community who are fortunate enough to know this lovely lady will agree they will never forget the “Irish Eyes” or the “lilt of Irish laughter” of Margaret Ryan Butman.