She might not wear a cape but she always seems to show up where people need the most help

Four decades later, Barbie Butz still regrets the memory of a boy from one of her classes at San Luis Junior High School. 

“He came every day with a soiled down jacket,” she said. “It didn’t matter what the weather was, that kid came with that jacket. And I’ll bet you anything there was something underneath that he was embarrassed about, and the jacket hid it.”

Butz wishes she had figured that out then. But she has more than made up for the oversight, making sure thousands of children have had clothing through her volunteering efforts at both the Assistance League of San Luis Obispo County and Coats for Kids of SLO County, the latter of which will be teaming up for the Holiday Project this month. (see story on page 20).

“I hope I’ve made a difference,” Butz said. “I hope that when I die — when I’m not around anymore — that I somehow did something for somebody.”

Getting through this together, Atascadero

She doesn’t have to worry about that.

As her friend Charlene Ables noted when Butz was recognized at Cuesta College for the Women of Distinction and Community Service Award, a Google search on Butz’s volunteer work can be overwhelming. Those who have benefitted from her efforts include Friends of the Atascadero Library, the Atascadero Historical Society, Atascadero Printery Foundation, Atascadero Performing Arts Center Committee and many more. Meanwhile, her list of awards and recognitions is equally impressive, including Kiwanian of the Year, Woman of the Year from the 33rd Assembly District, and the George Dodge Humanitarian Award.

But Butz is humbled by such recognition.

“Whenever I have been called to say, ‘We want to recognize you’ or ‘give you an award,’ it throws me off a little bit,” she says. “Because I never have done all this stuff by myself.”

Nearly a native Californian, her parents moved to Arcadia, 83 years ago from Oklahoma, when her grandfather landed a job as a mechanic.

“The whole family came,” said Butz, who was less than a year old at the time. “My grandparents and my aunts and uncles.

She began volunteering as a child, helping her father, who was a Lions Club president, and her mother, who was president of the Leonas, the Lions Club
women’s auxiliary.

“It’s in my DNA,” she said. “It’s in my genes.”

She met her future husband, John, while the two worked on a homecoming float — The Flying Horse — at the University of California, Santa Barbara, from which she graduated in 1958. After marrying in 1959, John would eventually operate his own custom home business while Barbie would work as a substitute teacher, often for long-term assignments.

The two moved to Atascadero when land became available in 1980. Five years later, Barbie’s retirement gave her the opportunity to step up her volunteer efforts. One of her earliest volunteer projects was with the Assistance League, which she served as charter president locally. Each year, the organization provides money for low-income kids to buy clothing at Kohl’s in Paso Robles and Old Navy in San Luis Obispo. 

“When they go to Kohl’s to get the clothes, the first thing they want are shoes,” she said. “They’ll say, ‘Do I get to keep these?’”

While she considers Atascadero nearly perfect, her wish list does include a performing arts center — another project she’s been involved with.

“I keep telling them we’ve got to get busy,” she starts with a laugh, ‘because I’d like to see it before I go.”

Butz often promotes nonprofits in her columns for Atascadero News and Colony Magazine but she also champions good food  – something she’s also been involved with for a long time. 

Her favorite dish to make is something she calls Dump Soup. It’s something she made a lot when her three sons were growing up. 

“A dump soup is bits and pieces from the freezer,” she explained. “I’d save a little bit of meat loaf, or there’d be corn left over or green beans — whatever. You’d save it, and then you dumped it.”

Due to its leftover nature, though, Dump Soup was almost never the same.

“You could never give anybody a recipe,” she said.