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California Native Plant Society

Santa Clara Valley Chapter

Brenda Butner - In Memoriam

Brenda Butner

brenda butner headshot

May 5, 1939 – October 1, 1995

Brenda Butner was a key figure in the history of the Santa Clara Valley Chapter of the California Native Plant Society. She began her horticultural work at Foothill College, where she, botanist and author Tony Corelli, and Mary Kay of Western Horticulture Society were students together. Brenda developed a major interest in native plants and was our Chapter President from 1989 to 1991.

brenda butner limber domeBrenda was always interested in new developments in the native plant field. Whenever there was a field trip, large or small, she would be on it. An avid student, stimulating speaker, and very well organized, Brenda then became the Field Trip Chair; her tenure is recalled by others as one of the best field trip seasons ever. She also worked at Yerba Buena Nursery under Bart O’Brien where all became close friends. Brenda developed the student program at Yerba Buena Nursery.

Brenda’s involvement at Edgewood Park brought her in contact with politics. She was instrumental in helping to defeat the golf course project and saving the park from development. She also developed the Docent Program at Edgewood Park which continues to this day.

Whenever she traveled, botany and native plants were her prime motivating interests, whether it was in Australia, Himalaya, or Costa Rica.

After her death, the Brenda Butner Memorial Lecture was endowed by her husband, Al Butner, who continued to be a chapter member and native plant enthusiast until his passing in 2013. The endowment makes it possible for the chapter members to hear speakers of great accomplishment in the fields of California native plant horticulture, science, and conservation.

Remembering Brenda

By Jean Struthers (Blazing Star, Nov-Dec 1995)brenda butner white mountain

Brenda was the first CNPS member I met. I volunteered to sell books and posters and took over that job from her. She assured me that it wasn’t too difficult, but what she did not tell me was that it would lead to total commitment to CNPS. Brenda's commitment was very contagious and inspiring.

From that small involvement and from my eagerness to grow native plants came the opportunity to work at Yerba Buena Nursery with Brenda. There she was instructive and patient with my learning. She even taught me to say “no” sometimes. She knew her own limits and how to manage her time. Together we chaired the Wildflower Show to a great financial and floristic success, largely due to Brenda's organizational ability.

Brenda became Chapter President and drew many new people to the Board. She followed that position with Field Trip Chair. I will always remember our first trip to the desert and how well it was organized. She keyed many plants that were new to the group, helped with the camping and photography efforts, and above all, ensured the enjoyment of every participant. She was particularly good about finding and making available information about our destinations. Brenda instituted the informal Friday plant walks in local parks and open space lands.

Brenda joined me on a Los Altos Hills town committee for Environmental Protection. She wrote guidelines for using native plants in town landscaping, and wrote the town's first Heritage Tree Protection Ordinance. … We planted a valley oak (Quercus lobata) for Arbor Day, and buckeye seeds on road edges.

Brenda was a docent at both the Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve and Edgewood Park Preserve. She worked three days a week at Yerba Buena Nursery. She became particularly skilled at propagation techniques, and was responsible for the manzanita cuttings. She started the Chapter's Gardening With Natives group, a very successful gathering which met once a month.

When Brenda got cancer she did not stop her numerous activities unless her treatments really disabled her. She still put in time at Yerba Buena Nursery, attended meetings, and took as many field trips as she had strength for. She organized the botanists for our 1995 Wildflower Show and spent hours helping identify our specimens.

Brenda was so very considerate of all the people around her. She kept us all informed and enthusiastic, and always thanked all the people who helped her. Did we ever thank her enough? I really miss her.

al butnerAlfred Butner

August 8, 1937 - November 27, 2013

Alfred was a general surgeon with El Camino Hospital, Stanford Hospital, and the VA Hospital until he retired in 2012. Al was a long-time chapter member and supported all of Brenda’s CNPS activities. Al was chapter Publicity Chair, a Going Native Garden Tour garden owner, and joined many chapter field trips and activities. He donated a used surgical table from El Camino Hospital to the chapter nursery, which was still in use over 20 years later. After Brenda’s passing, Al funded the Brenda Butner Memorial Fund in her memory.

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