Duane Leatherman and students

Family For Life

Rachel Stotts

from Winter 2021

Duane Leatherman

In 1989, Professor Duane Leatherman and his soon-to-be-wife, Linnéa Anderson ’75, sat together in a dark room in Residential College (ResCo) trying to imagine what it would be like to live there with students. They couldn’t have known it would be the beginning of a 30-year adventure as Faculty-in-Residence (FIR), living with and caring for their beloved “Butler kids.”

In March 2020, Duane couldn’t have known how much life was about to change...again. In New York City, planning to attend the BIG EAST Tournament and enjoy a Broadway show, he and the rest of the Butler contingent learned that the Tournament was canceled and they were heading back to Indy, where a stay-at-home order was imminent and students would not return from Spring Break.

For most faculty members, this meant teaching remotely from their homes. For the Leathermans, it meant their family had left the building.

“I went up and down the hallways seeing all of the stuff that students had on their doors, but there were no students. It was eerie,” Duane recalls.

While the students didn’t come back for the rest of the spring semester, the Leathermans did have some Zoom sessions with the students to talk through the shock of the situation and try to answer questions that the students had.

“They all just wanted to know when it would be over,” says Duane.

Before COVID-19, the Leathermans loved to have students come to their apartment, cramming as many as 40 students into the small space for pizza parties, Insomnia cookies, wings night, pie tastings at Thanksgiving, fresh cookies out of the oven, and faculty dinners. Perhaps most famous is the “Leatherman Lemonade” (shhhh...it’s doctored-up Country Time served from a punch bowl).

Duane Leatherman
Photo from Corey Alvarez ’95 and Eddie Manuszak ’95, taken with Leatherman in the early ’90s

These gatherings—as well as field trips to places like the Landmark for Peace Memorial, the Ovid Butler House, Pacers games, and shows—came to a halt when the pandemic hit. 

This loss of connection is by far the most painful effect of the virus for the Leathermans, says Linnéa. “When President [Geoffrey] Bannister started the FIR program, he told Duane we’d make friends for life, and he was right,” she says. Duane enthusiastically agrees, “We have made family for life.” 

“All of the interconnectedness that was the point of starting this program...that’s the extra piece of fabric that got woven in because of all these people being in the dorms together,” says Linnéa. “When that’s broken, it’s a piece that they can’t have. They have a hole in their cloth.”

Despite what COVID-19 has temporarily taken away, the Leathermans consider their role as FIR and their relationships with the students invaluable. They look forward to the day when they can freely interact with their Butler kids again without the hindrance of masks and limitations on social gatherings. Leatherman Lemonade will flow again.