Professor Linda Willem has frequently traveled to Spain to gather information and gain knowledge on the country’s architecture, literature, and cinema. In turn, she passes that knowledge on to her students in the Department of Modern Languages, Literatures, and Cultures at Butler University.
Both Willem and her students are direct benefactors of the Betty Blades Lofton Endowed Chair in Spanish, established within the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (LAS) in 2004, commemorating the 50th wedding anniversary of Thomas and Betty Blades Lofton. According to the endowment’s namesake, “We both thought education is the answer to so many problems, and this seemed like a gift that would make the most impact.”
Where does the journey begin for a gift of this magnitude?
When Betty Blades Lofton ’51 arrived on campus in fall 1947, the recent Shortridge High School graduate found it a much different place than today. A vast majority of students were from the Indianapolis area, and classes were filled with WWII veterans taking advantage of the GI Bill.
“Tuition was relatively inexpensive, and my parents thought it best for me to get my education here and live at home,” Lofton said. Nonetheless, Lofton pledged a sorority—Pi Beta Phi —and was active in campus activities. She graduated with a major in Spanish and a minor in French, and she soon landed a job with Eli Lilly, copy editing and proofing French and Spanish documents.
And, for those opportunities and lifelong friendships she made along the way, she is grateful.
A few years after graduation, she married Thomas Lofton, whom she had met at Butler during her freshman year. Like many young couples, they quickly settled into a routine of children, school, and church activities. But unlike others, they made a concerted effort to volunteer and donate where they thought there was a need. She is a past President of the Indianapolis Day Nursery Auxiliary and Pi Beta Phi Foundation; a member of Pi Beta Phi’s Grand Council serving as Vice President of Philanthropies; a past board member for the Indianapolis Senior Citizens Center and Indianapolis Retirement Home; and is an elder at Second Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis.
But Butler always held a special place in her heart. “Butler is an educational institution that needs our support. It’s constantly growing, and it cares deeply about its students in a very nurturing way,” she said. “We always wanted to return to Butler what it gave us.”
Their gratitude to Butler and their commitment to supporting education led to Betty being a member of the Butler Alumni Board and the Ovid Butler Society (OBS) Executive Committee. She served on the Butler University Board of Trustees in 2002 and was appointed Trustee Emeritus in 2014. She was awarded the Butler Medal in 2005.
In celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary in 2004, Tom wanted to make a special donation in her honor. It was then that the Betty Blades Lofton Endowed Chair in Spanish was established and Linda Willem became the Betty Blades Lofton Professor of Spanish in 2006.
“Butler is very generous with its professional stipends for travel and conferences,” said Willem. “My conference presentations are funded by my LAS Dean, but the research trips are funded by the Lofton stipend.”
This past summer, Willem spent a week in Madrid consulting Spain’s national theater and film archives for material needed for scholarly articles she was writing on 21st-century adaptations of 19th-century Spanish novels. That was followed by two days in the town of Zamora to photograph Romanesque churches and Modernista (Art Nouveau) buildings for her current Art and Architecture of Spain course.
“All of it has boosted my profile in my profession, contributing to me becoming President of the Asociación Internacional de Galdosistas (International Association of Galdós Scholars),” said Willem. “It is literally as high as I can go professionally. It has been an incredible opportunity.”
Betty Lofton is delighted with Willem’s travels and the knowledge it allows her to share with her Butler students. “Linda has such an enthusiastic sparkle and is a ‘doer.’ She has really made the best of all of the benefits of the endowment.”
The impact of the Loftons’ generosity is one that will last for generations. And for that, Betty is also grateful. “You feel you have done something for the future,” she said. “You are preparing these young people to assume their positions in society. It leaves me believing that the world is in good shape.”