Many people work in bland, nondescript offices. Not Heather Calvert, new executive director of the magnificent Butterworth Center and Deere-Wiman House, Moline.

The 42-year-old native of Blandinsville, Ill. (about 20 minutes from Macomb), is in charge of the beautiful and grand 19th-century homes (at 11th Avenue and 8th Street), after serving four years on the board of the William Butterworth Foundation, which owns and operates the properties once owned by descendants of John Deere.

Heather Calvert in the Butterworth Center library, in front of a portrait of Katherine Deere Butterworth (1866-1953), granddaughter of John Deere, on Friday, June 9, 2023 (photos by Jonathan Turner).

Calvert (whose office is at Butterworth) got her love of history from her paternal grandparents — her grandma was very active in her hometown museum, which had a cannon ball from a Civil War battlefield in Kentucky.

Heather originally earned a bachelor’s in art education from Western Illinois University. “I just came from a creative home,” Calvert said Friday. After working as a teacher’s aide, she moved to Chicago and got a second bachelor’s in interior design from Harrington College of Design (which no longer exists).

Calvert started working at WIU in Macomb in the financial aid department, in 2009. She started a museum studies graduate program and transferred to the Moline campus, where she completed her master’s degree in 2016. Calvert did a summer internship with the David Davis Mansion in Bloomington, Ill. (operated by the state), in 2016.

The William Butterworth Foundation is a trust that Katherine Deere Butterworth established in 1951 in memory of her husband, a former Deere & Co. president who died in 1936.

“Education has always been something that’s important to me; I enjoy working with people,” she said. “I just find I prefer less formal situations for education — smaller groups. Museum work is a natural fit for that, because things are specialized and smaller scale.”

In addition to her time working in higher education, Calvert spent time working at the Quad Cities Community Foundation, from 2017 to 2020, on the grantmaking team. She was a financial aid advisor at Black Hawk College after 2020.

“It was great to get to experience the community college,” Calvert said. “It’s a good option for students around here.”

Making history with Butterworth

She joined the Butterworth board because of her background in museum studies, after volunteering as a docent with the Figge Art Museum (mainly on weekends) from 2016 to 2019.

Calvert first toured the Deere-Wiman (1872) and Butterworth (1892) homes while she was doing her master’s program, including the Deere-Wiman third floor that’s usually closed to the public (many artifacts are stored there).

Part of the gardens at Deere-Wiman House, built in 1872 by John Deere’s son Charles for his wife and daughters.

“They’re such fascinating stories, so integral to the Quad Cities,” she said. Calvert appreciates the grandeur and intricate woodwork of the homes. “Just admiring the craftsmanship.”

In the Deere-Wiman House, there’s a project to pull back wall coverings in the vestibule (on the north side, the original front door) and restore it to its original 1872 appearance.

Compared to Butterworth, the Deere-Wiman House seems more homey and livable, Calvert said. “You can see yourself living there more than Butterworth.” The more imposing Butterworth Center reflects the home designed for entertaining, with a large foyer, she said.

A second-floor room at Deere-Wiman House, which celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2022.

“There’s the big library, where we’re able to hold our Evenings at Butterworth and recitals, which is great. It’s great as a community center,” Calvert said.

The foundation board meets quarterly and there’s a separate executive committee. The director search had about 60 applicants, Calvert said. The homes have a total staff of 20, including seasonal groundskeepers. There are two full-time groundskeepers. Getting to know the staff and what they need is a big priority for Calvert now.

New policy for rentals

This year, the Butterworth Foundation launched a new policy for private event rentals (which had been prohibited before), where people can hold a wedding, a nonprofit gala or corporate event. Calvert is working on promoting that to the area.

Part of the gardens at Butterworth, built by Charles Deere in 1892 as a wedding gift for his daughter Katherine and her husband William.

They’ve gotten such requests in past years, but had to turn them down, she said.

“When Mrs. Butterworth established the trust, she indicated she wanted programming be free and that it be for public use,” Calvert said. “As the board, we made some changes to how we draw on our investments, and as that income has gone down, there’s been a need to explore other options for income. So we’re really thinking about how we can diversify that and still serve the community.”

In 1951, Katherine Butterworth established the charitable trust in honor of her late husband, Willam Butterworth. Katherine was John Deere’s granddaughter and William was Deere & Co.’s president from 1907 to 1928. In 1928, he retired and became the first chairman of Deere’s board, a position he held until his death in 1936. In 1956, Butterworth Center was opened for community use.

A view of the first floor at Butterworth Center, which has been open to the public since 1956.

In 1976, Pattie Southall Wiman (wife of Katherine’s nephew, Charles Deere Wiman) donated the Deere-Wiman House to the William Butterworth Foundation. Charles Deere’s daughter Anna had two sons; she was married to William Wiman.

Until recently, 99 percent of the homes’ funding has come from the trust investments. But the foundation got its first grant from the Moline Foundation ($40,000) to help with a living room restoration at the Deere-Wiman House, Calvert said.

With her job, identifying and applying for new funds will be her responsibility. In the past, the foundation also has not sought private individual donations, which is also changing, she said.

The first rental was this past winter, with a Quad City Symphony chamber music concert in the Butterworth library.. The Jan. 28 program featured QCSO concertmaster Naha Greenholtz and principal percussionist Aaron Williams.

A view of part of the Butterworth library.

Despite being open to community uses for years, Butterworth Center (1105 8th St., Moline) had never hosted a QCSO chamber concert. Its elegant library (featuring a stunning 18th-century Italian ceiling fresco) is ideal for chamber music, has often hosted “19th-Century Christmas” musical programs and partnered with Quad City Arts to host selected Visiting Artist Series programs.

They also now allow professional wedding photos and professional family photos on the properties for a fee, Calvert said. There are no weddings scheduled so far this year.

About 15,000 visitors a year

There are over 150 community groups that regularly meet at Deere-Wiman and Butterworth (mostly the latter, with meeting rooms on the second floor), and including schools and tour groups, the properties average up to 15,000 visitors per year. Over 1,400 meetings and activities are hosted in the unique historic settings each year.

Part of the 18th-century ceiling fresco in the Butterworth library, which was painted in Venice.

Deere-Wiman has a carriage house that hosts events and Butterworth has an educational center. All those meetings and events are free for groups.

“When it comes to public education or community groups, they really want to keep those free,” Calvert said. It’s pretty unusual for historic homes anywhere to be open to the public for meetings in this way, she said.

The regular tours of both homes (free with donations encouraged) are Wednesday, Thursday and Friday at 2:30 p.m. year-round, and Sunday guided tours are offered July 7 – Aug. 25 beginning at 2:30 p.m. at Deere-Wiman House (817 11th Ave.).

A view of a first-floor ceiling at Deere-Wiman House.

Calvert would love to see more community groups be able to use the space, and a wider variety.

“One nice thing about scheduling — some groups get special setups, but the staff are here,” she said. “We make sure things are cleaned up afterwards, that’s where we monitor.”

They also host summer day camps for area child-care centers.

Calvert also has been a member of Twin Rivers Rotary After Hours, Junior League, and currently serves on the Board of Elders at First Presbyterian Church in Davenport.

Taste a history of pies

Evenings at Butterworth has a free program tonight at 7 p.m. on the history of pies, in the library.

Join Catherine Lambrecht of the Highland Park Historical Society for “History of American Pies…and Illinois is Well Represented.” As Lambrecht’s own apple pie received the Grand Champion and Best of Show Award at the Lake County Fair, she is well qualified to present the delicious history of pies in America, including Illinois’s contribution to our country’s pie culture.

Other upcoming events include the next Music on the Lawn at Deere-Wiman House on Wednesday, June 14.

Part of the grand foyer at Butterworth Center.

Music For New People is a performance for the eyes and ears of…new people. Performing a mix of originals and covers, ‘Music For New People’ is a unique experience that uses cutting edge electronics, ukulele, and percussion to create an engaging and dynamic environment for kids and adults alike — inspired by the work (and play) of Andy Kaufman, Shel Silverstein, Reggie Watts and They Might Be Giants.

The event starts at 5 p.m. with plenty of fun and hands-on activities followed by the concert at 6:30 p.m.

For more information the historic homes, visit the website HERE.