Distinguished Alumni

2015 - John Butler

John Butler - 2015 Distinguished AlumnusJohn Butler, immunologist and professor emeritus of microbiology at the University of Iowa's Carver College of Medicine, was honored at the 2015 commencement ceremony May 16. Butler graduated from UW-River Falls in 1961 with a degree in chemistry and biology.


In a career that's spanned decades, Butler pioneered groundbreaking research on the antibodies of cattle and swine, mucosal immunology and solid phase immunoassay - a procedure for measuring or detecting proteins and other substances through antigens or antibodies using a solid surface. He is the author of more than 250 published articles and has received two distinguished veterinary immunologist awards.


Butler was raised on a farm in Rice Lake. The youngest of seven children, he spent much of his early life taking care of farm animals, raising pheasants, managing the family woodlot, and helping with his father trap beaver and muskrat.

His rural childhood fostered an interest in animals and the outdoors, which came to fruition during his years at UW-River Falls. He was the first member of his family to attend college, something Butler said he never expected to do.

"I had never planned to go to college," he said. "UWRF gave me a start for a successful career at a price I could afford."

Upon leaving UWRF, Butler served as a ranger naturalist at Crater Lake National Park in Oregon and was featured in a 1962 article in National Geographic Magazine. He obtained his doctorate in zoology and biochemistry from Kansas University, and then spent four years working at the Agriculture Department in Washington, D.C., where he became a leader in antibody research and mucosal immunology.

He spent three years in Germany performing research funded by the Max-Planck Society and the Fogarty Foundation. Butler maintains a variety of foreign scientific collaborations throughout Europe, primarily in Germany, France, Sweden, Hungary and the Czech Republic. He has twice received the distinguished veterinary immunologist award and is a strong advocate of comparative immunology/biochemistry, basic research in veterinary immunology as well as the use of the swine in biomedical research.

Butler established both the J.E. Butler Molecular Biology Scholarship for students interested in a career in eukaryotic biology research, and the John E. Butler International Research Scholarship to promote undergraduate research abroad. In funding them, Butler said he wanted to help students who are struggling to afford college like he once did.

"I think it's an investment in the future," Butler said. "It helps somebody who needs a chance."