She was raised during the Great Depression, when everyone was real careful with money. She bought on sale, watched her bank accounts, bought CDs (certificates of deposit) and money market funds and “lived pretty frugally,” her cousin recalled.
So when longtime Olympic Peninsula resident Ethel Butler died in January 2023, it came as somewhat of a surprise that she gave quite a bit of money — more than $1 million — to local organizations earlier this year.
“She didn’t live like a millionaire,” cousin Marilyn Newton, of Sequim, said recently. “I had no idea she had that kind of money.”
Among the gifts was a $959,008.07 check to the Albert Haller Foundation, much to the (pleasant) surprise of foundation board president Gary Smith.
Born and raised in Sequim, Butler (nee Olson) went to Sequim High School and graduated in 1945. She started working at Port Angeles Savings & Loan. Her father Ray retired as superintendent of the Clallam County Road Department, and mother Emma worked at Frick’s Drug until she retired. Both of her parents are buried in Sequim.
In 1948, Ethel married Harold Butler, a Port Angeles High graduate who served in the U.S. Coast Guard and worked for Crown Zellerbach and Black Ball Freight. He passed in 2002.
The couple traveled extensively in Europe and the Orient, and went to a number of banking conventions around the world, Newton recalled. They build a house on Cherry Hill in Port Angeles in the early 1960s, she said, and had property on Lake Crescent.
Newton recalled that she didn’t see her cousin often, as the trip between her home in Blyn and Port Angeles was a “a major trip” years ago.
“[It was] mostly just holidays,” Newton said.
Butler knew of Albert Haller, the longtime Sequim-area logger and developer who amassed a large estate that led to a large charitable organization, but as Newton noted, “Albert knew just about everybody.”
She said her uncle logged with Albert Haller for about 40 years and her late husband enjoyed fishing with Haller.
Haller and his wife Julia, both of whom were self-educated, had hearts in particular for youths who didn’t always fit the mold of the 4.0 grade-point-average kid, Newton recalled.
In her later life, Newton said, Butler decided she didn’t want to go into a nursing home so she spent a good deal of money to provide home care.
“She was spending something like $28,000 a month … [but] she didn’t seem concerned,” Newton said.
After her passing, Butler bequeathed large donations to community groups such as Peninsula Friends of Animals, the Clallam County Humane Society and others, with the largest going to Albert Haller’s foundation.
Started as a nonprofit organization in 1992, The Albert Haller Foundation helps fund charitable programs throughout the county — primarily focused on education, family and medical services. It annually gives six-figure donations to local community groups and efforts. The foundation also gives grants to capital projects, such as public works, parks and other recreational facilities open to the public.
In the more than three decades of giving, the foundation has more than $10 million.
A five-member board — one that includes superintendents from Sequim and Port Angeles school districts — oversees the foundation’s funds that started with about $9.2 million from Haller’s estate.
Born in Port Angeles in 1903 to Sequim Valley pioneers Max and Anna Haller and the 10th of 13 children, Haller began working in the woods at an early age. He started logging in the era of horses and continued through steam donkeys and caterpillar tractors to the modern technology of the late 20th century.
With Julia’s support, Haller began buying land. He expanded his log sales beyond the Olympic Peninsula and at one time, was the largest independent land owner in Clallam County. The logging company was disbanded after his wife’s death in 1954, Haller turned to land development. He sold acreage on Bell Hill and began developing eastern additions to the city of Sequim.
He was working on the Dungeness Heights development at the time of his death in 1992, at the age of 88.
Throughout their lives Albert and Julia developed a deep commitment to help others in the community. They never forgot being denied a loan for $400 in order to expand their early business; consequently, they made a great many loans to help businesses that could not qualify for bank financing. They also offered each of their children and grandchildren the opportunity for a college education, having regretted their lack of formal education.
For more about the foundation, visit alberthallerfoundation.org.