Congrats x 3: Buettner family is up to their elbows in caps and gowns

News-DemocratMay 19, 2013 

The Buettners of Belleville are up to their elbows in caps and gowns.

The family of seven has three graduates this year.

Daughter Renee, 21, graduated from Indiana State University in Terre Haute on May 4. Her graduation cards line the living room piano.

Kayla, 13, graduated from Cathedral Grade School May 16, and Aaron, 18, will be a St. Louis University High School grad on May 26.

Not graduating this year are Kevin, 19, a sophomore at University of Tulsa, and Megan, 23, who is mentally disabled.

Debbie Hoffman, a teacher at Cathedral since 1976, taught four of the five Buettner children -- and their father, Brian. "You couldn't ask for better kids," said Debbie. "They are normal kids, hard workers, very outgoing, too, active in sports and student council and everything else. They're the kind of family you would like to see around all the time. I'm sorry to see them go."

Cathedral teacher Bert Scannell described the Buettner kids as "a teacher's dream."

Parents Denise and Brian are humble, but proud of their children's accomplishments -- trips abroad, awards, scholarships -- and their initiative.

To hear the graduates talk, they take advantage of opportunities that come their way -- educational trips and missionary trips, connections with teachers that lead to jobs or adventures.

"These opportunities, in many cases, aren't just happenstance," said Brian, 48, an executive compensation manager at Monsanto.

"I was one of six selected to go to Appalachia," said Aaron, of a spring break mission trip. "It sounded like fun."

And, it was.

"I instantly wanted to go back."

Renee jumps at a chance to travel.

"I fished them out or they came to me," she said of her opportunities. "For the Haiti trip, they (Mountaintop Ministry in Terre Haute) emailed on Wednesday and I had to have an answer on Friday. I had 24-hours' notice to have a plane ticket to leave."

"When they come and want to try these opportunities, we do what we can to make it work," said Denise.

Kind of like what they do with the rest of their lives.

"We started off and had Megan," said Brian. "She changed our game plan completely. Our assumptions changed. At six months, we learned Megan may never walk, go to the prom, drive, get married."

But she helped them realize what's important.

"Because of her, we have been able to treat each child as an individual and do what's best for each of them."

Within five years, the Buettners had four children -- and a minivan.

"We looked like a circus for sure," said Denise, a stay-at-home mom. "Megan didn't walk till she was 6. I was carrying two young ones all the time. They have always been told Megan can't help her behaviors so they have to. They are all very different children.

"Renee, she's my planner. She can't get done fast enough."

Not Aaron.

"Aaron is my procrastinator. He's our social one. Kayla, we haven't figured her out yet. She likes to be the athlete. She likes basketball, soccer, volleyball and track."

The family sat around the kitchen table on a Monday evening after a wild weekend. They had made two trips to Terre Haute, one Friday night for nursing major Renee's pinning; one for her graduation, Saturday. Timing was close.

"We couldn't leave early for Terre Haute because Kayla didn't want to leave her last field day," said Denise. And they fit in a trip to pick up Kevin at the airport.

They also cleaned and cooked for a 3 p.m. Sunday party to celebrate 18 years of having children attending Cathedral Grade School. Brian had served on the school board; Denise helped in the library and went along on field trips.

"We were still making food at 2:59," said Kayla.

Oh, and Aaron had the first of two proms that Friday night.

"We want them all to be able to enjoy their last school activities," said Brian. "It takes a lot of coordination and planning."

Denise posts a calendar on the refrigerator.

"It helps the two of us know where everybody has to be," said Denise. "When they started driving, that was huge."

"We tell them if it's not on the calendar, it's not happening." said Brian.

Still, they struggle to carve out family time.

"We tried to plan a family vacation this year for our 25th wedding anniversary," said Denise. "It took us six months to plan one week."

The next weekend was just as busy.

The Buettners hosted Aaron's after-prom party. Kevin came home from college, and Sunday was Mother's Day.

"We went to church together. I cut the grass and put rock in the flower beds," said Denise. "It was a day at home doing yardwork which I absolutely loved."

They try to attend church as a family and sit down to dinner together -- they sense that family dinners are a favorite of Megan.

If the family has a free day, they're in the pool just beyond the screened porch.

"Taking Megan to the public pool is challenging," said Denise. "She loves the water."

Denise and Brian, both Althoff grads, assumed that's where their children would go to high school. Renee is their only Althoff grad.

"Our motto is 'Life is about choices,'" said Denise.

"We told them they had to commit to a year (at a school). If it doesn't work, we will figure out something else."

"What we asked them to do was try their best," said Brian. "We have Megan on one end. The other son (Kevin) scored 36 on his ACT. These guys are each strong in different things. All we ask is that they all try their best and they have all done really well."

"They make us proud in different ways," said Denise, "and drive us crazy in different ways."

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