Since the 1930s, the H. E. Butt Foundation has served people in Texas and beyond in various ways according to the needs of the time, including improving literacy and mental health care, funding recreation and camps, hosting ecumenical Christian retreats at Laity Lodge, and partnering with other organizations that serve families and children.
If you’re from Texas, you may have known us as simply “H-E-B Camps,” but that moniker is misleading. The H-E-B grocery company and the H. E. Butt Foundation are separate organizations with distinct missions, and H-E-B has its own Community Involvement program. Plus, the Foundation is more than a camp.
Today, the Foundation is led by Deborah and David Rogers, the daughter and son-in-law of Howard Butt Jr. The Rogers are building upon the Butt family’s tradition of philanthropy by strengthening our legacy programs and building new ones, including an expanded outdoor education program, partnerships with organizations serving families and children in San Antonio, rural development in the Texas Hill Country, and storytelling for narrative change to help Texans understand neighborhood segregation, inequity, and poverty.
The Foundation has a rich history, and our archives are available to the public upon request at our Archives Building in Kerrville, Texas. Below is a timeline of major moments over the last 80-plus years.
The H. E. Butt Foundation is founded by Mary Holdsworth and Howard Butt Sr. focusing on charity, philanthropy, and education.
In its early days, the Foundation promotes literacy, helps fund numerous recreational and childcare facilities, and begins a tuberculosis diagnosis and treatment program in the Rio Grande Valley. Mary and Howard Sr. develop long-term goals to open a camp that will be available free of charge to anyone unable to afford a camp experience.
Mary also starts or leads several other nonprofits from her dining table, including the State Crippled Children’s Program and the Cameron County Child Welfare Board. She also expands library services and buys the first equipment for testing the hearing and vision of schoolchildren.
After seven years of searching for the right property, Mary and Howard Sr. purchase the Frio River Canyon, a 1900-acre ranch in Real County, Texas, and gift it to the Foundation.
Almost immediately, planning begins for building five separate campsites on the property: Echo Valley, Singing Hills, Windsong, Linnet’s Wings, and Comanche Outpost, later rebuilt into Headwaters.
Within a year, “Foundation free camps” start coming to the Canyon. Today Foundation Camp groups still use the facilities at no charge.
Mary Holdsworth Butt is appointed by Governor Allan Shivers to the governing board of Texas State Hospitals and Special Schools, which was supplanted in 1965 by the Texas Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation. For eighteen years, she was the only woman member of this board.
Throughout her tenure, she visits every mental institution in the state and brings much needed reform to the treatment of the mentally ill. Often she advocates simply that they be treated with the same dignity every human deserves. For example, she fights for mental institutions to serve meals on dishes with silverware, rather than out of steel bowls with wooden spoons.
“Today we may have seen the place we really want for our Foundation Camp. It is the Wolfe [Ranch] in Real County on the Leakey Highway ... It is on the Frio River and is a beautiful place.”The diary of Mary Holdsworth Butt, February 12, 1954
Howard Butt Jr., the eldest son of Mary and Howard Sr. and an executive within their grocery company, decides to focus his work on Christian ministry. Howard Jr. founds Laity Lodge: an ecumenical Christian retreat center located on the Foundation’s property, to support, encourage, and build up Christian lay leaders. (“Laity” means “lay people” or “ordinary people,” as distinct from clergy.)
Keith Miller, a former oil executive, becomes the first director of Laity Lodge.
“Nestled in the Canyon’s gentle turn, amid heavy oaks and cedar, sits Laity Lodge. Through an unmarred vista you glimpse its lovely buildings of native stone, rustic wood, and generous glass. The river’s sounds, the birds singing, and a sense of peace begin to envelop you.”Howard Butt, Jr.
Bill Cody, the new director of Laity Lodge, and Howard Jr. are concerned that children are being taught that “God loves you ‘if you are good.’”
Wanting to better teach children about God’s unconditional love, the duo begin exploring the idea of a youth camp in the Frio River Canyon—a summer camp that would adapt the mission and vision of Laity Lodge to young campers.
Their vision evolved into Laity Lodge Youth Camp (LLYC): a coed, interdenominational Christian youth camp focused on spontaneity, fun, and relationships.
“The style of Laity Lodge retreats [had] been so significant in communicating God’s love and acceptance to adults. I could not help but believe that there was an equally significant way to communicate this to kids”Bill Cody
Howard Butt Jr. hosts the North American Congress of the Laity in Los Angeles. The event was the capstone of the Laymen’s Leadership Institutes, a long-term partnership project with Billy Graham that lasted from 1956-1975.
Howard Butt also shared his theology of the laity through his publications, Velvet Covered Brick (1973), At the Edge of Hope (1978), Renewing America’s Soul (1996), and Who Can You Trust? (2004).
Howard Butt Jr. hosts the first Laity Lodge Leadership Forum for executives “to nourish and encourage and stimulate people of faith to understand and practice their faith more effectively so it might have a vital impact within their spheres of influence.”
The Foundation continued to host Forum events regularly until 2011, challenging executives around the country—from PepsiCo to Goldman Sachs to Johnson and Johnson—to lead with a deeper commitment to serving God and creating a better society for everyone.
“Church is not some place we go. Church is something we are … You will not be wearing a priest's collar or a pastor's robe ... but you will be a minister of God. And you will change your workplace.”Howard Butt, Jr., at the 1999 Forum
Howard Jr. starts “The High Calling of Our Daily Work,” a series of radio spots on faith and vocation. He eventually records hundreds of 60-second messages that air on 3,000 radio stations across all 50 states.
“Every day ... we make value judgments, either deliberately or without thinking, which reflect what we prize most highly and where we give our allegiance … Our ethics reveal our faith; our principles disclose our world view, our standards of esteem, our ultimate ideals, our deep belief systems.”Howard Butt Jr. in Renewing America's Soul
Deborah and David Rogers fulfill a dream from the 1990s to start a full-fledged family camp. Staff hone the programming concept during weekend retreats at Echo Valley and Singing Hills, while Headwaters is under construction near the Blue Hole Reserve.
In 2013, Laity Lodge Family Camp moves into Headwaters, offering an interdenominational Christian family camp designed to strengthen relationships within the family system by providing a relaxed, fun-filled opportunity for families to be together.
The H. E. Butt Foundation pilots an outdoor education program, known today as H. E. Butt Foundation Outdoor School, specifically designed to help more public schools offer outdoor education experiences through H. E. Butt Foundation Camps.
The program provides transformative and educational 3-day, 2-night outdoor experiences, each set within the rugged beauty of the Texas Hill Country at no cost to participating schools.
Deborah and David Rogers, the daughter and son-in-law of Howard Butt Jr., take the helm of the Foundation, with David as acting president. The Rogers begin to expand the scope and reach of the Foundation’s work, developing strategies for new initiatives in Leakey and San Antonio, in addition to investing in the environmental stewardship of the Frio River Canyon.
“The quest for meaning and significance is in what we spend most of our waking hours doing.”Howard Butt Jr.
The H. E. Butt Foundation launches new community engagement work in San Antonio, including a capacity-building initiative designed to help nonprofits ban together to become more effective and efficient in their work, a mental health initiative leading research at the intersection of mental health and faith communities, and storytelling efforts to raise awareness and inspire action on behalf of vulnerable communities.
The H. E. Butt Foundation launches the Real County Community Initiative (RCCI) with an office in Leakey, Texas.
The RCCI office acts as a hub of resources in healthcare, education, and mental health for local residents and a meeting place for local leaders.