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Butler Co. Community College receives $1 million gift for library renovation, expansion

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Leanne Heaton gives her dad Robert Heaton, both of Butler, a big kiss after a presentation of a 1 million dollar gift to Butler County Community College Tuesday, July 29, 2014. The donation will go to the new Heaton Family Learning Commons. 'I love this little college. Butler should be very much proud of it', he said.
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Robert Heaton of Butler Township has donated 1 million dollars to Butler County Community College Tuesday, July 29, 2014. The money will go towards the new Heaton Family Learning Commons.
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Robert Heaton, left, of Butler Township, recieves applause for donating 1 million dollars to Butler County Community College Tuesday, July 29, 2014. The money will go to the new Heaton Family Learning Commons on campus.

Robert Heaton likes that most students can get to Butler County Community College by bus.

The Butler native and real estate developer says he does not want smart and hardworking kids with no money to miss out on education.

“I’m very much a poor kid from the south side of Butler, and God has been good to me,” said Heaton, 85, who on Tuesday pledged $1 million to the school to renovate and expand the library.

It is the largest single gift the school has ever received.

The donation will go toward a $4.7 million renovation of the school’s 40-year-old library. Half that amount comes from state grants that must be matched, school officials said.

The library will add community meeting rooms, a café and outdoor patio space. A new main entry hall will improve accessibility. The renovation also includes restoration of the building’s original skylight and opening spaces for group study.

“There is no question that this is a game-changer. This donation puts us in the same place as a private school. It speaks to the need for a community college,” said Nick Neupauer, the school’s president.

The son of a plumber, Heaton grew up on Butler’s Garfield Street and graduated from Butler High School in 1947.

“I never thought I’d donate a million dollars to anyone,” he said.

At a ceremony to thank him, Heaton, who still works at his Lyndora office every day, proudly said he has worked for the past 74 years.

At age 11, he washed and greased Studebakers at a downtown Butler dealership. During World War II, Heaton worked at Butler’s Bantam Jeep factory starting when he was 14.

He wanted to be a physician.

“They never could afford to educate me,” Heaton said of his parents.

Heaton entered a mortuary training program at what is now Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland and later went into real estate.

The owner of RHGL Inc., Heaton has developed homes and several apartment complexes in the Butler area.

“He is a great dad,” said his daughter, Leanne Heaton, who works with him.

Robert Heaton likes the community college because it is affordable and because many of its programs are practical.

“They train nurses. They train EMS people. They train engineers. They prepare students to go on to four-year colleges,” he said.

Heaton says he does not like to see talent wasted and is dismayed by the cost of higher education.

“If we don’t educate some of these kids, then who will?” he said.

Rick Wills is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7944 or [email protected].

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