An outspoken artist, mother, and social critic who followed her convictions

Dotti Button

Dotti Button 1929–2017

A Michigan native, Dotti talked loud, laughed loud, and dressed loud too. She thrived on excitement, hated routine, and felt it her duty to get those around her to live with the same wholehearted purpose.

In her twenties, as a self-consciously sophisticated art student, Dotti found her life upended in one short weekend when she reluctantly attended the 1952 Annual Conference of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. In her words:

When I left home on Thursday, I was what I had been brought up to be – a middle class, college-educated young lady. When I returned home on Sunday evening, I was a totally different person. My whole attitude toward war, toward minorities, toward poor people, toward unions, toward everything was completely changed. The focus of my life after that was to work for world peace, for justice, and for reconciliation between people.

Morning chores: taking the recycling before school

It was her Christian faith that gave context to her new commitment. Dotti and her husband, Bill, were churchgoers and, like the other members of the progressive, integrated Methodist church they attended in Detroit, focused their faith on social justice and racial reconciliation. In the summer of 1962, intrigued by reports about a pacifist Christian community whose members share all things in common, they decided to go see for themselves. And once again, in the course of a few days, the direction of Dotti’s life changed.

Three things they experienced on that first visit to the Bruderhof drew them: the members’ obvious joy despite their impoverished circumstances, the fact that people were able to disagree and yet still come to unity, and the outreaching love that Dotti felt from the gathered community. This love was evident in the community celebrations, but it also shone through as members honestly and openly confronted each other.

In the car on the way back to Detroit, Bill announced, “I’m going back.” Dotti later recalled:

Bill did not say, “We are going back,” or, “Are we going back?” or, “What do you think?” He said, “I am going back.” He was called. That is something I have hung on to. No matter what happens in life, Bill was called to this life by God, and so was I. I had become discouraged, disillusioned, and our marriage was in danger of breaking up. That one weekend turned everything around and gave me a real joy in life.

In 1967, just five years after Dotti and her family had come to the Bruderhof, her husband Bill abruptly left. The reasons were complicated – decades later, Bill would simply say that he’d had “a heartless mind and a lot of stubborn pride.” He’d intended to take his wife and children with him, but Dotti refused to go. Instead, she stayed true to the conviction that they’d been called to follow God in community. Over the next five years she single-handedly raised their six children, ranging in age from three months to fifteen when he left, all the while not knowing if Bill would return.

I had become discouraged, disillusioned, and our marriage was in danger of breaking up. That one weekend turned everything around and gave me a real joy in life.

He did, but the time after his return wasn’t easy. Dotti, who had managed years of single parenting, now had to reaccept a husband who doubted his faith and himself, and depended on her support. It took years for Bill to get back on solid ground spiritually and emotionally, and more years for his children to once again respect and love their father. But the miracle was that their marriage was healed, and that together they continued to live, always with great intensity, never without excitement, for the common purpose that had brought them to the community. Their home was always open for free-spirited discussion. Dotti, a skilled gardener, created and tended colorful displays around the community. Bill, a teacher, self-taught plumber, and self-taught carpenter, kept busy in the school and around the community. He was also a voracious reader and prolific writer, and he and Dotti were endlessly interested in world events and issues of economic and environmental justice. When Bill died in 2016, they had been married for over sixty-two years.

The Mount Academy’s mock trial team – state finalists in 2019
The Mount Academy’s mock trial team – state finalists in 2019

In her last years, Dotti suffered chronic pain from various debilitating health problems. Two weeks before she died she made one final splash when she joined a community celebration in her wheelchair. Her favorite Louis Armstrong song, “What a Wonderful World,” was playing. Dotti somehow got out of her chair and started to dance, her crippled feet remembering the old-time box step. She grinned from ear to ear as one young man after another took her hands and followed her lead. After ten minutes of dancing, she was helped back into her wheelchair, exhausted but triumphant.

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A Window into a Christian Community at 100 Years

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