A talent for catching fish helped Ryan Butler land his dream. And now he’s casting his net even wider, giving sick children and their families a hope-affirming experience through a faith-based charitable organization called, appropriately enough, “Catch-A-Dream.”
Most days, Butler is busy managing new service connection projects for large consumers on the lines of
Carroll Electric Cooperative Corporation, the Berryville, Arkansas-based co-op that just recently shot past 100,000 members.
“We’re one of the largest co-ops in the state of Arkansas,” he says. “There’s a ton of growth in this area.”
As the co-op’s development design coordinator, he works with staff engineers, real estate developers, highway officials, and others to keep projects on track. A Carroll Electric employee for more than seven years, he also chairs the co-op’s standards committee.
But on almost every day off, from March through October, Butler’s on the water, honing his skills as a semi-professional bass-catching expert. Last year, his mastery took him all the way to the GEICO Bassmaster Classic, an angler’s version of the Summer Olympics and the World Series all rolled into one event.
Butler has made a name for himself in local and regional fishing tournaments, but when he qualified for the 2018 Classic at South Carolina’s Lake Hartwell, he entered a whole new world of fishing.
“It’s just incredible,” he says. “There’s two or three thousand people standing on the shoreline snapping pictures. There’s helicopters flying all around. You get back at the end of the day, and people want your autograph.
“For those few days, you feel like a rock star. And I’m just a guy who works at the co-op.”
While the newfound celebrity was fun, Butler saw it more as a chance to do some good.
“I told my wife, ‘We’re healthy; our child’s healthy. I feel like we’re blessed to have what we have.’ So when I achieved this and got a spot in the Classic, I said we have to use this opportunity.”
Butler had heard about the
Catch-A-Dream Foundation, a Mississippi charity that provides hunting and fishing experiences for youngsters with life-threatening medical conditions. For an angler making his move to the majors, it seemed like a perfect fit.
He wanted to use his new fame as one of bass fishing’s best to generate contributions to Catch-A-Dream. He called Marty Brunson, the charity’s CEO, who helped him design and launch a donor platform called Fishing for Dreams.
Brunson remembers that call the way an angler remembers landing a big one.
“He just sort of came out of the blue,” Brunson says. “He’d been a follower of ours for quite some time, and when he got his opportunity on the big stage, he decided he wanted to help us out. It’s hard to overstate the significance of someone like Ryan. It’s invaluable and quite humbling to be involved with a guy like that.”
Catch-A-Dream hosted Butler’s Fishing for Dreams fundraising page on its own website, and the campaign was off. Butler’s personal hope is to raise $20,000.
“Ryan’s effort has dwarfed the impact of any of our other social media-based platforms,” Brunson says. “It’s a testament to the power of the grassroots, to his community support, and to Ryan’s persona and his integrity.”
Butler is gratified by the generous response to his effort too.
“My co-workers supported this thing 100 percent,” he says. When he looks over the campaign’s donor list, “80 percent of those people I know.” And at least one of them, neither he nor anyone else knows.
“There’s a thousand-dollar donation in there, and whoever did it just did it anonymously. They’re like, ‘Here it is, and I don’t need any recognition for it.’”
Butler went back to the Bassmaster Classic again this year, but this time as a spectator. He took along Alex Cook, one of Catch-A-Dream’s kids who’s been battling leukemia for more than a year and a half. Butler’s status as a former competitor got them behind the scenes to meet the heroes of competitive angling, experts like Bill Dance, Michael Iaconelli, Brandon Palaniuk, Chris Zaldain, and Mike McClelland.
Butler saw it as a chance to again share his own good luck.
“Fishing the Classic was a dream of mine. And now we’re using it for another kid’s dream.”
He says the Fishing for Dreams fundraising site will be an ongoing project and he plans to join Catch-A-Dream for upcoming trips in Missouri and Arkansas.
“I want to see these kids experience it, see the smile on their face, see their family,” he says. “For that one week, they get to forget about the bad and focus on all the good in their lives.”
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