(Marilyn) Lavonne Chodan Butler
A Life in Music
Lavonne Butler was born Marilyn Lavonne Zaruba, on July 31, 1931, daughter of Carl Zaruba and Jimmie Cunningham, in Chicago, Illinois. She went by her middle name Lavonne her entire life. She had two brothers, Carl and Jack.
Her mother’s mother, Minnie Cunnigham, had a music school, and Lavonne inherited her talent and love of music. She started piano lessons at five years old, and said that if there was a piano around, it was like a magnet, and she would have to be playing it. Her mother never had to ask her to practice. In her teens she started accompanying her family singing duets and trios. Soon she was playing for church. She became proficient playing classical music. In high school band she played the cornet.
In 1952 Lavonne married David Chodan. They lived in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, and Denver, Colorado before settling in Upland, California. They were fortunate to travel across the states several times. Lavonne’s pride and joy was her new 7 foot 2 inch Baldwin black ebony piano. To accommodate it, they built a large 12 by 24 foot music room. To their delight, after several years a son, Reed, was born.
Soon she bought her first organ, a Hammond, with a big Leslie speaker. Over the years she would own many top of the line pianos, organs and keyboards. She played in church and on the radio. In 1960 she began teaching piano and organ in her home. She played the organ at the Temple Baptist Church in Ontario, California, where she was the Music Director. She had musicals built around composers of Christian hymns, instrumentals and vocals of their songs. She taught music at several music stores.
Lavonne was active in several organ clubs during the years of the organ heyday. She continued to take lessons in organ and keyboard from LeRoy Davidson, and later from Marco Mendez.
Her first marriage dissolved in 1972. Years later, in 1984 she met Roy Butler, the love of her life. She would cherish all of the years they had together. When Roy passed away in 2011, she was bereft. She wondered how she could face the next Christmas without him. She decided to invite 50 or 60 of her friends for a concert in her living room. It was such a success that she repeated the Christmas concerts for several years, adding music played by her students and professional musicians. She composed several songs, and recorded 36 CDs.
She entered an international “Lowrey’s Got Talent” contest around 2010. Out of 4,000 people Lavonne won! She played a terrific arrangement of “Malaguena” that Marco had made for her on the Lowrey organ.
Lavonne was very creative. She sewed all her own clothes for many years. She was a scrapbooker and created many scrapbooks of her life, including one filled with the hundreds of glittering butterflies she had created. She had a sparkling personality and was a generous friend. Lavonne treasured her friends: Sandra Marshall, Debi Drewes, Shirley Jackson, Karen Lane and many others too numerous to mention.
Lavonne passed away on Palm Sunday, April 10, 2022. She was an inspiration to us all.
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