The Passing of a Dear Button Friend

Jean and John Rivers

This Mother’s Day, North Carolina button collectors are mourning a very dear button friend who was a Button Mother to us all.

Jean Ellen Cleveland Rivers passed away Tuesday, May 7, 2013 at Mission Memorial Hospital in Asheville, NC.

She was born to Ray and Margaret Cleveland on January 27, 1934 in Flint, Michigan. Jean graduated from the University of Michigan with a BSN degree in 1956 and that same year married the Reverend John Rivers.

We are not sure exactly when she started collecting buttons, but Jean was well-known in the state and also at the national level for being a worthy competitor in button awards, and placing with a ribbon (typically blue!) in everything she entered. She had a special fondness for awards that called for considerable searching and thinking and was a tireless researcher. Her latest passion was the stories of Harry Potter and she recently entered an award-winning tray of buttons representing characters and events in the Harry Potter books.

A member of the Central NC Button Club, Jean and John for many years hosted the club meeting in October at their cabin home in Black Mountain. The highlight of a day of buttoning, eating, and laughing was the pressing of apples into cider via an antique cider press. There was a fire, donuts, cider, a yummy lunch, and a favor button for all attendees chosen with care by Jean.

Apples were a theme for Jean, and many an apple button found its way into her collection from eBay, studio artists and fond friends. She and John gave the state program one year about Johnny Appleseed to delight of all who attended. The handout they provided was stapled and tied with a red ribbon – Jean never did things half-way!

In 2011, Jean was tasked with determining the show button for the them of “Oriental Influence on Buttons.” She aptly chose a studio-artist button made by Heather Smith of glass over paper depicting cherry blossoms, both as a nod to the theme, and to the upcoming 100th anniversary of the gift of cherry tress to the United States from Japan.

Many button collectors were the recipients of her great generosity. She never hesitated to share her button knowledge and her buttons with any and all interested. One time she and I were in a competition on eBay for two wooden buttons with painted wooden fruits. At that time you could tell who you were bidding against and we made a habit of pulling back when we saw club members bidding so we wouldn’t run up the bids for each other. When I saw her win the wooden bowls of fruit I congratulated her and told her if she didn’t need two wooden bowls, would she sell me one? The next week I found the little wooden bowl button in the mail to me with a lovely note. She was like that.

Jean’s twin sister, Joan Burdette of Edgewater, MD survives her, as do her husband John, five children: daughter Sallie Rivers and sons John “Jay” Rivers, Jr., Ray Andrew “Andy” Rivers,  Joseph Rivers, and Benjamin Rivers, 10 grandchildren and 3 great-grandchildren. Her button knowledge and diligence in collecting will be carried on in her family through two of her sons, Andy and Ben, and their families. She always kept memberships in the state organizations for her kids and grandchildren so they could stay connected to the hobby.

She will be dearly missed by so many collectors, dealers and studio artists who she encouraged, supported and shared with. Our club sends condolences to John Rivers and their family with our love and thanks for the wonderful years with Jean in our midst.

The family is accepting contributions in Jean’s name to:

Swannanoa Valley Christian Ministry
PO Box 235
Black Mountain, NC 28711

Please tell us how you met Jean or share a Jean story by typing in the “Leave a Reply” box below.