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.

14 thoughts on “The Passing of a Dear Button Friend

  1. FOND MEMOERIES of Jean Rivers will remain in my heart. A true friend in my BUTTON WORLD! I will treasure the book and buttons she generously gifted to me.

  2. One of the most caring, kind and considerate people I have ever had the joy and pleasure to know. We lost an angel when Jean died but our loss is heavens gain! Rest in peace dearest Jean.

  3. I’m so sorry to hear about Jean’s passing My heart goes out to John and to the rest of the family.

  4. Jean also kept NBS memberships up for her husband and most of her children. I never met her in person, but always enjoyed our emails each year as she figured out how much to send NBS via PayPal. She was a delight and always made me smile. My best to her family. Susan Porter, NBS Secretary

  5. So proud to have known the matriarch of such a loving beautiful family. She touched many lives and will be remembered always. Xoxo

  6. Jean was the most kind and generous person. She was a blessing to the world and a friend to everyone. I miss her and will always remember her when I look at buttons that she and I both bought because they were so ugly they were cute. It’s a fun memory.

  7. I feel very fortunate to have known Jean. We never met in person, but through the wonders of the internet, we had an ongoing friendship. I’ll always be reminded of Jean when I think of the mountains of North Carolina, hound dogs and apple blossoms.

  8. I “met” Jean through Facebook. I loved her nature picture posts. She always enjoyed my dog posts. I thought here’s a person I can really connect with — nature, dogs, buttons — how much better can it be? I watched diligently for news of her husband’s health and rejoiced when remission came! When I broke my leg in January, she sent me two ceramic buttons — one of a corgi (like my dog) and one of a cat (I have 4!) When she stopped posting to FB, I was worried her husband might have taken a turn for the worse, never thinking she might be ill. I’m so sorry I never met her in person and astonished at the level of grief I feel for someone I “only” knew over the internet.

  9. What fun Jean was at those Fall Apple/Button Festivals! I feel honored to have known her and share times together over buttons. As a button jewelry maker, I remember her happily sharing her bracelets and necklaces for display Thank you, Jean, for being such a large part of our collecting world. You will be fondly remembered always.


  11. I am so deeply saddened to learn of Jeans passing. I stopped by FB to ask a question about a button I found. Shocked! I never met her, we connected through button collecting sites on face book. I was delighted to find someone so willing to share her knowledge of buttons, and in doing this her amazing zest and wisdom for life. It was clear how much she loved family, friends, animals, cabins, buttons, faith, and humanity, and much more. On my 50th birthday, I received a pkg. From Black Mountain containing 3 buttons, no note…had no idea who sent them, but the give away was a hand made glass apple button.,,! I will treasure these buttons, and I will miss her positive uplifting posts on FB. To her family, my sincere condolences on the loss of an incredible lady. R.I.P. Jean.

  12. Jean was a kind and generous person. I enjoyed her open house during cider making time! She sent many note cards with a special button for me! I will miss competing against her! I will miss her smile; it lit up the room!

  13. I’ll a;ways remember her with fondness,her button knowledge,friendliness and generosity..My husband and I had a great deal of fun with Jean and John;going to antique shows,lunches and meetings.I do want to thank her for her efforts in starting the Western North Carolina Button Club.She wrote notes to every member in the Asheville area listed in the NBS roster inviting us to meet in hopes of getting a club started.Our first meeting was held at the home of Marion Bostwick on January 13,2000.Our club is still active and we ejoy it all!Thanks to Jean!

  14. Thank you for the lovely tribute for my mother, family, cider, buttons, and friendship.
    It brought tears to my eyes knowing their are as many people missing Jean Rivers as much as I do!
    Thanks for all your warm thoughts, and her memorable membership to N C buttons.
    Thanks again, great positive feed back. Love you all, sincerely Joseph Rivers

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