Rich Buckman’s pride for the University of Missouri’s flagship campus in Columbia runs deep. He wears it emblazoned on his chest with Mizzou logo shirts, his head with hats, even the license plate of his pickup truck that reads “PROWL.”
More than just a fan, Buckman, who graduated in 1961 with a Bachelor of Science in art education, is what alumni call “true Mizzou.”
“It never leaves you, and you never leave it,” he explained.
This Friday evening, Buckman will be presented with the Tiger Pride Award from the Mizzou Alumni Association for his sustained and outstanding volunteer leadership and service to the university through the MAA.
Buckman, who serves as co-president of the Franklin County chapter of the MAA with Kim Voss, has been involved with the group for around 20 years and is credited by Voss as being a driving force behind the chapter’s success.
The two met around 2001 when Voss, who was FCMAA president at the time, put out a call to the community to help get the then-struggling chapter back on its feet.
“Rich responded right away . . . and I knew right away that he was going to be the person who was going to get us back on track,” said Voss. “No matter what the activity, he is always right there, helping with the planning, the execution of everything.”
Serving as chapter president in 2005, Buckman led the group to earn “Column” status, which at that time was the highest level of achievement.
The MAA encourages chapters to do different activities and outreaches, and those that meet certain requirements achieve various status levels, Voss explained.
As co-presidents of the chapter for the last several years, Buckman and Voss have led the chapter to reach the new top level, “Capstone.”
More than just a status symbol, these levels translate into scholarship money that the MAA gives to chapters for awarding to area students.
“That is the incentive, that’s really what’s driving chapters to achieve that,” said Voss.
And it’s a major motivation for Buckman, 78, to stay as active as he does with the chapter.
“He wants to open the doors of Mizzou for the youth of our area like it did for him 60 years ago,” said Voss.
Clueless About College
Buckman isn’t reticent when it comes to putting his gratitude for Mizzou into words.
“Mizzou has pretty much meant everything to me,” he said. “It has offered me opportunities that I never would have dreamed of having when I was a kid.”
He was the first person in his family to go to college, and he credits Mizzou for making that possible — by accepting him as a student and at a price that was affordable. He also credits the university for helping him become the man he is today.
“I went to Mizzou not having a clue,” said Buckman, noting he grew up in Ferguson and graduated from Ferguson High School in 1957.
“The truth is, the concept of college never entered my mind. I just assumed that you graduated from high school, went out and got a job and went about your life.”
Two of his high school teachers encouraged him to look into attending Mizzou, and so his senior year he visited the campus.
“I saw all the obligatory places to go. At the end of my visit we went to Red Campus (the historical core of the university). That experience for me, as silly as it may sound, it was transformative. I took one look at those columns, and I said ‘Wow! This is really something,’ ” Buckman recalled.
But his cluelessness showed by the end of his freshman year. He was put on academic probation.
While he was home for the summer, Buckman got a job working in a steel factory in St. Louis, which was all the incentive he needed to give college another try.
“I did not want to spend the rest of my life in front of that steel furnace,” he said.
Then very early on in the first semester of his sophomore year, Buckman met a couple whose son had just graduated from Mizzou. They were longtime residents of Columbia, and they made an impression on him.
“My experience with them really totally changed my attitude about almost everything,” said Buckman. “I found in them I think a sense of common sense intelligence . . . and you learn just by being around them.
“As that sunk in with me, my attitude changed, and then my attitude and relationship with my instructors changed,” he said. “I developed a very close relationship with a couple of teachers . . . They opened up the doors to what learning opportunities the university had. It was like a rebirth or something.
“I had never understood what it meant to go to college. All of a sudden it started to make sense to me,” said Buckman. “The more sense it made, the more aware I was of what the university was offering to me.”
The couple who helped Buckman find his way ended up being his in-laws. He married their daughter, Phyllis; they have been married 56 years.
From that point on, everything seemed to click for Buckman and his life seemed to fall into place.
‘What Would the Guys at Hill Hall Say?’
Buckman’s decision to be an art teacher was influenced greatly by his own teachers — first his high school art teacher who he credits with helping him think that he could and should go to college, and then his teachers in the art department at Mizzou.
“The more I was around them, the more I wanted to do what they do,” said Buckman.
At the time, Mizzou didn’t offer a bachelor’s or master’s degree in fine art, so Buckman, who was a sculptor and potter, earned a degree in art education.
Buckman spent his career working as an art teacher, first with the Ferguson-Florissant School District from 1961 to ’65 and then at Florissant Valley Community College from 1965 to ’99.
“My first couple of years of teaching at the high school level were confusing, challenging, and they were totally amazing,” said Buckman. “I probably spent at least part of every week at least figuratively thinking, ‘What would the guys at Hill Hall say or do under these circumstances?’ and I always found an answer. I thought that was pretty cool.”
And for the 37 years he worked at Florissant Valley, he spent the vast majority of the time trying to make sure he was offering the same learning opportunities for his students as he had received at Mizzou.
“I get a little emotional about this, it totally changed my life. It literally changed my future,” said Buckman. “I’ve said before, ‘I know I can never repay what the university has given me, the opportunities it opened up and just the information that I was able to consume, but at least I can support it and do it in the best way possible.’ ”
Working through the Franklin County chapter of the MAA has offered him that opportunity.
One of Buckman’s most meaningful roles for the FCMAA is chairman of the scholarship committee. All of the money that the chapter raises goes toward awarding scholarships to help area students attend Mizzou.
The chapter has been able to award three scholarships annually — one $4,000 scholarship and two $1,000 scholarships.
This year Buckman is very proud that the chapter should be able to fund a third $1,000 scholarship.
The scholarships are based 50 percent on academics and 50 percent on volunteerism, Buckman said.
“We are looking for kids who achieve and work hard enough to achieve, but who also are interested and willing to become involved in their community, to contribute,” he stated. “Because when they learn that and participate at a young age there is a very good likelihood they’ll continue (volunteering) for the rest of their lives, and that becomes part of the Mizzou experience.”
Why Not Live in Columbia?
Buckman and his wife have made their home in Washington since they moved here in 1981, but they drive to Columbia quite a lot, sometimes just to satisfy a craving for Shakespeare’s Pizza.
The couple has had Mizzou football season tickets for the last 25 or 30 years, and they enjoy watching and cheering for Mizzou’s teams in other sports too — women’s softball, basketball and volleyball, in particular.
Buckman said sometimes he goes up to the campus “just to sit in the quadrangle in front of the columns and watch the people.”
It takes him a little less than two hours to get to Columbia from Washington, his Mizzou tiger tail hanging off the back of his vehicle as he drives along Highway 70. With as often as he goes to Columbia, why not live there?
He has considered it, and even looked around. But the bottom line has always been that they can’t find anything in Columbia comparable to what they have in Washington — not in terms of majesty, he’s quick to point out, “but a sense of place; being in the right place.”
The Buckmans live in an old stone farmhouse just outside of the city limits. They have 20 to 25 acres, enough for him to cultivate a number of flower gardens and grow vegetables.
“It’s tough to leave (Washington),” said Buckman, who curently is involved with the Washington School District as a member of the superintendent’s citizen advisory council and who has served as a member of the Washington School District’s facility development focus group and “Pathways to Success” focus group.
He also is an active member of the school district’s WINGS Foundation.
“It’s a great place to raise a family, to get involved,” said Buckman of Washington. “It has one of the best school systems in the entire state, led by some of the best people.”
MAA Primary Goal: Support the University
The primary goal of the MAA and all of its chapters across the country is to support the university, said Buckman, “do everything we can in every way we can.”
“We have a team of us who go to Jefferson City on Legislative Day and meet with the legislators. One of our missions is to get our whole state to realize the opportunities that the university offers to this state,” said Buckman. “It’s the largest economic engine in this entire state. If the University of Missouri ceased to exist tomorrow, it would devastate this state, both economically and socially.”
It’s the MAA’s goal to help Missouri citizens realize this too, he said.
“We do it by getting involved, by offering opportunities, events, activities, anything we can that will make people aware of what the university is,” said Buckman.
There is a large number of Mizzou alumni living and working in Franklin County, and Buckman wishes every one of them would tell their stories of what the university means to them.
“We could become one of the most powerful ambassador forces in the state for the university,” he said. “Some stories are extremely intimate and personal, and some are very short — an event, an incident. But a whole bunch are long-term; they’re about how you came to the university, what you did while you were there and what it meant to you while you were there and what it continues to mean.
“And we have to tell our stories to the state Legislature too,” he said. “At some point they have to realize that this is something they have to support. The state can’t afford to not have it.”
Tiger Pride Award
When Buckman accepts the Tiger Pride Award this Friday night, he will be only the second member of the Franklin County MAA chapter to receive it. Voss was the first.
The award will be given out as part of the annual MAA Leaders Day conference.
The MAA annually awards this Tiger Pride Award to two people — one in state and one out of state volunteer. Every chapter around the state and the country has the opportunity to nominate someone, and because of that it’s a great source of pride to receive it.
“There are so many amazing people who are doing what Rich is doing, so for him to get this out of all the people in Missouri, is really an honor,” said Voss, highlighting just a few of his contributions:
From serving on the scholarship committee and working events to creating a 6-foot-tall Truman the Tiger cutout of plywood and designing a logo for the chapter.
He does all of this, said Voss, because “he wants to make sure that the university is accessible and available to our students and our state. He really gets the mission and the message of the university.
“Mizzou is the only public AAU university in our state. It is the only AAU research-based doctoral public university in Missouri, and the importance of that university to Missouri, to our future is just imperative,” stressed Voss. “As the university goes, so goes the welfare of our state. It is our biggest economic engine.”
And Buckman’s goal is to make sure that message gets out, she said.
Buckman feels “blown away” to be chosen as this year’s in-state Tiger Pride recipient, especially because he knows how many other people could have been chosen.
“I know it’s an honor, and I sincerely appreciate it, but you look around, and the more you get involved, the more you realize how many people are out there doing the same thing you’re doing. There are people all over the state doing stuff and probably participating and contributing more than I’d ever dream of, but I’ll keep trying, and I keep trying to pay back. I’m very honored by it, and humbled,” he said.
To learn more about the FCMAA, go to http://franklin.missourialumnispaces.com/ or find it on Facebook at Franklin County Mizzou Alumni Association.
Franklin County MAA Chapter Plans Upcoming Events
Monday, Oct. 2 — The chapter’s annual Mizzou Homecoming Satellite blood drive will be held from 3 to 7 p.m. at St. Francis Borgia Parish’s Jesuit Hall, 1000 Cedar St., Washington. Donors with past or current affiliations with campus organizations will be able to designate Homecoming points for those organizations, and all donors will receive tiger paw brownies.
Saturday, Oct. 14 — Mizzou v. Georgia Watch Party at Röbller Winery in New Haven will begin at 10 a.m.
One of the most renown Mizzou tailgaters, Ted Kettlewell from Lot C, will bring his set up to share. He’ll provide large screen TVs for game watching, brick-oven cooked pizzas and smoked BBQ.
The chapter will provide the sides. There will be no charge for MAA members, and $5 for non-members who want food.
People also may bring their own picnic baskets and nonalcohol beverages. Wine can be purchased on site. There is room at the venue for people to play around throwing balls, frisbee or flying kites. Some games will be planned for kids.
People are asked to RSVP to Kim Voss at 314-607-8073 to make sure there is enough food.