Under his guidance as a high-school vice principal and director of vocational programs, Lou Buckmaster ensured Churchill County had the best technical education classes in Nevada.
To those who knew him, Buckmaster or “Bucky” was — for more than 40 years — a tireless educator and then school board trustee who sought the best for his staff, students and community. To those who worked with him, he was the consummate professional who devoted his life to education.
Buckmaster, who was born Jan. 1, 1934, in Butte, Mont., died in his sleep one week ago. A funeral services is planned for Thursday at 11 a.m. at Venturacci Gym with interment to follow at the Churchill County Cemetery. A reception will be held afterward at the fairground’s multipurpose building.
DEVOTED TO EDUCATION
Retired Superintendent Ron Flores first met Buckmaster when he became Churchill County High School’s new counselor in 1975 and later moved up the ladder to assistant superintendent and then superintendent in 1995. In the mid-1970s, Buckmaster was the school’s vice principal, a position he assumed at the same time Flores arrived in Fallon.
“He just became vice principal, and I had become the counselor,” Flores said. “We worked together closely for four years before I went to the central office. He had a sense of humor, he was fun to be around and the best side of him was his attention to detail. He was always willing to do the best job possible.”
Flores said Buckmaster had a vested interest in the district and community and always wanted the best education system both for his children and all children in Churchill County.
After Buckmaster retired in 1994, he ran for a position on the school board in 1998 and then served for three terms.
“In retirement, he felt he could be of service on the board,” Flores remembered. “He tried to be fair and listen to both sides. He would give reasons if he disagreed.”
Flores said their friendship never wavered.
“I’m thinking of him not being in the community, and I’m saddened,” Flores said.
Over the years, their families grew very close together. Both their wives taught in the school district, and Kathy Buckmaster, the oldest of three children, babysat the Flores’ youngsters.
Current trustee Rich Gent, who knew Buckmaster as both a colleague and friend, said he was saddened by the news.
“He was hard charging, spoke his word and was an honest school-board trustee who knew where he wanted to go,” Gent said. “I loved Lou to death. We had our moments, and he stood his ground. He was one of the best guys, and he spoke his mind. At times we had some heated discussions, and if he believed in the program, he would let you know.”
Gent said Buckmaster was proud of the vocational program along with another board member and retired teacher, Ron Evans. During the time they served together, Gent said Buckmaster gave 110 percent in favor of the students.
“We went to an FFA banquet together,” Gent recalled. “Lou was in his element. That’s where he wanted to be at.”
Both Kathy and Fred Buckmaster said their father wanted to serve the public.
“He brought honesty and integrity,” Fred said. “He may not have made the popular choice but the right choice.”
When Lou Buckmaster retired, Fred Buckmaster said the community recognized his father’s values and dedication.
“That says something about the kind of person you are and how the community sees you,” Fred Buckmaster said after his father ended his term. “I think he tried to serve on that board, and be a voice of reason. My dad’s one of those kind of no-nonsense people. He doesn’t say anything unless it’s based on fact and the truth.”
THE WINDY ROAD
Buckmaster’s road to Fallon in the 1960s had taken many twists and turns since he was a young boy. Although he was born in Butte, his family didn’t stay there long. According to Kathy, her grandfather moved the family around the West because of various mining jobs. He was a shovel operator.
Her grandfather’s work in the mines or in road construction also brought the family to Nevada where Lou Buckmaster attended school for one year in Fallon, two years in Hawthorne and one year in Ely. Other stops included California communities such as Oceanside, Santa Monica and Ridgecrest. They also spent time in the San Joaquin Valley.
Yet, those Montana ties remained strong for Lou because he would spend summers in Butte with his grandparents. In order to provide stability, though, Lou’s parents and especially his mother — a former teacher — decided to allow him to attend high school in Butte.
Both Kathy and Fred, the oldest of three children to Lou and Jan Buckmaster, said their father wasn’t keen on high school and finished in the bottom tier in a class of 300.
“School wasn’t his big thing,” Kathy said. “The yearbook said he would be a teacher, but he (Lou) told them it was a joke.”
During his high-school years, Lou Buckmaster played football, competed on the ski team, joined band and played the trombone and also became a member of an American Legion baseball team in Butte.
“His team won the city championship one year,” Fred Buckmaster said.”
Lou attended Montana Tech (Montana School of Mines) for one semester and didn’t like it. Instead, he joined the U.S. Marine Corps and spent most of his time at the Mountain Warfare Training Center at Pickel Meadows near Bridgeport, Calif., as a heavy equipment operator. Buckmaster also found time to enjoy the snow in the eastern Sierra.
“There he found a way to ski there in his free time,” his daughter said.
At times when several Marines would travel to Carson City on leave to see family or friends, Lou would head to Mt. Rose to ski. He left the Marine Corps in 1956 and enrolled at the University of Montana in Missoula on the G.I. Bill. Fred Buckmaster said his father joined the ski team and competed as a ski jumper and also in the slalom, giant slalom and downhill.
“Dad could come down a hill and look so pretty,”he said.
Karl Buckmaster, the youngest in the family, said he had found a pair of 9-foot skis in the garage that his father used for jumping.
A CRUCIAL DECISION
Although Lou enjoyed the snow and competition, Kathy said her father kept asking himself if he wanted to remain at the university. In 1959, Lou faced a big decision after his mother died of an unexpected aneurysm: Should he remain in college or become a construction worker. He decided to continue with his education, but Lou transferred to Western Montana College for his final two years and graduated in 1962.
Lou tended to associate with students he had known from Butte, including Sonny Lubick, who eventually became head football coach at Montana State University and then Colorado State University until 2007. Prior to coaching at the college level, Lubick had taught at Beatty, 90 miles north of Las Vegas.
Many times when either team would travel to play the University of Nevada, Kathy said her father would meet with Lubick, usually after the game.
Fred Buckmaster said occasionally their father would receive a call at home from Lubick, wondering how he was doing.
They remained friends but didn’t see each other much during the past decade or two. Lubick, though, said he remembers the tight-knit camaraderie at Western Montana College and how they tried to keep in contact during the years.
“I guess we’re all getting up in age,” Lubick said upon hearing news of Lou’s passing. “I remember our group. We were real close going to college.”
Lubick still retains those fond memories.
“He was always a good kid. Lou was jovial and a good person. Everyone enjoyed his humor,” Lubick said. “No one had a bad word against him.”
Lubick said Lou was well liked at WMC, and everyone knew “Louie Buckmaster.”
“My memories of Lou were happy ones,” said Lubick, who also owns a steakhouse in Fort Collins, Colo. “When you grow up together, some of your best friends you don’t forget.”
Even in Butte when they played on separate teams, Lubick said the friendship never disappeared. Even in passing years, he said the Butte friends never lost their ties. Lubick said he also remembers when friends from Butte or Dillon who now live in Northern Nevada would come to a football game and see him. Those were special moments for the college coach.
Not only did attending WMC forge those friendships, but also Lou’s days there resulted in meeting his future wife.
Kathy said their Aunt Josie lived not far from the college, and one of Lou’s cousins, Sandy, was best friends with Jan Kieckbusch.
“At one day at Aunt Josie’s house, my dad met my mom,” Kathy said. “He then called my grandmother and said he met the girl ‘I’m going to marry.’”
The rest is history … so to speak. After a courtship, they married in 1962. Jan Buckmaster had a teaching job in Great Falls and Lou’s first job was at the Montana Children’s Home at Twin Bridges. Jan later joined him there. Because of low pay for educators in Montana, Jan and Lou Buckmaster moved to Oregon for teaching jobs; however, they heard of an opportunity in Fallon and moved to the small agricultural community in 1964.
“When he got here in the summer, he went up to the high school, trying to find an open door because everything was locked,” Kathy said. “The first person he saw was Ed “Senor” Arcniniega (the school’s Spanish teacher and athletic director). Senor asked him if he could coach, and, of course, dad said yes.”
In addition to teaching government, history and economics, Lou Buckmaster also coached freshman and junior varsity football, j.v. basketball and baseball, track and field, and varsity basketball.
Kathy said one of her father’s attributes was being able to obtain scholarships for players to attend Western Montana College.
Bert Serrano coached many sports like Lou and also taught history and government. To Serrano, though, his colleague was much more than a teacher.
“He loved to have a good laugh, and when he laughed, he laughed hard. He could do anything … fix your house, fix your car. He was the jack of all trades,” Serrano said. “Lou was the original tool man.”
Serrano also coached with Buckmaster and said his mentor was organized. Serrano said he found out “the hard way.”
“I scrambled everything around, and I got lectured,” he said with a laugh. “He was a disciplined guy. He was a Marine guy.”
Serrano said Lou was a very strict with the students, and teachers always knew the vice principal “had their backs.” According to Serrano, Buckmaster gave assistance to teachers and used his experience to tell them what worked for him in dealing with students.
Buckmaster also taught Serrano the game of basketball.
“So many stories but he went to the Wint King School of basketball and passed a lot on to me. He taught me all about basketball,” Serrano said.
King, a Nevada Hall of Fame high-school coach, led Fallon to many championships before moving to Reno in the 1970s.
Retired vocational education teacher and CCHS vice principal Jim Sustacha said Buckmaster totally supported vocational education and was a strong supporter of his staff.
“He was a strong disciplinarian,” Sustacha said, “and when a student made a bad choice, he faced consequences.”
Likewise, Sustacha said Buckmaster, along with Principal Don Travis, supported the vocational education program and knew the importance of vocational ed to the students.
“Lou was a big reason and played a very big part in making the vocational programs as strong as they are. The vocational programs were the strongest in the state,” Sustacha said.
Buckmaster believed in family. Fred said their mother, who died 14 years ago, and his father favored family time during the evening meal. Even if a child was late to dinner because of after-school activities, Fred said his mother and father would return to the table and talk with them.
As Fred, Kathy and Karl look back at their family and now their father’s life, they remember how much importance was place on community service and friendship. People who visited their home were not strangers. The neighborhood kids, said Karl, would come over to their house and play basketball in the driveway.
No matter situation, Lou looked after his children in different ways. Kathy, though, said she always considered herself as daddy’s little girl. Muncie Kolhoss told Kathy she had her father wrapped around her little finger.
“He still protected me even at 48 years old,” Kathy said.
To Fred, his father was larger than life.
“He was 5 foot 6 but 10 feet in my eyes.”