Centre College dedicated an outdoor classroom in memory of Donald Buchanan Saturday as part of their homecoming weekend activities.
Buchanan, a 1979 graduate of Henry County High School and a 1983 graduate of Centre College died in May 2011.
A four-year letterman in football and basketball in high school, Buchanan won the Ross Wallace Award for outstanding male athlete of the year in 1978 and 1979.
Buchanan played football for Centre College during his freshman year and was remembered as an outstanding player, but chose to give up the game he loved to concentrate on academics after his freshman season.
While at Centre, Buchanan earned numerous academic awards including a Rhodes Scholar nomination.
He was very active on campus as chairman of the student judiciary, president of the Economics Society, and was a member of the Phi Beta Kappa academic honor society, Omicron Delta Epsilon economic honor society, Phi Alpha Theta history honor society, Beta Theta Pi social fraternity, and chairman of the interfraternity council.
Upon leaving Centre Buchanan went to Harvard and earned an MBA with honors.
But high school and college awards are only part of the story of the impact that Buchanan had on the schools he attended.
Many people remember him fondly from both high school and college.
Cathy Toole, a high school classmate and friend, kept in close contact with Buchanan over the years and remembers Buchanan as one of the most responsible teenagers she has ever known.
“I remember it was the middle of the summer and it was blazing hot,” Toole said. “I was at band practice at the high school and Donald drove up on his tractor. He got off covered in dirt and began to eat chicken that he had picked up on the way to school. I asked him why he was driving to school on his tractor and eating the chicken with filthy hands. He said that he had been mowing hay all day and had calculated that he could get more mowing done if he just drove the tractor straight to football practice.
“The other boys who were coming to practice teased Donald about driving his tractor to practice but I thought that it showed true dedication to his business and to the football team. He must have been exhausted.
He used the money from his hay baling business to pay for his own hay baler and to pay for college.”
Eddie Maschino, another former high school friend and teammate, remembered that Donald was always thinking about how to save a little money.
“I will never forget the time he needed gas in his car. He wanted to drive 20 minutes back home to fill his car up. As we drove past a service station I mentioned that we could stop and fill up and he replied, ‘yeah but it is free at home.’
“Donald was a truly great friend, teammate and classmate. One of Donald’s best qualities was his genuine interest in his friends and those he cared about. When he asked ‘how are you doing’, he truly meant it and wanted to hear what was going on in your life.
“Donald was the hardest worker I have ever known – on the farm, in the classroom, as an athlete and in his profession.”
Buchanan left a lasting impression on his college peers as well.
Shawn Lyons, Associate Vice President for Development and Alumni Affairs at Centre College, was a 1981 graduate of the school, as well as Buchanan’s teammate and fraternity brother. Lyons remembers Buchanan as one of the best players on the football team his freshman year.
“We played on the defensive line together and he was one of the best players on the team. Had he chosen to continue to play football he probably would have been all-conference every year and possibly a Division III All-American.
He talked to me a lot about his decision to quit the team and concentrate on academics. How many young men at that age would have even considered giving up the sport they loved to concentrate on academics?
“He went on to earn just about every academic award possible at Centre.
“But it wasn’t just academics with Donald. He was also a leader on campus. I know it sounds cliché but he was truly the big man on campus. He was admired and respected by everyone.”
Lyons’ current position with the college meant he was the contact person when a group of Buchanan’s friends decided to create a scholarship fund in his name.
“A lot of times people don’t understand how hard it is to endow a scholarship fund,” Lyons said. “But when Donald’s friends started the fund, it met the minimum goal faster than any fund in my 30 years of doing this.”
The money in Buchanan’s name continued to come in and eventually it was decided that something on campus should be done in his memory. The idea of an outdoor classroom came up as a fitting tribute to a man who loved to be outdoors. That classroom is situated between two buildings that Buchanan spent a lot of time in as a Centre student.
“Enough money came in to fund the classroom and there was still money coming in, so we are putting that in the scholarship fund,” said Lyons.
The scholarship is to be given to a deserving student from a rural background. The first recipient of the scholarship was Erica Moore a 2009 graduate of Henry County High School.
Lyons said it was fitting to have a student that probably waited on Buchanan at Our Best Restaurant in Smithfield as the first recipient of the scholarship.
Blakley Matthews, Buchanan’s best friend at Centre College and an attorney in Nashville, was on the scholarship fund committee and thinks the response speaks volumes about Buchanan’s impact on his peers at Centre College.
“Our committee sent out one letter,” Matthews said. “In response to the one letter, we met our fund raising goal within one month, not the two years we expected. Within three months, the goal had been exceeded by 300 percent. As of today, the fundraising tally is ten-fold greater than the original goal. The college continues to receive tributes and this includes several gifts this week.
“To me, the most gratifying aspect of the memorial project involved the identity of the benefactors. We have received gifts from members of every fraternity, every sorority, independents, former professors, administrators and members of the board of directors. Gifts have come from as far away as Alaska and as close by as Danville. Many of the people paying tribute to Don had not seen or talked to him since the time of our graduation in 1983.
“I am pleased but not surprised that Don registered this type of impact upon people who attended Centre with him. He had that type of impact on me.
“He was a best friend, brother and hero all rolled into one.”