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September 25, 2017

Remembering a Superintendent & a Cowboy


“Just call me Sheldon.” If you had ever asked Dr. Sheldon Buxton what you should call him, that’s what he likely would have said. His affable manner made for an easy rapport with the teachers, parents or anyone else who met him.

Those who knew the Luther Public School Superintendent have been flooded with remembrances about him after the sad news of his death at age 67. We have been flooded with memories and regrets.

My regret is that I did not ask him one more time for an interview before he left Luther schools. He had politely declined my previous requests, but I wanted to try again in hopes of giving him a chance to talk about his time in the district – the good stuff, the high hopes and plans, not just the controversies. Regrettably, I was “too busy” to get that done. After his resignation, we know he had been looking for another job and applied in Russellville, Arkansas, and likely other places. He said he wanted to continue in his passion for education. I had an opportunity to hear some of that passion when we would chitchat during many executive sessions at school board meetings during the last year or so (since the Luther Register began in November 2015). He told me about working with the media on a controversial issue at a Missouri school district he ran way back in 1988. Later research found that deal was about a Footloose-style dance controversy that went all the way to the US Supreme Court and caught the attention of the New York Times. 

Dr. Buxton was always very helpful to The Luther Register. He answered my numerous questions, accommodated most requests and was patient when I had to ask and re-ask questions on some uncomfortable topics. Last October when the town was rocked with fear and grief over the brutal murders of Ron and Kay Wilkson, a decision was made to hold the funeral in the school auditorium – the only location in Luther big enough to accommodate hundreds of family and friends. But the killer, Michael Vance, was still at large. I marched to Dr. Buxton’s office to visit with him about rumors of whether the school was going to be closed or the funeral was going to be moved. He welcomed me into the office and said he couldn’t bear the thought of telling the family they could not hold the funeral there, while he also could not have the students near any danger. There were tears in his eyes when he told me about the decision making process and his sorrow over the senseless death of the Wilksons.

Dr. Buxton, administrators, teachers, students, parents and members of the community gathered to pray for Luther schools in December 2015.

He held up professionally and graciously under some intense scrutiny during school board meetings, and when he resigned last December, his letter of resignation recounted his successes and his good wishes for the district.

It’s not the time for Luther to recount the controversies; we are familiar with what has passed. There will be other times to catch up on those issues – from the audit to the budget. As news of Dr. Buxton’s death spread throughout the community, Mrs. Casey Gilliland, a third grade teacher, shared a memory on Facebook.

“The first time I met Sheldon Buxton was to discuss my hiring. Me as a new teacher, him as our new superintendent. He sat and talked with me one-on-one for at least 15 minutes about my interests as an individual. I asked him should I call him ‘Dr?’ He said, ‘just call me Sheldon.’ That’s how he was. Real. Down to earth. Honest. He was a GOOD man. And he will be greatly missed. Thank you Sheldon for giving me an opportunity and supporting me,” said Mrs. Gilliland.

Her post generated many condolences and shared memories. Former Executive Director of the Luther Economic Development Authority Sandy Graber remembers asking Dr. Buxton to serve on the LEDA board.

“I met him when I invited him to a meeting for the Economic Development Authority. He joined the board for LEDA. We were fast friends. We had rodeo in common and we were able to talk about the ins and outs of town business. When I couldn’t take one more minute of stress from work, I could go to his office and talk rodeo. He was a good man. He had a good heart. He was a good friend. I’m so sad and hurt over his loss. I’m so sorry for his family,” she said.

Reports indicate that Dr. Buxton, his wife and son were traveling home last Sunday, a week ago, when he apparently suffered a stroke behind the wheel in Missouri, and never regained consciousness. Reports indicate he died on Thursday, April 27, 2017. Dr. Buxton’s funeral will be held on Wednesday, May 2, 2016, at the First Baptist Church of Sallisaw, Oklahoma, at 2 pm. Read his beautiful obituary here.  

 

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