Generous gift establishes mechanical engineering scholarship
“When I think back, starting here and ending up where I did, I never in my wildest dreams considered I would be able to attend college,” said University of Missouri alumnus Charles Buehler.
The 1946 mechanical engineering graduate said it was his mother, Bertha, who ensured that he and his brothers, Raymond and Harold, were the “first Buehlers that ever set foot in a college.”
“It’s something I’m very proud of,” he said. “She was in nursing school but had to come home to take care of her mother, halting her education. She was a great inspiration.” His father, a machinist at the Crystal City, Mo., glass factory, also was a source of encouragement
Following family tradition, Buehler became a machinist apprentice in 1935 and worked two years learning the trade. But in 1937, he decided to pursue his dream of becoming an engineer and headed to Mizzou.
Hoping to make a difference in the lives of other aspiring engineers, Buehler recently made a $100,000 gift to the College of Engineering to fund scholarships in mechanical engineering, with students from his Missouri home area high schools, Festus and Crystal City, receiving priority consideration.
When he started at MU, Buehler was living in a university-sanctioned boarding house, which charged $1 per day room and board. He worked his way through college, putting his pre-college training to good use building lab equipment under the watchful eye of Professor Ralph Scorah, mechanical engineering faculty member and department chair from 1944 to 1958.
As a student in the years leading up to World War II, Buehler said he and his classmates saw things heating up politically and talked about it among themselves.
“We all knew something was going to happen. We asked ourselves, ‘Are we going to sleep in the mud or on a cot?’ and joined ROTC,” Buehler said.
“I went home for Christmas vacation in 1941, knowing that I would receive orders any day and got the telegram calling me to active duty. Mom was very upset,” he added.
But his orders were not what he expected. Within seven days, he reported to Harvard University for 10 weeks of accelerated training on “a new thing called radar.” From there he went to MIT for three months of advanced training and then on to Drew Field for five months to complete his training.
While training at Harvard, he married Georgana Page, the college sweetheart he met on a blind date to a Sadie Hawkins dance held at MU.
“She was quite a gal. I thought, ‘Oh hell, she’s popular and I’m not,’ but it worked out,” Buehler said of their first meeting. “She was a very pretty, blue-eyed Irish girl.”
By New Year’s Eve, Buehler and his men were on a troop ship in San Francisco Bay, waiting for the escort ships to take them to the South Pacific where he then spent two months training. As a radar officer, he was the commander of a platoon of 35 men on remote islands tracking enemy movements of aircraft and ships — friends and foes.
Once discharged, it took Buehler only three months to complete his degree at MU.
“When I graduated in 1946, I had four good jobs waiting for me,” he said. “I was able to pick and choose and went with Western Electric for five years.”
The bulk of Buehler’s career was with Monsanto, where he worked first as a plant engineer in a variety of situations, and then got into equipment design work. He then went to corporate headquarters in Creve Coeur.
Buehler served on national committees for American Society for Mechanical Engineering, American Petroleum Institute, Safety Design and Equipment. He retired in 1981 after working nearly 30 years for the company.
At 94, Buehler has started to take things at a slower pace. Georgana died in 1990, and his second wife, Jean, passed away in 2008. Buehler moved to Friendship Village in Chesterfield, Mo., in 2009. His driver’s license expires on his birthday, and he plans to give his car to his granddaughter.
He said it was his attendance at the Mizzou Alumni Association’s Gold Medal Reunion honoring the 50th anniversary of his graduation that started him thinking more about doing something for Mizzou.
“I was so impressed with all of the equipment and how much was going on. I don’t see how students can work and go to school,” he added. “There’s so much more that’s being done today.”
Buehler began making annual donations of $1,000 to the Scorah scholarship in honor of his mentor, and to the Mechanical Engineering Department.
“I got to thinking about it, and decided I could do better than that. I know what it costs these days and it blows my mind,” he said. “I talked to my daughters, Jan and Amy; I could afford it and they were 100 percent behind me. I thought, ‘Oh heck fire. I’m going to do it.’”
Buehler surprised a student who called him on behalf of the Mizzou Annual Fund by saying that instead of his $1,000 pledge, he’d like to make a $100,000 gift.
The Charles A. Buehler Scholarship Fund in Mechanical Engineering was established in April 2012.
“If it will make a difference for somebody to attend college — if I can make that difference — it’s worth it to me,” Buehler said.