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In Memoriam: Professor Robert Buchholz

Jeff Rankin
05/02/2014
Professor Buchholz teaches a class in 1968.
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Robert H. Buchholz, emeritus professor of biology, died April 25 at the age of 89.

First hired as a biology instructor in 1950, Buchholz was the last living member of a legendary biology faculty from his era that included Professors John Ketterer, Milton Bowman and David Allison.

After serving in the U.S. Army from 1943-46, Buchholz earned his bachelor’s degree in zoology in 1949 from Fort Hays State University in Kansas. The following year he received a master’s degree in zoology with a minor in biochemistry from Kansas State University. During the summer of 1952 he did graduate work at the Hydrobiological Station at Put-in-Bay, Ohio.

His Ph.D. thesis at the University of Missouri in 1957 focused on the digestive systems of bats, rats and moles. While at Missouri, he met future MC biology professor Milton Bowman, whom he later urged to apply for a teaching position at Monmouth.

In 1962-63, he served as resident biologist for the Associated Colleges of the Midwest at Argonne National Laboratory. After being promoted to professor in 1963, he served a year as an NIH Fellow in the Department of Physiology at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland.

Buchholz served 12 years as department chair, beginning in 1967, and was instrumental in the establishment of the Ecological Field Station on the Mississippi River near Keithsburg, Ill.

A respected researcher and talented teacher, Buchholz was also tuned in to the personal lives of the students in his classes.

“He was very aware of the romance that developed between one his student lab assistants (me), and a very pretty freshman biology major named Karen Barrett,” recalls Dr. Stan Chism ’63. “He wryly noted once that some students are doing particularly well on lab practical tests and wondered if they were exceptionally bright or are getting extra help.”

Mike Salaway ’89, who established a successful sports rehab company with his partner, Chris Byers ’89, credits Buchholz as a primary influence in his decision to enter the physical therapy field.

“I had been a chemical engineering major at U of I,” Salaway explained, “and had returned to Monmouth College knowing I had science interests but not really sure what I should do. I went to see him about possible biology careers and was expecting guidance that would lead me toward becoming a medical doctor or teaching.  Instead, he talked and talked and talked about going into physical therapy or podiatry.  He even worked with Monmouth College administration to try and develop a 3/2 physical therapy program with Chicago Medical School.”

Chism also commented on the personal interest Buchholz took in his students:

“In 1997 I applied to graduate school at Stanford for a master’s degree program in liberal arts.  An application requirement included an evaluation by a faculty member familiar with the applicant's work. Even though 34 years had elapsed since Dr. Buchholz gave me a grade in a class, he was able to write an evaluation without opening his old grade books. Since I was admitted and graduated I assume that it was a positive evaluation.”

Both former students admired Buchholz’s mental acumen. “One of my greatest memories of him as a professor was in Mammalian Physiology class,” said Salaway.  “Throughout the entire class he would stand and lecture for nearly two hours without a note, a book, or the need to look up any of the details including drawings, specific data, and concepts.  The sheer volume of factual knowledge he possessed and could recall without checking any sources was just unbelievable.  It became clear that this man had forgotten more about the field of Physiology than I could ever learn.”

Although he retired in 1990, Buchholz continued teaching through Monmouth’s Bridge Program until 1994. In 1996, he was honored with the Distinguished Service Award by the Alumni Board of Directors.

Buchholz is survived by his wife, Mona, and three sons, including Mark ’71 and Dan ’76.