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Remembering John Buenker


For John D. Buenker, University of Wisconsin-Parkside history professor emeritus, a courageous battle with cancer came to a close Saturday, April 4. He was 82.  

Dr. Buenker joined the UW-Parkside History Department in 1970, just two years after the university was founded. During his 33-year career at UW-Parkside, he served as chair of the History Department, director of the university’s Center for Ethnic Studies, and acting director of the Archives and Area Research Center. In 1990, the same year he was named Wisconsin Professor of the Year, Dr. Buenker delivered the UW-Parkside commencement address – “Integrity: The Real Bottom Line.” 

Dr. Buenker’s lifelong passion for history lives on in hundreds of award-winning and nationally recognized publications – and in the influence he had on decades of alumni and colleagues. 

Read more about Dr. Buenker

Memories from Alumni and Colleagues

John was a great educator and historian, and a very decent human being. He was my advisor and mentor in the early 70s. He taught me that there are many different ways of looking at history, interpreting it and writing about it. Much of history is about dates and famous people; much of John’s philosophy of history (as a researcher and writer) was what was going on with the average person, and how that related to the bigger picture of economics, politics, and sociology which surrounded their lives. That philosophy followed John in his personal interaction with others. He cared about the average person and always made you feel like he cared about you as a student, allowed you to be creative and encouraged you to be the best you could be. Over the past couple years, John graciously allowed me to use some of his Racine immigration settlement maps in a book which I wrote. He was always so giving. 

Mike Palecek ‘78 

Professor John Buenker allowed me to obtain academic growth, become a successful student completing graduate school, and develop an interesting and rewarding career in history.  My career was intellectually stimulating, afforded me interaction with scholars, and I was able to add to historical research by writing scholarly research guides for Colonial manuscript collections at one of the premier manuscript repositories in the United States. I received a stellar education at UW-Parkside and feel immense gratitude toward Professor Buenker for his dedication to his life work and commitment to students. 

Beth Krimmel ‘86 

Anyone who knows me well has heard me say I majored in Buenker at Parkside. I have both a bachelor's and a master's degree in History, largely because of his influence. Dr. Buenker was a pivotal figure in my life and I'm thankful for not only the knowledge he shared with me but his sense of empathy. He was a gift.  

Heather Boyle Gaddy ‘01 

A good, kind man. Not afraid to point out injustice, but also a man who could forgive. We are diminished by his passing. 

Peggy James 
Dean, UW-Parkside College of Social Sciences and Professional Studies 

John was a towering scholar whose work reshaped the field of Progressive Era history. He published voluminously on Wisconsin history, and no historian contributed more to the historiography of southeastern Wisconsin. John also taught and published on race & ethnicity, immigration, and American political history. His career was the embodiment of the Wisconsin Idea, as he regularly shared his expertise in the community and in publications ranging from newspaper editorials to the featured essay in the 2011-2012 State of Wisconsin Blue Book.  

He will be remembered most fondly as a warm and witty teacher, a wise and inspiring mentor, and a kind and generous colleague. 

Ed Schmitt 
Associate Professor of History, UW-Parkside 

John was a very special person.  In my 10 years at UW-Parkside, I came to know John quite well--he was a master teacher, a first-rate scholar, a wonderful father, a humble friend and a very intense and unforgiving tennis partner. 

John was always thoughtful, willing to listen and enter into meaningful dialogue--with students, colleagues and even with a Chancellor his own age!  It was always fun interacting with him--except when he was on the other side of the net in a tennis match.  In my five decades at four universities as a university chancellor, president and faculty member, John was one of my very favorite colleagues.   

Al Guskin 
Chancellor, UW-Parkside (1975-1985) 

I was sad to learn of Professor Buenker's passing. Not only did I take a few classes with him, but I worked as a research assistant for a semester or two. I helped compile a timeline of the progressive era that he intended to include in a book he was working on. I am a first-generation college grad and, at the time, I couldn't have guessed how influential that work would be on my career. Now, after 30 years working as an academic librarian, I can look back and understand that he gave me a first taste of actually doing research. When I was honored with UWP's Distinguished Alumni Award a few years back, John was one of the people to send me a personal note. I was truly touched by that.  

John Culshaw ‘86 

John was not only a great professor, he was a great man. He was my advisor until my graduation in 1992. He always had time to talk about history, or life. After I had my own children, I would see him at Racine Youth Sports events with his grandchildren. We would always talk about the latest world events. A bygone era when he, Jerry Greenfield and Laura Gellott, all retired.  

Shannon Coey ‘92 

He was a super instructor and did so much outside of work to help bring the past back into the present. 

In a time when what we do today will be judged by future generations, the study of our past triumphs and mistakes influences our future, and we need more amazing historians like Professor Buenker in our schools. 

Thank you to his family for sharing him with so many students, like myself, who truly appreciate the person he was. 

Aaron Kapellusch ‘97 

With Dr. Buenker’s passing, we lose another one of our influential and inspiring founding faculty. His legacy lives on through the lives of faculty, staff, students and alumni he touched. May he rest in peace. 

Debbie Ford 
Chancellor, UW-Parkside 

We started a collaborative relationship in the early 1980s with a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities for teaching multicultural issues. This led to future team teaching and other collaborative projects that involved the two of us closely. 

A special friendship also developed through the decades, including my attendance at John’s retirement celebration as well as continuing get-togethers until recent years. Although on a separate campus, John was one of my closest professional and personal relationship in my three decades at UW-Milwaukee. 

Ron Podeschi 
Professor Emeritus of Educational Policy & Community Studies, UW-Milwaukee  

John was a noted scholar, a conscientious teacher, and a dedicated citizen of the university. In his 33 years at UW-Parkside he actively participated in the work of shared governance, long a hallmark of the University of Wisconsin System. John had a national reputation as a scholar in the study of the Progressive Era. He articulated the significance of those values to the campus during a ceremony at the time of our 30th anniversary, when the “Sifting and Winnowing” plaques were reinstalled outside the library and the office of the teacher education program.  

What impressed me most about John was the attention he put into preparing his classes. Despite decades in the classroom, he was never one to just “wing it.” I have memories of walking past John’s office late of an afternoon and seeing him sitting at his desk, surrounded by stacks of books, revising his notes for a lecture he must have given dozens of times, updating it for a class that evening.  

John was a good colleague, and a good friend.  

Laura Gellott 
Professor Emeritus of History, UW-Parkside (1982-2012) 

The Professor John Buenker History Scholarship 

Grateful alumni and friends are continuing Dr. Buenker’s legacy of inspiring and supporting UW-Parkside students through the Professor John Buenker History Scholarship. The scholarship will be awarded to UW-Parkside history majors who show academic promise and need help in financing their education. 

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