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Bonnie Brown: Q&A with Retired Associate Director of the Physical Plant Department, Buddy Kahler

*Editor’s Note: The latest installment in the Ole Miss Retirees features is Retired Associate Director of the Physical Plant Department, Buddy Kahler. The organization’s mission is to enable all of the university’s faculty and staff retirees to maintain and promote a close association with the university. It is the goal of the Ole Miss Faculty/Staff Retirees Association to maintain communication by providing opportunities to attend and participate in events and presentations.

Buddy Kahler. All photos provided.

Buddy Kahler is known for his leadership, his quiet demeanor, efficiency, and for getting things done the right way. His military service is exemplary. After living and traveling many places, he and his family made their way back to Mississippi and Ole Miss as he served as Associate Director of the Physical Plant Department. He now lives in Alabama. He has a great Ole Miss story.

Brown: Where did you grow up? What is special about the place you grew up?

Kahler: I was born and raised on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. The Coast is special to me because of the water, beaches, and bayous. Just beautiful!

Brown: Please talk about your parents, siblings, grandparents, crazy aunts and uncles.

Kahler: My parents were both from the Coast area. Neither surpassed the 6th-grade level. My mother, Ruby Hudson Kahler, came from a farming family. My dad, Henry (Buck) Kahler, had sea-going parents and grandparents. My family included two older sisters, both retired and living on the Gulf Coast.

Brown: Where did you go to school?

Kahler: I attended Gulfport High School and Mississippi State University. I alternately went to school a semester and then worked a semester. The program required five years to complete graduation. My work semesters were in Hattiesburg, where I worked for the Mississippi Department of Transportation, 6th District. I also received a Master’s in Education from Pepperdine University in 1976, and a Master’s in Strategic Studies, Salve Regina University, affiliated with the Naval War College, in 1989.

Brown: What were you really into when you were a kid?

Kahler: My grandfather owned a fishing camp. I was always on the water fishing. Boy Scouts of America was a major activity as well as living with my aunt and uncle on their farm.

Brown: When you were 5-years-old and asked what you wanted to be when you grew up, how did you respond?

Kahler: I don’t have a clue.

Brown: Who influenced you in your early life? Did you have a mentor who influenced your career path?

Kahler: Most all of my uncles served in WWII as did my scoutmasters. I always held them in high regard and thought I should serve in the military. I had no idea I would serve in the military for a career. I also had a math teacher, R. L. Winstead, who encouraged college and helped with my admission into the co-op program at Mississippi State.

Brown: Tell us how/when your Ole Miss “story” began? Who hired you? How long did you work at Ole Miss? What were your job responsibilities?

Kahler: Upon return from Operation Desert Shield/Storm, I had the opportunity in 1992 to interview with Chancellor Gerald Turner and Dean of Liberal Arts, Dale Abadie. I then assumed duties as the Commanding Officer of the Naval ROTC Mid South Consortium which consisted of both Ole Miss and the University of Memphis NROTC units. I worked in that capacity for four years. My primary duty was recruiting and preparing young men and women for active duty in the U.S. Naval Service (U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps). I was instrumental in establishing a U.S. Marine Corps Junior ROTC unit at Oxford High School. Upon retirement from the Marine Corps in 1996, I was fortunate in getting the opportunity to serve as Associate Director of the Physical Plant under the guidance of Director Paul Hale. Both Chancellor Khayat and Provost Carolyn Staton encouraged me to apply for continued employment at the university. At the Physical Plant we did almost everything to ensure that students, faculty and staff had what was needed for their educational needs. I retired from the university in 2007, having worked there for a total of sixteen years.

Brown: Please tell us more about establishing the U.S. Marine Corp ROTC unit at Oxford High.

Kahler: Part of my Marine Corps duties as Chair of the Department of Naval Science on college campuses, was to visit area high schools. The task was convincing school administrators the benefits of having a Junior ROTC program (either Navy or Marine Corps). The program is another avenue for young people to get involved, just as sports, clubs, and other high school activities.

Dr. John Jordan at Oxford High School realized the value of a Junior ROTC program, and went forward with a formal request to Headquarters, USMC, Washington, D.C. Once the groundwork was in place, Dr. Jordan asked that I help him screen retired Marine Corps officers and recommend a candidate to assume the ROTC leadership role. I did, and Lt. Col. Jerrel Townsend was appointed. He successfully served in that position for several years. It is my understanding that the program continues and is doing well.

Brown: Working with the Physical Plant Department (PPD), I’m sure you were involved with football weekend preparations. Do you have any stories to share about that? (BTW, the Hotty Toddy Potties solved so many problems and are so nice!)

Kahler: Football weekends were interesting, a storyteller’s mecca. Every week was new, exciting, and challenging. I remember one couple came into the Physical Plant in mid-August inquiring about their tailgate articles (tent, table, chairs), they had left in the Grove the previous Thanksgiving Egg Bowl.

Another couple wanted PPD workers to remove University tailgate tents placed near the Lyceum because (their story), they had been putting their tent in “that spot” for 25 years! I had not been on campus that long, but I had been involved in VIP tent placement for the past few years. Knowing the story bogus, tact and patience—a requirement–paid dividends.

Brown: I know you served in the military and had an impressive career. Tell us about that.

Kahler: I had never intended to have a career in military life. It just happened. I would do it again. I served in three Fleet Marine Force divisions (East Coast, West Coast, and Far East). I served three years in Germany having duties planning strategic cooperation with Israel. I trained recruits at Parris Island, South Carolina. I also served a tour at the University of Missouri as the Marine Officer Instructor at the ROTC there. I participated in operations in Vietnam and Kuwait.

There was nothing more rewarding for me than serving with Marines. They understand their role and want to do, not an average, but an exceptional job. When their lifestyle is put into context, these young Marines and their families are extraordinary patriots. Many of our citizens have no idea of military hardships, family separations and sacrifices, the dangerous nature going to work, or living 24/7 in such a dangerous environment.

My experiences were mild compared to many, but I spent one year away from family in Okinawa, with trips into Viet Nam and excursions to Thailand, all in support of the Viet Nam conflict. In 1979, I spent nine months aboard ship, deployed to the Mediterranean Sea, and in 1990-1991, I participated in Desert Shield/Desert Storm. My duties and responsibilities varied, commanding small units of 30-40 up to 175 Marines. My duties in Desert Shield/Desert Storm included the responsibility of getting 5,000 Marines and sailors to/from Kuwait. It is foolish for anyone to think I did this by myself. I had good people working for me, just as I had at the Ole Miss Physical Plant. Teamwork makes the difference. I learned quickly that attention to detail is paramount. My superiors impressed on me that in military service, one is responsible for everything you do or fail to do. This became a lifeline for me in whatever task I was charged.

Military service is wonderful. It has its excesses, hardships, dangers, and disappointments, but it has to be done. I still discuss military service with young people at every opportunity. Some have taken the challenge as their choice for service to country.

Brown: I know you have lived a lot of different places. What place was your favorite and why?

Kahler: I have had the opportunity to travel extensively during my military service. Cynthia and I had a three-year tour in Stuttgart, Germany. It was wonderful, offering never-forgotten experiences for the entire family. We traveled throughout Europe, soaking in all we could. The children were like sponges, absorbing culture, languages, and experiences they still discuss. It was the only duty station that Cynthia cried when we left. It was that wonderful.

Professionally, my dealings with the Israeli Defense Forces were indescribable. My exposure to these high-level issues/personnel was extremely rewarding.

Brown: You and your wife have traveled a lot. What was your favorite vacation/travel destination? Why was it your favorite?

Kahler: Our two-week cruises to Alaska have been our favorite vacations. Alaska and her nature are beautiful. We have also taken several river cruises in Europe, and a two-week cruise in the Baltic Region. We are really looking forward to a 32-day cruise in the Far East in 2020.

Brown: How have your goals changed over your life?

Kahler: I always wanted to be successful. I think I achieved that. But before the military opportunity, I was set on owning a landscape nursery business. I found the military exciting and stayed on that course.

Brown: Do you cook?

Kahler: I can boil water. Does that count? I can get by, but my wife is such a good cook, I prefer her cooking.

Brown: What’s your definition of success?

Kahler: Demonstrating to everyone, especially young people, that hard work is rewarding.

Brown: Fill in this blank: If I could snap my fingers and acquire an experience or talent, it would be . . .

Kahler: Playing the piano.

Brown: Talk about the best day of your life and why it was the best day.

Kahler: It was the day I married my bride, some 45 years ago. Our journey continues and every new day is better than the day before. The days yet to create expectations excitedly undefined!

Buddy and Cynthia.

Brown: What five words would your friends use to describe you?

Kahler: No clue. But I hope they are positive.

Brown: Are you an introvert or an extrovert?

Kahler: Introvert—hands down.

Brown: Do you have a favorite TV show that you never miss?

Kahler: No!

Brown: How do you deal with stress?

Kahler: Work hard to solve the issue.

Brown: What advice would you give your 21-year-old self?

Kahler: Grow up!!

Brown: What’s your favorite way to waste time?

Kahler: I still love to fish and I can spend hours playing Sudoku.

Brown: What is the most important life lesson for someone to learn?

Kahler: Hard work pays off. Responsibility is most important and needs to be understood. Integrity, once lost, cannot be recovered. Always remember: Never make decisions above your pay grade, without authority from superiors to do so!

Brown: What do you need to rant about or get off your chest?

Kahler: My biggest rant is about people who fail to do the right thing!

Brown: Which of your accomplishments are you most proud of?

Kahler: My biggest accomplishments are my marriage and my family. I have two daughters who graduated from Ole Miss. My oldest, Emily, is a medical doctor. My youngest, Stephanie, serves in dual occupations, as a registered nurse, and also in the public relations field. I have four grandsons (Carson, twins Cooper and Riley and Avery), and one granddaughter (Kinsley)—the lights of our lives!

Buddy with granddaughter Kinsley.
Buddy with grandson Carson.

Brown: Looking back on your life, what have you done that has given you the most satisfaction?

Kahler: Providing for and taking care of my wonderful family.

Brown: What “old person” things do you do?

Kahler: Every afternoon I have my “toddy.”

Brown: What has been your routine since retirement? Do you have any hobbies?

Kahler: My wife and I travel extensively. We also spend as much time as possible with grandchildren and we also see lots of current movies. And of course, I go fishing.

Brown: What story do you want people to tell about you? What impact will you leave behind?

Kahler: At Ole Miss, I hope everyone remembers the WWII celebration in 1994, the huge flags, and the military displays; the quality of service that everyone at the Physical Plant provided, and most of all the Hotty Toddy Potties we were able to purchase and employ!

Bonnie Brown is a retired staff member of the University of Mississippi. She most recently served as Mentoring Coordinator for the Ole Miss Women’s Council for Philanthropy.

She can be contacted at bbrown@olemiss.edu.

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