Western Carolina University has honored legendary marching band director Bob Buckner ’67 with its 2012 Distinguished Service Award. Buckner, who developed WCU’s marching band into a competitive, world-class marching ensemble, was one of four award recipients honored during a ceremony held Saturday, Oct. 6, in the A.K. Hinds University Center as part of Homecoming activities.
“These awards recognize and honor four of WCU’s most distinguished and successful alumni, and they have all made us so very proud,” said Marty Ramsey ’85, director of alumni affairs.
Buckner retired as director of athletic bands at WCU in 2011 after 20 years, during which he brought the Pride of the Mountains Marching Band into the national spotlight. The Waynesville resident arrived at WCU in 1991 and helped grow marching band membership from fewer than 90 to nearly 400 students, turning the ensemble into a “funk-rock band” known for dynamic performances that incorporate nontraditional elements such as guitars, vocalists and dancers.
“Band connects people emotionally,” said Buckner, who, in accepting his award, remarked that he remains available as a teacher to all his past students for as long as they want him. “I’ve had students where music was the thing that got them through. They would come to that band room every day and they had a family.”
Nearly 15 percent of the university’s freshman class participates in marching band, and the annual Tournament of Champions invitational started by Buckner is the single-largest recurring recruitment event on campus. In 2009, the Pride of the Mountains received the Sudler Trophy, the nation’s highest and most-coveted award for college and university marching bands, from the John Philip Sousa Foundation. Capping Buckner’s career was the band’s 2011 New Year’s Day appearance in the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, Calif., which Buckner described as a career highlight.
Buckner’s wife, Donna, worked alongside her husband, launching the WCU color guard and working with the dance team. Through his company United Music Enterprises, Buckner remains active with the WCU marching band program and continues to design its shows.