As his retirement neared, Head of Schools John Buxton responded to the following questions posed by Culver Alumni Magazine:
What did it entail to adapt to Culver? After 30 years in an East Coast boarding school, we knew the boarding school rhythms, but there was much to learn about Culver’s unique systems and summer program.
Did your vision for Culver change over the years? Not much. I always saw greatness in this school.
Who/what has changed more over the last seventeen years, you or Culver? We have probably changed equally. We certainly for the better.
How did Culver change your vision? I realized that mission should be the highest priority everywhere.
Explain your appreciation for tradition. Tradition is the anchor for any ship. It grounds you in a positive way. Traditions tell the story and represent the signs and symbols that give color to our story as a school.
Can you pinpoint your most difficult day as HOS and how you worked through it? I cannot. There were not many, but all difficult days were singularly and equally important to me. There are always difficult days and you get through them by relying on your team.
What was your most memorable day as HOS? My first day.
When alumni, parents, faculty, and students look back at the Buxton years, what do you hope they remember and appreciate? That we understood that taking care of their children and working in partnership with them on the education and development of their children were always viewed by us as being involved in a sacred trust.
Seventeen years is considered a long time of service for a HOS. Was there a time when you seriously considered retirement, and why did you decide to continue? Pam and I had planned to come for seven to ten years. We were asked to consider staying longer by some members of the board and we agreed to do so. We never planned on seventeen, but the time flew by and we loved what we were doing.
When you look out over Manuel Green, what do you think about? That Ralph Manuel earned his stripes by serving this school so faithfully and well for seventeen years, and that young people have crossed that ground for decades on their way to being leaders and responsible citizens.
When you look out over Lake Maxinkuckee, what do you think about? Why is it that this beautiful lake is so available and I never found the time to enjoy it? . . . except to look at it longingly.
How did John Buxton flip the switch and turn Culver off (pre-retirement)? I have the ability to compartmentalize, so even when I go on vacation, in a matter of hours, I am fully on vacation. Now I will be in retirement, and it will happen sooner than you can believe.
In retirement where will your channel your knowledge, leadership, and experience? That will be part of the adventure. I will write, serve our new community, and spend lots of time with family.
Where are you and Pam going from here? Explain the choice and the challenges. New Hampshire because of its proximity to all the things we love — mountains, the ocean, family, and old friends. The challenge: We will no longer see as much of our Culver friends.
Tell us about your acreage in New Hampshire. Thirty-two acres of beautiful farm and forest land only a few miles from the state university and a thriving community on the seacoast.
How does it feel to be building and owning your first home? Eager to try it after forty-seven years of “assisted living.”
What are you going to miss most about Culver? The people.
What are some of your most prized Culver possessions? Memories of the great people we have met.
Biggest surprise, good or bad? The power and reach of Culver.
You’re a voracious reader; when do you read and what’s on the list for the future? I read in the morning and at night and always on the weekends. I want to reread my favorite 100 books – mostly novels.
Where do you go to think deep thoughts, to be inspired, or just to relax? On a walk.
You usually went home for lunch. Why was that important? It represents just enough down time so Pam and I can connect without the business of the school weighing in. No work-talk for forty-five minutes is healthy.
Under your watch there have been many new traditions (Matriculation, the Faculty Handshake, the weekly All-School Meeting, the Who’s Who). Explain the significance of these and the common thread that may connect them. First, these were all ideas and approaches that came from and were blessed by the leadership team collectively. They were important for us as we sought to build a stronger and more cohesive community, to ensure that students felt well-known, and to reinforce the sense that everyone here was a part of something larger than him or herself.
You have always put a lot of time and thought into your matriculation and commencement remarks –why were those important to you and what was the process behind them? Matriculation represented an opportunity to frame the school year, to reinforce the mission and the message, and to teach for a moment. The graduation address provided my sense of the year in summary, reminding the students we were always watching and really cared. The process: constant reflection.
What question would you like to ask of H.H. Culver, Gen. Gignilliat, Col. Fleet, Mai Fan England, or any other significant person from Culver’s past? Did you imagine that your Culver could be sustained into the 21st Century?
What personal information and meaningful leave-behinds will you share with Jim Power about your office and your home? All our books on the history of Culver, some framed Culver pieces, and the reality that the Head of Schools’ home can be a meaningful gathering place for all kinds of groups.
What will be your parting words to Jim Power? Love and respect this school.