John Buck displays leadership at Webster University


Director of Housing and Residential life John Buck collects Olympic memorabilia. From rare promotional pieces, to antique enamel pins, to the vintage receipt holder from the Moscow Olympics sitting on his office desk, Buck has acquired dozens of mementos of the biennial sporting event.  

His favorite pieces to collect, he said, are the pins. He owns about 350 Olympic pins. He can even distinguish between the real vintage pins from fakes and replicas by looking at the pin’s design, coloring and quality. Buck said his father, who worked for the United States Olympic Committee, was on an assignment in Los Angeles during the 1984 Olympic Games. He said pin trading began to grow in popularity at around the same time to become as popular as it is today.

“There’s pins everywhere now; you go to Disney World and it’s all about the pins,” Buck said.

Buck said he is building a 12-door case as a way to display his collection.

Lifelong student

Buck has been at Webster University for 18 years. Although he was considered faculty, Buck was also a student for much of that time.

Originally from Colorado, Buck found a job working at St. Louis University (SLU) after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Colorado State University. Buck worked at SLU with his wife, Holland, and moved to Webster when a position in Housing and Residential life opened up.

Buck was accepted for the position, where he found himself working under Ted Hoef. Buck said Hoef had certain academic expectations for people in the academic administration field and wanted Buck to go back to school to continue his education.

“He has really embraced furthering his education and professional development,” Hoef said. “While at Webster, he has earned his master’s and doctorate degrees, and completed the Global Leadership Academy.”

Buck enrolled in the master’s program for a degree in Leadership and Management and became enthralled in the process.

Buck said he turned his capstone research program on a Thursday afternoon one week and enrolled in his doctorate management program the following Monday.

“I was a very different kind of learner with professional experiences under my belt,” Buck said. “It was great. I was doing it just to get it done, and it ended up being fascinating, frankly, all the way though.”

Buck was particularly interested in leadership concepts of his experience in student leadership positions. He was a Resident Assistant on his campus and was also active in other student organizations.

This interest in student leadership did not dissipate when he moved into a professional career. He advised student organizations, helped students host events and assisted in leadership retreats and conferences.

Buck said the modern theory of leadership is fairly new, only going back 120 years or so, and new developments will be made in the future. Specifically, Buck said leadership has not been clearly defined yet. This lack of a clear definition is why historical figures like both Adolf Hitler and Mother Teresa are often characterized as leaders, despite having completely different actions and outcomes.

“I don’t think Hitler was a leader; I think he was a tyrant, I think he was a dictator,” Buck said. “Leadership theory doesn’t have a lot of that clarity, so we misapply the term leader.”

Buck said leadership is not bound to a title and is seen in the immediate actions of someone organizing people to work towards a common goal.

Webster leader

Although Buck is well-versed in the leadership theory, he does not consider himself as a leader. Instead, he considers himself as a manager. He said managing is much different than leading.

“We have budget issues or personnel problems or organizing logistics for a new student orientation or a speaker coming to campus, Bill Nye, it doesn’t take leadership, it takes logistical acumen to organize that,” Buck said.

Buck said he thinks people in similar positions to his may spend some time leading, but most of their time managing.

Hoef said Buck pursued a doctorate in the study of leadership during crises and is at his best in emergency situations.

Webster student Caitlyn Vanover has gotten to know Buck over the course of her four years at Webster. She said she knew him as “the funny helpful guy from Housing” when she was a freshman. When she became a Resident Assistant as a sophomore, she said she got to know the real Buck.

“He is so real and such a joy,” Vanover said. “He is hilarious, courageous, patient, full of tenacity, and has such a big heart. He genuinely cares about everyone in housing and wants what’s best for each and everyone of us.”

Starting next semester, Buck will start his new position as Interim Associate Vice President of Student Affairs, the position Hoef will give up when he retires at the end of this semester. Hoef said he feels good about Buck taking over the position. He said he has watched him grow and develop a good relationship with the Webster community over the past 18 years.

“Most people who interact with him will usually notice his sense of humor,” Hoef said. “He is well-respected in the field of housing and residential life, and has developed strong relationships with students, faculty, and staff.”

Vanover said Buck is a great leader and is capable of motivating and inspiring people he works with. She said he also has the ability to build a team and bring them together.

“Leadership is not about a title or a designation, it’s about impact, influence and inspiration,” Vanover said. “Impact involves getting results, influence is about spreading the passion you have for your work, and you have to inspire those around you. This is the very definition of Buck.”


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