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King University News :: King College Alumni Ralph Buchanan Passes at Age 100

Spruce Pine, N.C. – King College alumni, The Reverend Ralph L. Buchanan, age 100, of Spruce Pine, N.C., peacefully passed away on Monday, May 7, 2012.  During his recent visit to King College for Dogwood Weekend on April 21, 2012, I sat down with Rev. Buchanan for a conversation about his life, along with a few reminiscent thoughts of his time at King College.

Ralph Buchanan was born Feb. 21, 1912, the eldest of eleven children of the late Martha McKinney Buchanan and the late Eden V. Buchanan.  He grew up in the Powder Mill Community of Avery County, N.C. He attended the local schools including Lees-McRae for a time.  He then went on to King College, where he would graduate with the Class of 1938.  He later graduated in 1941 from Union Theological Seminary in Richmond, Va.

As we talked, Rev. Buchanan recalled growing up during the Depression with an economy that was based on agriculture.  “I grew up on a farm in Avery County.  It was a hard life.  We grew everything we ate.  My daddy worked the farm and my mother worked at the Tar Heel Mica Company in Plum Tree in Avery County, N.C.”

Rev. Buchanan’s love for King College was evident.  He said his pastor was the one who told him of King College and helped lead him in his decision to attend the school in 1933.  “I had to take off one year from school to go back home and help my parents on the farm.  Times were hard.  As soon as I was able, I went back to school at King to finish my baccalaureate degree.”

While at King, Rev. Buchanan said his favorite professor was Tom Tyler.  “He taught American and English Literature.  He could make it live for you – you could see it.”  Rev. Buchanan’s daughter, Martha, told me later that he still kept his English Lit book with him to this day, memorizing as much of it as he could, then retelling in dynamic fashion what he had memorized.

During his time at King, Rev. Buchanan worked on the campus to help pay his way through school.  “There was a fellow at King by the name of Henry Chapman.  He had a donkey and a one-horse wagon that he and I would fill with twigs, wild onions, and such to help keep the campus clean.  I washed dishes and swept floors.  I also helped dig out the basement for the new science building.  I did many things to get through school.”

“I recall while I was at King it was then they first allowed women to come to the School,” said Buchanan.  “They closed Martha Washington College in Abingdon and all the girls were moved to King.  I remember they moved them to the top floor of, what was then, the dining hall (now the Fine Arts Building).” 

While at King, Rev. Buchanan said his fondest memories were of the life-long friendships he made.  “I was just an old country boy, and I learned a great deal while I was here.” 

Rev. Buchanan was ordained as a minister in 1940.  On August 26, 1941, he was married to Flora Margaret McGoogan, of St. Pauls, N.C., who preceded him in death on July 4, 2000.  They were blessed with two children, Daniel E. Buchanan and Martha Lee Buchanan Smith; four grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren, all of whom survive him.  Rev. Buchanan is also survived by one brother, four sisters, and a number of nieces and nephews.  In addition to his parents and his beloved wife, Margaret, two brothers and three sisters preceded him in death.

Rev. Buchanan, an ordained Presbyterian minister, served churches in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia. He also served five years as superintendent of Home Missions for Winston Salem Presbytery, six years as chairman of Evangelism for the Synod of North Carolina, and twelve years as executive Presbyter and Parish director for Piedmont Presbytery in South Carolina. In 1955, he had the honor of opening the United States Senate with prayer in response to an invitation of the Senate Chaplain, Dr. Fredrick Brown Harris.  He was voted the privilege of being on The Floor for the day. Rev. Buchanan was pastor to two Governors of the State of North Carolina.

During his ministry, Rev. Buchanan started two new churches, First Presbyterian Church, Pilot Mountain, N.C., and North Anderson Presbyterian Church, Anderson, S.C.  He also was instrumental in locating and buying a three hundred sixty-two acre tract of land in Transylvania County, N.C., and building a church camp for Piedmont Presbytery.  When the Presbytery met to dedicate the camp, it gave Mr. Buchanan a great and pleasant surprise by voting to name the camp in his honor, Camp Buc.

Rev. Buchanan retired from active ministry in June 1978, at which time he and Margaret moved to Spruce Pine, N.C.  He thoughtfully commented about his father when asked about his retirement.  “My daddy passed away at age 61.  I always thought I would go at about the same age.  At age 66, I decided it would be good to have a little time off from pastoring since I believed I wouldn’t live much longer.  But, I kept going.” 

Over the next twenty-two years he spent his time supplying the vacant churches in Mitchell, Avery, and Yancey Counties.  “The churches were usually small churches.  Sometimes I would fill the pulpit for two to three years until a new pastor was brought on board.  I just tried to preach the Word as I understood it.”

Rev. Buchanan also spent time working with Habitat for Humanity for twelve years, and Hospice of Mitchell County for five years. He was a member of Western North Carolina Presbytery and attended the First Presbyterian Church of Spruce Pine.  He was also a charter member of the Spruce Pine Hiking Club, the Chargers and Rechargers.

When asked how he would like to be remembered, Rev. Buchanan said, “I’ve helped a lot of poor boys and girls get to school, and I’m very proud of that.  Some of them have gone on to be preachers and teachers.  Many of them wouldn’t have had a chance if I hadn’t helped get them into King or some other school.  I’ve had the privilege of helping about 15 young people to go to college.  I get letters of appreciation still from those folks.” 

Rev. Buchanan’s final words to me were of the School he has loved for a life time.  “King is a wonderful school and I love it still!” 

Services celebrating the life and ministry of Rev. Buchanan will be held on Thursday, May 10, 2012, at 2 p.m. at the First Presbyterian Church, Spruce Pine, N.C., with Rev. Bill Sweetser officiating.  Interment will follow at the Spruce Pine Memorial Cemetery.  The family will receive friends at Webb Funeral Home on Wednesday, May 9 from 6 p.m. until 8 p.m.

The family suggests that memorial contributions be made to the Ralph and Margaret Buchanan Memorial Scholarship Fund, King College, 1350 King College Road, Bristol, Tennessee 37620; or to Hospice of Mitchell County, P.O. Box 38, Spruce Pine, North Carolina 28777; or to Camp Buc, 4730 Upper Whitewater Road, Sapphire, NC 28774.  

Article by Laura Boggan, associate director of communications for King College