By GiGi Wark

Don Buckalew – known for his many laudable attributes as a faith-based family man, car-dealer extraordinaire, community enthusiast and Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo™ icon – died on July 1, 2023, at 89 years old. Buckalew’s career with the Show spanned 55 years. He became a member of the Rodeo’s board in 1990 and served as an officer from 1992-1994. Buckalew was named to the Executive Committee in 1997.

A native of Montgomery County, Texas, Buckalew graduated as valedictorian from Magnolia High School in 1952 and earned a bachelor’s in business administration from Baylor University in 1956. He learned early the value of hard work and a good education, which laid the foundation for his personal and professional success.

He began his career in the automobile business at Robbins Chevrolet. In 1965, he became co-owner of Weisinger-Buckalew Chevrolet in Conroe and later sole owner of the dealership in 1974. Professionally, Buckalew was recognized for his skill as a car salesman and his honesty and courtesy toward his customers, which earned him many accolades and awards.  Buckalew was particularly proud of chairing the Texas Automobile Dealers Association (TADA) which was an honor to him. During this time, he influenced and played a crucial role in helping Jim Janke, lifetime vice president of the Show and fellow automobile dealership owner.

According to Janke, Buckalew encouraged him to get involved in TADA and to experience and learn from the program and its members. Janke credits his success, in part, to this and other advice Buckalew so generously shared with him.

Janke described Buckalew as compassionate, intelligent, discerning, attentive and knowledgeable. Their business relationship led Janke to a lifetime friendship, not only with Don but also with his wife, Elaine. “He showed so much compassion and displayed a lot of humility, so much so that I think we would all want to emulate him,” Janke said. “Don was true to the good Lord above, true to his family, true to his job, and true to all the endeavors with which he was associated – RODEOHOUSTON® being one of his biggest. God bless him.”

“Don’s hobbies were his community events and affairs,” longtime friend, business associate and fellow Rodeo Executive Committee member Jim Bloodworth said. “He wanted to make the world a better place, and Don knew educating our youth was the key.”

In describing his friend, Bloodworth used the words “integrity, thoughtful of others, honest and caring” and said Buckalew lived by the motto “the customer comes first.” Friends for more than 50 years, Bloodworth knew Buckalew as a businessman, friend, fellow Rodeo volunteer and an avid supporter of Montgomery County and Conroe.

Buckalew was a lifetime advocate for education and public schools. He served as president of the Conroe ISD Board of Trustees and helped lead the district through considerable growth with the opening of 11 new schools. Conroe ISD recognized his commitment to educating youth on November 22, 1998, by dedicating Don A. Buckalew Elementary School in his honor.

The Rodeo was another passion and opportunity for Buckalew to help Texas youth. He became a member of the Show and the Area Go Texan Committee in 1976 and was named chairman in 1988.  J. C. Burnham, acting vice president of the committee at the time, wanted John O. Smith, a fellow vice president, to consider Buckalew a candidate when Burnham finished his tenure.

Smith met with Buckalew for lunch and gave him important advice. “Being officer-in-charge of Area Go Texan is a huge task that is highly demanding of one’s time. It covers a huge area with functions going on nonstop, and you must attend as many functions as possible. It is not a cheap venture, either, because you find yourself supporting each auction, and you will always come home with something,” Smith said.

After lunch, Smith knew that Buckalew was the man for the job. “He was a true car dealer, and he sold me,” Smith said. “He wanted the job! Don did not just want to support youth, but he wanted to meet each person and shake their hands. He wanted to encourage them and let them know he was proud of them. When it came to the exhibitors, he wanted to congratulate them all – it was not about where they placed but how they got there that was important to him.”

“Don will be irreplaceable as a civic and community leader,” Smith said. “I am lucky to have called this man – who made a true mark on the world – my friend.”

Buckalew not only lived a fulfilling and purpose-filled life, his friends shared, but he left a legacy for all of us to follow. He is survived by his wife, Elaine; children: Debbie (Larry) Campbell, Donnie (Leesa) Buckalew, Denny (Melanie) Buckalew, Deann (Greg) Alger, Kristen (Charlie) Balke, Bryan (Hanna) Sutherland, and Lacey (Barkley) Spikes; 13 grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.