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Bob and Sally Buchanan

When asked in 1998 if she would consider being on the College of Liberal and Fine Arts Advisory Board, Sally Buchanan said, “That sounds like fun!” and Bob Buchanan came along for the ride. Since then, the Buchanans have enthusiastically participated in supporting COLFA. As Sally said, “You can never have too many scholarships.”

The Buchanans’ passion for liberal arts education will surprise no one who is familiar with the wide range of their interests. Sally is a founder and patron of the San Antonio River Foundation and currently the chairman of the board of the San Antonio River Authority (SARA). She has also served as executive director of the San Antonio chapter of the American Institute of Architects and as president of the San Antonio Conservation Society. As she explained, “When I married Bob, he was involved in real estate on the river, and because of him, I got involved with the river.”

Bob Buchanan has served two terms as president of the board of directors of The Paseo del Rio Association and is still on the board. He is also on the McDonald Observatory Board of Visitors and was on the San Antonio River Oversight Committee until it recently completed its objectives. In addition, Bob and Sally Buchanan are the president and vice president, respectively, of Kangaroo Court Restaurants, Inc. and own The Original Mexican Restaurant and Bar on the River Walk.

Both of the Buchanans earned bachelor of arts degrees, Sally in art history with a minor in Spanish from Mills College in Oakland, and Bob in history with a minor in political science from Duke University.

“Liberal arts frames your perspective,” Sally said. “What I’ve found in Spanish literature and history is that this area of the country is a permeable membrane with Mexico. I got very interested in our water system, the acequias, which was actually an inheritance from the Moors in Spain.”

She sees the connections between culture, architecture, city design, and commerce, saying, “I was fascinated thinking our street system was really laid out according to the water courses, which is one reason that San Antonio is not gridded. And why our streets are so weird.”

After college and working several years at a travel agency, Sally saved up and took a bus trip from London to Kathmandu. “I wanted an adventure. It was a camping trip, and I’d never been camping, but I thought, I can do this,” she said. “Somebody had to set up my tent the first time. It was cold —Asia is cold in winter. So I ended up in cheap hotels with a lot of the others. But you learned about flexibility.”

She also learned that half a world away, there were parallels between cultures. “My grandfather had a ranch out in West Texas, and the people out there are very proud of their property and a bit laconic if they don’t know you. The people in Afghanistan kind of reminded me of them. You were definitely in their country. These people had dignity, and you were made to understand that.”

Meanwhile, during Bob’s senior year in college, his mother sent him a clipping of some proposed development along the River Walk, and a family friend named Hap Veltman was involved. “I went to him and said there was a place that I thought it would be superduper- hunky-dory-peachy-keen to have. He told me that was the most foolish idea he ever heard of because people don’t go down to the river — there’s nothing there. But I pointed out that I had preliminary plans but no financing, and he had financing but no plans, so we had a partnership by the next day,” Bob said with a smile.

Bob’s plans and Hap’s finances coalesced into Kangaroo Court. How the restaurant and pub got its name is a story Bob likes telling: “Hap went down to Laredo for R&R. He was known to have a heavy foot on the pedal, and in those days, you couldn’t go two blocks without a roadie (an adult beverage),” Bob said. “They were stopped outside of Cotulla and introduced to South Texas justice. By the time Hap came back, the restaurant was built, and we were clipping coupons, biding the time. When asked what happened, he said, ‘Well, that was just a kangaroo court!’”

Sally feels that they have been privileged to be part of both preservation and progress. “Bob was lucky to have been on the ground floor of the River Walk development because there was a chance then to create a space. And I feel like I’ve been very lucky being on the Conservation Board and the River Authority to be so engaged in watching the river development and see a water source agency with six projects turn into a much more environmental agency where we promote low-impact development.”

Building businesses was one thing; attracting customers and creating a culture centered around the River Walk was another. “We came up with the idea of having a festival. We had had terrible weather, but that day, the sun came out, and we thought the whole world came down to the River Walk. From that moment on, it just grew,” Bob said.

Bob and Sally Buchanan fondly reminisce about San Antonio’s evolution, affirming that economic development and conservation efforts are interlinked, and that this relationship has paid off in manifold ways, some incalculable. They also insist that there remains much to be done — a plethora of opportunities for UTSA COLFA students and alumni to pursue. Sally’s advice to UTSA graduates is to “have character, be honest, and be dedicated to the work,” and Bob’s is to remember that “San Antonio has its own character. When we were growing up it was several hundred thousand people; now it’s over a million, but it still has a sense of community. It’s still the city that loves to party, but it parties together. It’s something you normally don’t see in a quoteunquote big city.”

Bob and Sally believe that UTSA, with its stellar staff and professors, is part of what makes San Antonio singular, which is one of the reasons why they give so generously.