ore than 20 years ago, while searching for an elementary school for their daughter, Kathy Buechel and Fred Egler took note of the graceful calligraphy stenciled on the wall in the Head’s office: “Think also of the comfort and the rights of others.”
“The idea of looking beyond the self, of ‘otherness,’ was an ethos that I did not see at other schools; it was important to me that my children grow up understanding that there are many different paradigms and lenses through which the world is experienced and viewed. The ‘think also’ credo was a true differentiator that convinced me Winchester Thurston was the place for my children,” Buechel recalls.
WT would become not just her children’s school—her daughter Moira Egler, a lifer, graduated in 2007, and her son Frederick Egler, also a lifer, graduated in 2011—but also an institution she would help lead into the future. During nearly two decades of Board service, completed on June 30, 2016, she took on key leadership roles that have made a lasting mark.
“Kathy is driven to propel things forward, to recast and shape things anew,” says WT Board President Jennifer Gonzalez McComb ’89. “She is a great synthesizer and connector—cognitively, creatively, and also in her work to bring organizations and people together. Kathy has been a key to WT’s upward trajectory over the last 20 years.”
In 1998, just before being appointed President of Alcoa Foundation, Buechel joined the WT Board and was elected Vice President. She chaired the educational policy committee as the school began to think about connecting curriculum to the resources of the city, an idea that would eventually come to full flourish as City as Our Campus℠ after the arrival of Gary Niels as Head in 2002.
During her first nine-year term, Buechel served on the search committee that hired Niels, and was a key strategist and leader in the Many Voices, One Vision capital campaign, which funded the Upper School building that opened in 2006. Her efforts to reconnect the school to the foundation community resulted in more than $3 million donated to the campaign, as well as longer term ties that led to more than $3 million in the next campaign, Celebrate WT. “Kathy helped us understand what we needed to do as an institution to become relevant in the eyes of the foundation community,” says Niels. “It wasn’t just about raising money; it was about showing how we are an asset to the region.”
Buechel returned to the Board in 2007 and helped expand the concept of City as Our Campus to a full institutional bent through creation of an Advisory Board. Comprised of corporate, nonprofit, educational, arts, science and technology, government, and ethics leaders, the Advisory Board met regularly to help the school think beyond current-day challenges, projects, and strategies. Since 2008, the Advisory Board has explored a variety of topics, from City as Our Campus to STEM education, leadership, and global citizenship.
“These ‘luminaries,’ as Kathy aptly calls them, have helped us to elevate our thinking,” says Niels. “And Kathy was an amazing facilitator of their conversations. I’ve never seen anyone else synthesize a wide-ranging discussion the way she does. She draws insights from a diverse group, then pulls them together into eloquent conclusions. She brought that talent to Board meetings, and often helped us to crystallize a complex issue and move it forward. She will be missed!”
Much of Buechel’s career has centered on philanthropy as a force for change globally, locally, and personally. She serves as Executive Director of the Benter Foundation. As Senior Lecturer at Pitt’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, she founded Philanthropy Forum. “We’ve sought to expand the lens through which we see and appreciate what philanthropy is and who practices it,” says Buechel of the Forum. “I hope that each dimension of this project encourages more Pittsburghers to see themselves as part of this larger regional tradition of philanthropy.”
Philanthropy Forum has brought a wide range of thinkers to Pittsburgh from nationally and internationally known organizations, including the Ms. Foundation, Pew Charitable Trusts, Skoll Foundation, and Case Foundation. The Forum’s web site, The Pittsburgh Philanthropy Project (storyline.gspia.pitt.edu), is a treasure trove of stories, historic moments, and profiles about Pittsburgh philanthropy; Buechel is currently editing a companion book.
The organizations counting Buechel among their champions include Independent Sector, the Conference Board, and the Council on Foundations; she has served on the Advisory Board of the Pembroke Center for Teaching and Research on Women at Brown University and the national board of Women in Engineering Programs & Advocates Network. Locally, she has served as president of Grantmakers of Western Pennsylvania, and on the boards of Carlow University, YWCA of Greater Pittsburgh, Women’s Center and Shelter, Oakland Catholic High School, Diocese of Pittsburgh, City of Pittsburgh Ethics Hearing Board, The World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh, Marian Manor, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, and Riverlife.
The “think also” credo remains a touchstone for Buechel in her work and her personal philanthropy. She and her husband Fred Egler have made WT a philanthropic priority for more than 20 years. Recently, she joined the Miss Mitchell Society with a bequest to Winchester Thurston. “Future generations of students will benefit as they pass through WT, imbued with an ethic that is not only dear to me, but in its straightforward simplicity a quiet force for change,” says Buechel. “I want to be sure this credo remains vital and strong for future generations, and for the future of Pittsburgh.”