Sutter Medical Center Foundation
Richard Buhler was a self-made Sacramento success story. One of four children (three boys and one girl) he was born at Sutter Hospital in 1924 and grew up in Curtis Park. Later in life, he often referred to himself as a “Sutter” baby.
He enlisted in the U.S. Army after high school at the age of 17, lying about his age so that he could join his brothers already in service in Europe, and served in North Africa and Italy.
Buhler met his bride-to-be, Wilmina (Willie) in 1948 at a USO dance in Stockton. Six months later, they were married. Daughter Alison was born two years later, and son Richard Jr., after that. (Rick died in 1988, an event from which Buhler never fully recovered.)
Upon returning to Sacramento he attended the newly created California State University Sacramento, later known as Sacramento State University, on the G.I. Bill. Once out of college, he and his brother Fred joined their father’s insurance and mortgage banking business. The operation did not translate into easy money, however. Buhler’s daughter Alison remembered several years during the 1950s when household finances were tight - so tight that one year the family’s refrigerator was almost repossessed. The family legend goes that “Willie” laid out on the floor and said, “NO;” Buhler came in, paid up and the refrigerator never left the house!
Buhler had adopted his father’s strict Methodist approach to life and devotion to making good on promises: He repaid every outstanding debt. His reputation for fair dealing served him well in the housing boom that swept Sacramento and much of America beginning in the mid-1950s. Many Sacramento homes were financed by Buhler Mortgage in those days.
Buhler attended Stanford during the summer and the University of Minnesota to achieve his appraising certification, and taught finance in the evenings at Sacramento City College and Sacramento State.
By the mid-1970s, Buhler was financially secure and a respected member of the local business community. He was considered a tough negotiator—unwilling to abide poor performers, but fair. The man who had once almost lost his refrigerator to a repo man now boasted one of the largest private wine collections in the region and membership in the exclusive Sutter Club.
Having sold his thriving mortgage business in the mid-1970s, Buhler redirected some of his enormous energy to community service. He joined the Sutter Community Hospitals Board in January 1976 after one of its lay members resigned. He quickly became the board’s leading authority on business and financial matters.
A respected Sacramentan, Buhler brought to community service a strong business talent from successful careers in mortgage and commercial banking. In Sutter's case, he was the right person, in the right place, at the right time.
Richard B. Buhler served as chairman of the Sutter Community Hospitals Board of Trustees from 1979-1986. He was the first layperson to hold that position, and in that time led many reforms at the hospital, including recruitment of a new management team and creation of the organization’s first strategic long-range plan. Part of this plan included the establishment of a new organization, a holding company called Sutter Health System. Richard Buhler was the first chairman.
Through personal stewardship and intense perseverance, he guided the organization from its darkest hour into its brightest day. With high principles, pragmatic views, consistent candor and diplomacy, he persevered and nurtured into an exciting life one of Sacramento's most valued community assets.
The Buhler Building was constructed on the site of the original Sutter Hospital, opened and dedicated in 1988 as the Richard Buhler Building. The building stands as a permanent expression of appreciation from those of us who know, respect and cherish him.
The Buhler Building currently houses the Sutter Cancer Center and Sutter Neuroscience Institute, as well as administrative offices. When the expansion of Sutter Medical Center, Sacramento is complete, the Sutter Cancer Center/Buhler Building will be christened with a new name – the Buhler Pavilion. The new name - and the commemorative bust, unveiled in December 2009, will be in keeping with the original intent of honoring one of the influential leaders in the history of Sutter Health.
Passages excerpted from Building a System: The History of Sutter Health, ©2006 by Sutter Health, with permission from the publisher.