Joining Two Families - Tom Buckmiller (’96) Explains How His Family Has Grown Through Service, Faith, and Action.
November 9, 2017
Immigrants have become a hot political topic in the United States, but it’s not so complicated for South Dakota natives Tom and Becky Buckmiller of Des Moines; they just see kids in need.
“We got involved with an organization called 1,000 Kids for Iowa several years ago,” says Tom, a 1996 Mount Marty alumnus who now teaches future educators at Drake University. “The group helps children who are detained at the border but cannot be sent back to their home because of human rights issues.”
That eventually led to Tom and Becky becoming co-legal guardians for a Salvadorian woman named Maria and her three children. The Buckmillers have helped the foursome navigate schooling, work, health care, housing and insurance issues.
Tom is a native of Winner, and Becky, who teaches Spanish at St. Francis of Assisi School in West Des Moines, is from Yankton. Both have developed a love of the Latino culture. “Our daughter, Bryn, attends a Spanish immersion school,” says Tom. “We wanted to leverage our privilege to assist others and we knew it would be a good experience for our three children to see us put our faith in action. Once we came to know this family and understand their goals and their journey, we joined our families.”
Maria came to the United States on a work visa, hoping to earn enough to bring her three children because drugs, gangs and violence were overtaking their neighborhood in El Salvador. Eventually her twin sons, then 15, became desperate and escaped with their younger sister. They immigrated along a treacherous trail through Mexico that is plagued by human traffickers and kidnappers.
Somehow, the youth survived and were re-united with their mother. “That’s where we joined their journey,” says Tom. “But this has not been a one-way street of charity. We have learned so much from them and with them. Our families are joined and the relationships are important to us.”
He says the only real difference between them is where they happened to be born. “Our work ethic, faith, love of family, food and traditions are very similar in many ways. But their lot of being born in a terribly violent place has put them in a challenging position. As a parent, I cannot blame them for seeking a better life.”
Today, Maria and her three children are U.S. residents. Her sons, now young men, are employed and living on their own, and their sister attends high school. “They still have challenges and have some instabilities but they are grounded and they have a strong Christian faith and they remain in our family’s heart,” says Tom.
In fact, they are forever part of the Buckmiller family. Maria is the godmother of Tom and Becky’s youngest child, Freddie.
Tom traces his faith-in-action to his college days in Yankton. “The values I learned from Sister Candy Chrystal and all the other instructors and mentors at Mount Marty College, and the Sisters at the monastery, have stayed with me and have been an important foundation for me.”