By DANIEL HUTCHISON
Feature Photo by Daniel Hutchison
Bud Wilson was born in 1925 in the suburbs of Chicago, but forged his connection to the land and people of northern New Mexico when he was just 16 years old, while accompanying his high school teacher on a research trip to San Cristobal. That summer, in 1942, he worked as a ranch hand in the Latir area. At that time the highway turned to dirt at the New Mexico border!
The year before, at age 15, Bud Wilson had gone to work on a farm in Kansas for the summer. He milked the cows, hitched the horse team, and pitched the hay. When the old farmer left for a family crisis, young Bud had to run the whole operation on his own. His love of the land and unflagging work ethic were born.
After serving as a Navy pilot, Bud went to college. Prestigious fraternities invited him to pledge. He declined, because they excluded minority students. Bud was subsequently elected class president. In June 1947, Bud began the process of buying a ranch in Lama, NM. On break from school, he loaded up an old army truck with teenagers from Chicago and headed west to work and camp for the summer on the land. Bud and the dudes raced across the mesas riding bareback, dug 80-ft-deep wells by hand, and got lost in the mountains.
While attending medical school, Bud returned to San Cristobal. While there, he heard that a young woman had died in childbirth, leaving two kids without a mother; this affirmed his commitment to becoming a doctor and serve in places of highest need. Dr. Wilson practiced open heart and general surgery for 50 years and developed a reputation for indefatigable devotion to his patients. In one pioneering procedure, Bud spent 26 hours holding a woman’s heart together. Defying statistical probability, she survived. He established surgical programs in New Mexico (including the first heart program in the state), in Colorado, and in India, where his family relocated to live and work temporarily.
Digging ditches in the Land of Enchantment to pay for med school, Bud was smitten with his beloved Barb when he saw her removing a banana cream pie from Jennie Vincent’s oven. They had four children together. In 1985, Bud and Barb founded the Sangre de Cristo Youth Ranch Summer Camp. They wanted to give the single mom nurses at the hospital a break during the summer.
Bud often didn’t charge people for surgeries, but what money he did earn was poured into the camp. The month-long experience has been provided free of charge for over 30 years. When he wasn’t keeping vigil at a bedside in recovery, Dr. Wilson was driving up to Lama in the middle of the night, eager to dig some post holes with the kids first thing in the morning. In his 80s, Bud still hiked up to catch the campers at the top of 12,000 ft. Lobo Peak. Now in his 90s he still joins campers for rigorous adventures and ranch work.
At the Sangre de Cristo Youth Ranch, every youth can know the same satisfaction and self-esteem earned through doing an honest day’s work in real service that Bud initially found for himself on the farm in Kansas. Campers share the freedom, camaraderie, and connection to nature that ranch life provides. Camp gives kids an appreciation for the strength of diversity in community, and all the tools to become fulfilled human beings. Bud wants everyone to have a chance to lead a life as blessed as his. He tells every camper that they are forever welcome on his ranch.
Bud is tough as nails, kind, exceedingly generous, patient, wise, charismatic, optimistic, and humble. He possesses a sharp intellect, unwavering integrity, and an insatiable curiosity that has kept his mind elastic and his attitudes progressive. Every camper would refer to Bud as “cool.” He is slow to anger and quick to forgive, an engaging communicator, and a trusted friend, a loving father and a devoted husband. Above all, Bud has the rarest of gifts: true compassion. He has the ability to genuinely empathize with almost any perspective. He can make people feel appreciated and loved, because he truly appreciates and loves them. Bud has saved countless lives at the hospital and at the camp. He is a healer of hearts.