Musician relishes journey, finds new calling at USF Sarasota-Manatee

Left to right, Vince Buckwalter, Mark Miller, Mark Marshall and Mike Townsend of Stryker.

Left to right, Vince Buckwalter, Mark Miller, Mark Marshall and Mike Townsend of Stryker.

SARASOTA, Fla. (April 29, 2015)  – Anyone kicking around Sarasota’s club scene 20 years ago might remember the band Stryker.

Scratch your memory a little harder and you might recall Vince Buckwalter, the vocalist, guitarist and keyboard player who eventually left the group to record on his own in Nashville.

Buckwalter, who also goes by Vin Lamar, charted a few songs and saw some radio play, but lasting musical fame outside Sarasota eluded him. Lately, his life has taken a different path.

Now, he’s a student at the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee and on Sunday he’ll graduate with a bachelor’s degree in psychology.

Already, he’s been accepted into a master’s program at USF St. Petersburg, where he’ll start classes in the fall.

Buckwalter, 56, takes it all in stride, reflecting on the twists and turns his life has taken. Along the way, he married, had three children, got divorced and married again. Two of his kids, his daughters, attend college with him as students themselves.

Gone are the late-night parties. He’s replaced them with books and online course work. He’s more interested in pursuing research and helping disadvantaged children than jamming on stage, he says.

Playing in a local band had its moments, though.

“We were weekend warriors,” said Buckwalter, who worked construction at the time. “We all had jobs during the week. One was a bank administrator. In a way, it was therapeutic for us.”

Back in the 1990s, the band amassed a local following and frequently popped up at the 5 O’Clock Club on Hillview Street in Sarasota, at Cha Cha Coconuts on St. Armand’s Circle and the Beach Club on Siesta Key.

The group recorded a CD in the mid-1990s, during its height, but mostly remained a local act playing cover songs. Buckwalter has no regrets, though. He cherishes the memories.

“Stop Making Sense,” Jonathan Demme’s concert movie featuring the Talking Heads, hit theaters in the mid-1980s and Buckwalter seized on the film, in particular lead singer David Byrne’s “big suit” persona.

Buckwalter found a suit like Byrne’s and emulated the singer during performances of “Psycho Killer” and “Life During Wartime,” running across the stage.

He smiles at the memory: “It was magic when we got up on stage on the weekends.”

Buckwalter grew up in Lancaster, Penn., and attended Michigan State University and Hesston College in Kansas, studying a range of subjects, including psychology. But as the semesters rolled by, Buckwalter’s interest in education waned. It was replaced by a love of music fueled by jam sessions in his dorm room.

Leaving college, he moved to Tampa to live with his father, Nevin Buckwalter, then relocated to Sarasota to room with college friends from Hesston, figuring he might make music his life’s work.

Seizing on the popularity of John Travolta’s “Urban Cowboy” flick, he joined the three-piece Riding High Band, playing country and country-rock. He jumped to mainstream rockers Stryker in 1984.

The group produced a CD, “Go Like Mad,” but never saw much attention outside Sarasota. Weary of the routine, Buckwalter quit the band and set out on his own in 2000.

“I was getting tired of doing the same thing, playing the same clubs,” he said. “We released the CD five years earlier, but no one wanted to do anything with it. I just felt I didn’t want to do it anymore.”

He flew back and forth to Nashville to record his own material and saw some radio play, but ran out of cash to continue recording and promoting his songs. Plus, the trips were taking a personal toll, prompting Buckwalter to consider a change.

“It wasn’t making any sense,” he said. “I needed my life to focus on something positive, instead of just waiting for something to happen. I chose psychology because … I thought maybe, through my life’s experiences, I may be able to help others in some way or have something to add to the field.”

This time around, Buckwalter’s interest in education hasn’t waned. If anything, it’s intensified.

He’s set to graduate magna cum laude on Sunday and has been accepted into the master’s program at USF St. Pete.

He also has found time to urge daughters, Brynne, 26, and Jana, 24, to focus on their education as well. His oldest child, Kyle, 29, lives and works in New York City. Brynne and Jana attend USF Sarasota-Manatee.

While Buckwalter doesn’t attend classes with his daughters, he often runs into them on campus.

“It’s always nice to see him,” said Jana, a freshman education student. “We see each other in the hallways or in the common areas. We chat about what we’re working on and what test we’re about to take.”

“He’s helped me every step of the way and I really appreciate it,” she said. “This has opened my eyes to a whole new future for myself.”

As for Buckwalter, he says, he’s no longer hurrying to see what lies ahead. He enjoys what he’s doing and looks forward to the fall semester in St. Petersburg. In August, he married again, to Christy Hanstad. The two live in Bradenton.

“I’m kind of going with the flow. I don’t have any specifics in mind,” he said. “For now, I’m enjoying the ride and success I’m having at school.”