Late alumnus honored with endowment

Busse family

David Busse, center, and his parents in 2017 when he graduated from UC Irvine with.a Ph.D. in psychology and social behavior. 

Father donates $50,000 in son and wife’s names

David Busse was 12 years old when he saved a friend’s life during a canoeing incident. 

Busse was in the canoe with two other 12-year-old boys on a Boy Scout trip when one of the boys jumped into the Russian River, north of San Francisco. 

“A metal rod, like the ones used in concrete, went right through the boy’s leg,” David Busse’s father Eberhard Busse recalls. “David didn’t panic. He pulled out his first aid kit that he always carried with him. He made a tourniquet to stop the bleeding and sent the other boy down a mile to get help. He kept the wounded boy calm and the doctors said he saved his life. He got a badge for that rescue.”

He earned his life-saving badge a second time when he was an undergrad majoring in biological psychology at UC Davis and a member of the university’s ski team in 2004.

“David was racing with his ski team when he witnessed another skier hit a tree and fall over. Instead of finishing the race, he went to the fallen skier and found him not breathing,” his father recounts. “So, David quickly pulls out his first aid kit and uses this mouthpiece to resuscitate this man, bringing him back to life.”

David Busse, who earned his master’s degree in psychology from Columbia University and his Ph.D. in psychology and social behavior from UC Irvine, just wanted to help people. That was his calling, his father says. 

But, he suffered from Lupus, an autoimmune disease that caused his kidneys to shut down. He had a kidney transplant in 2001 but the kidney donor had a virus that caused his organs to slowly fail over the years. As a UCI student, he underwent dialysis treatments while working on his research, investigating the psychological connections between stress and disease. 

Despite his medical setbacks, the former firefighter, ski patroller and lifeguard who was certified as an emergency medical technician completed his doctorate in 2017. He unfortunately caught Covid in 2022 and died from complications, just months after his mother, Hyeja Oh Busse, died of pancreatic cancer. She was a nurse and, like her son, was happiest when she was helping others, her husband says.

Devastated, Eberhard Busse, a retired engineer, has established a $50,000 endowment to honor his son and his wife. His donation will make possible $1,000 scholarships for graduate students in psychological science. The first awards will be bestowed in February to coincide with Hyeja’s birthday month. 

She was born on Valentine’s Day in 1944 in Japan. She and her parents were Korean and they moved to Seoul shortly after World War II. She had to drop out of first grade because of the Korean War and her family fled to the mountains and lived in caves for two years.

“After the Korean War, they returned to a completely destroyed Seoul. She went back to school and often studied by candlelight because there was no electricity,” Eberhard Busse noted. “Everyone was starving at that time. But, in 1959, Hyeja was accepted in the prestigious Jin Myung Girls High School and then she went to the School of Nursing at the National Medical Center, where she became a registered nurse in 1966.”

She immigrated to Canada three years later and moved to New York. On a visit to Toronto, she met her future husband while waiting for a train in 1971. The couple married and moved to California and had two sons, Michael and David. 

“Hyeja and David both loved helping others so I hope this little endowment helps students at his favorite university,” says Eberhard Busse. 

It will indeed, say professors and students in the Psychological Science Department. When they heard of David Busse’s passing in September last year, they sent notes to his father. They wrote, in part:

  • “I am so grateful I got to meet David. He was so kind and caring. He was super smart. He had such a passion for everything he was doing.”
  • “David was an incredible person and I am so sad to hear that he passed. He was so supportive and helped me with piloting my dissertation.”
  • “I have so many good memories of David. He was so intelligent and kind, a real stand-up guy with a hilariously dry sense of humor. Today (Sept. 1), on what would have been his birthday, I remember his laughter, how we worked together, how supportive he was of our team endeavors and how generous with his time to the students who worked with us.”
  • “I remember David telling me about swimming with sharks! He had a beautiful smile and was always so kind and appreciative. I miss him and am so grateful to have known him.”
  • “David was one of the most optimistic and resilient people I ever met. Despite health challenges that would derail most others, David was never self-pitying nor did he surrender to the obstacles. Instead, he persevered.”

Mimi Ko Cruz