Dave Bunnett Keeps the Camp Magic Going

by The Aviator

02 04, 2014 | Posted in History, Location, Recreation | 0 comments

Every fall Stanford Sierra Conference Center hosts a group of fifth and sixth graders from East Palo Alto. Briefly liberated from their urban environment and enthused by mountain air, water games and sugar–the children run wild. On one of my first days at camp I stood in the lobby watching a competitive game of tag. One boy running helter skelter, nearly collided with the Camp Director, Dave Bunnett. Tilting his head to look at Dave, the boy’s jaw went slack. Dave looked down, smiling. After a moment of appraisal the boy broke the silence, “You’re a giant!”

Dave 'the giant' giving a crawdad lesson to a group of preschoolers

Dave ‘the giant’ giving a crawdad lesson to a group of preschoolers

And he was right. Dave is 6’5”. Bemused at the child’s assessment, Dave watched the boy walk away. That was one of my first encounters with Dave and it encouraged me to subscribe to the general consensus here at camp: Dave is a nice guy.

Dave has been the Camp Director here at SSC since 1995, but he began at the bottom. He was a Stanford University student and summer staffer here in the early 80s. Feeling at home on the lake, Dave stayed on and began working his way up through the ranks. “I can still remember the day I drove onto Fallen Leaf Road for the first time,” Dave told me as we sat and talked in the old lodge. “I was coming to work and I drove in on the road and I looked around and I just said, ‘Wow, this is pretty incredible! I have to figure out how to stay around here.’”

The beauty of Fallen Leaf made Dave want to stay

The beauty of Fallen Leaf made Dave want to stay

After Dave worked as a summer staffer responsible for supervising children, cleaning dishes and making beds, Dave was promoted to DOPO, department of plant operations, where he handled maintenance issues.

Dave likes to stay 'hands on' with maintenance projects

Dave likes to stay ‘hands on’ with maintenance projects

Then Dave traded his work belt for a telephone when he assumed the position of assistant camp director. Seven years later he was made the camp director, a position which he has held for nearly two decades.

Dave working at his desk overlooking Fallen Leaf Lake

Dave working at his desk overlooking Fallen Leaf Lake

The annual visits for the East Palo Alto youngsters is one of the accomplishments of his tenure for which Dave is most proud. It was not his idea.

During a midseason interview with a summer staffer, Dave was informed that while happy, the student felt unfulfilled. His reasoning was that while he was having an excellent summer, it was a selfish pursuit–he hadn’t helped anyone but himself. This sparked a long, involved conversation. The result of that conversation was the pro bono, annual visit of underprivileged children which continues to this day.

It is fairly evident to most people who encounter Dave that he has an adventurous spirit. That spirit is imbued within Stanford Sierra Camp. After Dave graduated from Stanford, he joined the Peace Corp and worked in the Solomon Islands. He said of his experience, “At the time it was very, very third world with very little medical care. People were happy and well-fed because they had a good supply of natural resources, but it was very, very primitive where I was.”

Some of Dave’s best adventures were sailing.“At one point I sailed a boat from Spain to Venezuela,” he told me, his signature smile beaming across his face. “I’d done some Hawaii trips before. But Spain to Venezuela, we had some good times. We got caught in a big storm at one point, and that was sort of fun.” That’s they type of guy Dave is, someone for whom storms are an adventure – not something to keep you from going out again. Dave keeps the sailing program going strong at Camp with a good fleet of boats and staff training every season. See Dave in our Stanford Sierra sailing overview video.

Dave training summer staff at the boat dock

Dave training summer staff at the boat dock

Since assuming his position as Camp Director, Dave no longer backpacks across Europe, but he still partakes in the adventures that can be found around camp. He runs the Angora Loop nearly every day during the summer and often sails Lake Tahoe.

Dave shares his camp experience now with his wife, Tamara, (they are about to celebrate their 19th wedding anniversary!) and his daughters Danica and Tatum.

During the second to last week of the fall conference season, we had our first heavy snow. The clouds hung low, hiding the mountain peaks. Snow drifted serenely to the ground, as if each flake had all the time in the world to fall. Standing in front of the Main Lodge and looking out at the lake really felt mystical. The clouds and snow buffered all other sound, leaving camp a tranquil refuge seemingly all on its own. Dave believes that it is his responsibility to make this feeling of magic last, allow it to permeate everyone’s experience here—from guests to staff.

A magical day with a fresh layer of snow at Fallen Leaf

A magical day with a fresh layer of snow at Fallen Leaf

When I asked Dave about whether that initial feeling of magic has lasted his thirty-years at Stanford Sierra Conference Center, he said, “It’s different in my position now. I have to worry and take care of stuff to keep it magical for you guys.”

Dave out on the waterfront

Dave out on the waterfront


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