« How is it working? | Main | Under the porch »

The man with the coffee

When I was home, I heard about the death of my high school swim coach, Denny Bunn, by way of an effusive editorial in the local weekly. I’d actually been thinking about Denny (we only called him “Mr. Bunn” when he was substitute teaching) quite a bit lately, as I spent more and more time in the pool. He was the sort of guy who made you miss him when he was gone, and even though he and his wife had left town for Florida several years before, we still wanted to tell stories—to wake him, I suppose.

We told about how he spent some time urchin diving in the dead of winter—cold, dark, dangerous work that Denny was not only overqualified for (we couldn’t say with certainty if, in his time in the Navy, he had been with the SEALs or underwater demolition, but we agreed that it didn’t make much difference) but seemed willing to do on a volunteer basis, just for the challenge.

We talked about how he took a few of us down to UNH one winter to go orienteering—one coach, three kids, and I couldn’t have had my license more than two or three months, so I was six feet tall when he asked if I could drive. He must have known.

We talked about the time we were getting ready for the annual 4th of July weekend triathlon, where his wife was the race director, and some of us did a practice swim in Center Pond. Center Pond isn’t very deep, created, like several inlets on this section of river, largely for the ice trade. Those of us who had spent the spring running were thrashing along, and Denny was playing; then, once, he porpoised and found himself nose to nose with a snapping turtle. According to the story, he then stood up out of the water to show us the turtle, which he had by the hind flippers.

The time we led him out on a big loop through some very rocky trails in West Bath with his dog, Nate, and I worked out that Nate had been on longer runs than I had. (That was before 20 miles became my gold standard for a “long run.”)

How, when I was living in Pennsylvania, one of my co-workers returned from the “Wife-Carrying Championships” in Bethel and asked me, “Do you know Denny Bunn?” One more connection in a wide circle of… friends? Teammates? Training partners? Accomplices?

“We” was always a different set of people. Denny and his wife didn’t have any children—none in the house, anyway. They adopted entire schools.

We didn’t talk about the cookouts at their house. (“The burgers are ready, are there any buns?” “Yes, two.”) Or mention how he convinced me that I could finish an Olympic-distance triathlon on high-school training. How he kept me out for two years of swimming despite my clear lack of anything like an aptitude for the sport; I remember a post-practice discussion on the pool deck which foreshadowed one I would have two years later with my college advisor, as he pointed out that quitting was probably the worst thing I could do in terms of my own stress level. How we had taken a school bus to Bar Harbor to swim against MDI, started the meet at some ungodly hour (9 PM?) then took the whole bus full over to Sandy Beach in the morning and ran screaming into the ocean. In January.

We never figured out how two people with such powerful southern accents turned up in mid-coast Maine and made so many friends so quickly. I suppose we couldn’t help it. We were wondering what we’d done to make them stay.

It’s been years. I imagine, in that time, hundreds more high school kids had Denny pass through their lives, probably with a bigger splash than he made in mine.

Damn, we were lucky.

Comments

damn—- denny bunn died? that blows!

To whoever wrote that tribute to Denny:

It was right on target. You painted a fitting portrait of my brother. Drop me a line at bunnjw39@hotmail.com and I’ll tell you how he and Rosemary ended up in Bath, Maine.

Is this Parker Morse??!!! My brother-in-law, Denny’s brother John, told me about this over the weekend….you are so wonderful!! What a great time I had reading this and also want you to know that STILL in Denny’s bathroom is a fun photo of you, Ben, Michelle, Becky, Amos, Denny, and yes, Nate, ice skating at the Bath outdoor rink! He loved that picture and is said so much about how much he loved all of you and the Morse Swim Team! Thank you so very much…..please stay in touch:) RO

You couldn’t have described my uncle and biggest father figure any better. It is nice to know that Uncle Denny’s spirit lives on because of people like you. Thank you very much!!

Thank you for that memory of Denny. We all have memories which keep Denny living in our lives. To me, it just seems like Denny’s been gone and that any minute he will walk through the door and give me a hug and then on to Rosemary for a hug. So many memories for me: trailing along to Nantucket with Denny and Ro for his triathalon so many years ago. Getting up in Bethel to go for a short run (I’m sure just a jog for Denny) along the creek, eating icecream at the Ben and Jerry’s stock owner’s festival. I told Rosemary after Denny died that I was in another road race and would it be okay to send her my number - I started sending them to Denny years ago. She said, “Yes.” of course. So many memories, what a great caring, giving, sharing man.

Thank you so much for writing such a tribute for my “Papa Denny”. Denny was my second Dad and the most important thing he taught me was to laugh at myself. Such a man will remain in our hearts, memories and stories forever. I used to visit Denny and Ro many times in Maine and you all were spoken of with much fondness. I will forever miss him but you are right in saying that he touched the lives of many students. It was his calling in life and a blessing for those of us who were chosen to be “their kids”.

What a wonderful tribute to a wonderful man. I too was “adopted” for a week by Denny and Ro when visiting Florida with my college roomate Audra. I’ll never forget taking “Nate, Nate gator bait” out in a rowboat to accompany Denny on a little swim in gator infested water…just a daily event in Denny’s life. He truly embraced every day that he graced this earth…he will be fondly remembered for the selfless giver he was.

You couldn’t have written a better tribute. Denny and Rosemary have had such a positive impact on hundreds and hundreds of people over the years. I count myself lucky to be one of them. Thanks.

It’s nice to hear how Coach Bunn affected others before my time with him. I spent six years swimming with Coach Bunn, and the were the most fun years of my life. He really meant something to me. He’s the only person whose death I’ve actually cried over. I wish there was some way to find out exactly how many people he’s affected. Hundreds, at the very least

Coach Bunn was a very big influence to me when i attended Maclay School back in 2000-2001. he taught my marine biology class in my senior year, and helped me in a way that i will never forget. the class went on a field trip to homasassa springs to swim with manatees, and i was really nervous about swimming in the spring. he kept me calm, taught me to snorkel, and i ended up swimming with 150 adult and baby manatees. it was one of the best days ever, and it was thanks to him that i got over my fears. i am so thankful for his kindness and influence.

i am denny’s baby sister. denny has been on my mind a lot recently as the third yearof his death approaches. i put together a memory box last night of any and all things i had of him. lots of tears,smiles and memories. please stop for a moment next tuesday the 8th to remember him. denny, i love and miss you just as much now as when you left us. until……marybunn

I am sorry to hear about about Denny.He and Rosemary were a bright spot in a special time.

The first time I ever met Mr. Bunn was when I was in his 5th grade P.E class. He was a new teacher that year at Maclay. He always came up with the most crazy games. You know what though? I know every single one of us learned multiple things from him. He taught us how to juggle, jumprope, and he even introduced me to Frisbee golf (frankly, I thought Coach Bunn made up that game…). Little did I know.. Lo and behold, I began swimming with him a few years later. He always had innovative ideas of how to keep us going. He used gummy worms as a reward system… That always got me, but it definitely worked. He had the whole team fiending for gummy worms (for some odd reason, the chlorine water mixed with the gummy worms was a suprisingly awesome combination)! I know it got me to work harder!! lol.
Man oh man.. those were the days. Coach (Mr.) Bunn was inspiring, and still to this day inspires me…

Wow—this site is so touching. Many of the comments have brought tears to my eyes. Denny was such a beloved member of our community; there is no way he will ever be forgotten. He inspired all of us; in particular, my two children, Matthew and Emily Allman. I worked closely with Denny on many events and projects involving the Maclay Swim Team. He was always so positive and so much fun! I remember one time in particular that I “made him” (he really was a ham, so he didn’t need too much pushing!) dress up as an Italian chef for an Italian dinner I was planning for the team. He was such a great sport, and the kids loved it! He wore his outfit all day around school and he spoke in an Italian accent——he even willingly accepted his new name—-Luigi Bunnigi!! I will never forget it! I just regret that I never took pictures of that. I miss him so much, and I think about him all of the time. He loved and inspired my own children (Matthew still runs triathalons when he gets the chance—something he probably never would have done without Denny’s influence), and he was a dear, dear, friend to my husband and me. Kathy Allman Maclay School Tallahassee, Fl.

Hi everybody - I stumbled across this while looking up old friends from Kwajelein in the Marshall Islands - where I grew up and knew Denny and Rosemary - I’m so sad to hear this news but want to say that its a wonderful thing to be able to remember what a powerful influence and what happy memories I have of Denny. A few years ago my mom clipped a photo from a paper in Maine (where she lives now) of the ‘wife carrying’ contest - how I wish I’d been in touch then- glad to know he still touches so many lives!

Every now and then I check this website and am so thrilled to read new comments and memories of Denny. Thank you so much. As the anniversary of his death approaches (August 8), here I am checking again and you all have made me very happy. It’s especially nice to know that the legacy of “his kids” continues. Fondly, Rosemary

I have been thinking of Denny a lot this past summer as a dear friend of mine’s mother passed away just about 4 years to the month after Denny. I sat by her bed just as I had with Denny and I continued to look towards my “Papa Denny” for support during this time. How much I miss him. After he passed, I bought a hybiscus tree that I call “Denny” in which I find myself “talking” to. “Denny” blooms at the most amazing times - as well he made it from Florida to Iowa with great success. Who knows where he will land next. I miss you Papa, but you are in my heart always and continue to inspire me in so many beautiful ways.

We were watching old videos taken on Kwajalein tonight and saw you, Rosemary, waving. I looked up Denny Bunn and found this article. We are so sorry to hear about Denny. You both have no idea what a great influence the two of you were on our family. Thank you. Alan, Ginny, Lisa and Heidi

You bloomed today and my heart smiled… I then went for my first run in a long while. It made me think of when I was in the 12th grade in Florida and you “made” me run to “feel better.” :-) Thank you papa.

I just found out about Denny’s passing yesterday. I was looking at Facebook (I’m new and completely intrigued) ..I found some old classmates from school…and looking through old pictures a comment was posted that Denny Bunn had passed. I can’t really explain my reaction…I’m just very very sad. And even though I never kept up with Denny or Rosemary, I think about the two of them all of the time. It is so strange that just last month I raced in my first triathlon. While I was waiting for my heat to go, I was telling a fellow racer about my childhood swim coach, Denny Bunn. I told that guy about how I lived on a little island only three miles by a half a mile….about how my coach was training for the Iron Man in Hawaii…about how on any given day we would watch him lap and lap and lap our little island on his bike getting ready for the race. I told him how I just KNEW my coach would finish 1st place! Denny was invincible to us…the kids who he coached. He gave me a love of swimming that I still have till this day and share with my children. That was over 25 years ago…and I really can’t believe he is gone…and I’m very sad to hear this news.

I was saddened to hear the news of Denny Bun’s passing recently. In junior high he was my gym teach and an inspiration to me. As an active kid, I looked up to him for not only his incredible athletic achievements but also his warm and caring nature. Mr Bun also challenged and excited us by exposing us to knew activies. I realize as an adult that when he was teaching it was not simply a “job” for him. he enjoyed it and took his free time to give us these experiences. One saturday he brough me and a couple of my fellow classmates Orientering in NH. It is a memory I hold dear to me from childhood. I remember treking through the woods and river beds in search of the next elusive marker- but all the while laughing and talking. I learned from Mr Bun that the reward of completing a challenge and trying something different can be the greatest reward.
Over the years I have though back on these moments and always referenced him to friends with “I had this incredible gym teacher in Junior high who had done the Iron Man two or three times..” He is one of the few teachers who I would have liked to run into as an adult and catch up with. Unfortunately his passing will not let that day come, but the time I spent with him as a child will stay close to me for the rest of adulthood. I wish his family the best and will keep them in my thoughts over the holidays.

It’s interesting to read the comments about Denny from his students. I have a different perspective. I served with him aboard a navy ship, the USS Coucal from about mid 1974 to mid 1975. The Coucal was designed to salvage and rescue submarines should they become disabled on the ocean bottom. Denny was a diving officer. If anyone is interested, check out: http://www.nafts.net/coucal.htm for photographs of the ship. Years later I enjoyed the hospitality of Denny and his wife in Tallahassee while I attended a scientific diving meeting hosted by FSU. I knew he was a swim coach, but I didn’t know he was a triathlete. Wow! Really sorry to hear of his passing.

Happy 60th Birthday today, Denny!

Love you….always have/always will…………..Ro

Post a comment