Maya Dawson, Conifer High School
CONIFER, Colo. — Conifer High School chemistry teacher Brian Bunnell was known by students for his booming laugh and love for the outdoors. He was the first to volunteer at school pep assemblies and inspired many students to pursue careers in the science and medical fields.
Bunnell, 44, died in an avalanche on Berthoud Pass Dec. 26 while backcountry snowboarding with his three sons, who survived.
Bunnell grew up in Fargo, North Dakota, where he competed on the Fargo North High School swim and cross country teams. His father remembers a state swim race during this time.
“When he started to overtake his opponent, his teammates started yelling, ‘Go, Brian, go,’” dad Ron Bunnell said.
Soon, everyone at the swim meet had joined the chant: “Go, Brian, go! GO, BRIAN, GO!”
Brian won the race, but it was only the beginning of a lifelong love of adventure, many of which he shared with his family. Brian and his wife, Kelly, were high school sweethearts.
“We have been married for 20 years,” Kelly said. “He was the love of my life. He was hilarious, he had the best laugh, and this is hard.”
Brian graduated from Duke University and taught chemistry and advanced placement chemistry at Conifer High School for seven years.
“I started my first year of medical school in the fall, and I attribute that greatly to Mr. Bunnell,” Jessica Oudakker, CHS 2019 valedictorian, said.
She talked about how he sat down with her when she was rejected from Duke University and empowered her to continue pursuing her dream of becoming a doctor.
Other students spoke at a celebration of Bunnell’s life on Jan. 2, many wearing flannel shirts like the ones Bunnell often wore to school.
“He was always very understanding, especially when I was struggling to learn online, and usually worked with me as my lab partner because I didn’t have many friends in the class,” senior Gabi Book said.
Chemistry is a difficult subject, but Bunnell went out of his way to make his class engaging.
“During finals week we tie-dyed shirts and held bubbles to light on fire,” Reece Harrison, a 2021 Conifer graduate, said. “He taught me that science has a fun side, even though it can be easy to forget in the midst of molecule shapes and stoichiometry.”
Bunnell’s coworkers remember his selflessness. Fellow chemistry teacher Amy Anderson talked about how, after her mother died, Bunnell took over teaching her classes to give her time to be with her family.
“I taught next door to him this year, and he had the loudest laugh,” Anderson said. “His laugh would just erupt, and I would just get a big smile on my face because he was having fun teaching chemistry.”
Bunnell was invested in his students, but he didn’t let his career keep him from the adventures he loved. He spent his winters on the mountain slopes and his summers boating, mountain biking and traveling with his family.
“Contrary to popular belief, teachers are people, too,” Conifer principal Greg Manier said. “A lot of times that is lost. It’s easy to see, when humans stand in front of a class (and are) grounded and happy with their life outside of school. Brian is the epitome of that.”
Bunnell’s legacy is one of adventure and a reminder to seize every opportunity to live in the moment.
“Each of us has a little piece of Brian’s spirit in our heart, and I want you to let that grow,” Ron said. “I know how I’m going to let it grow in my heart. I’m going to get up, and I’m going to look into my heart, and say, ‘Go, Brian, go. GO, BRIAN, GO.’”