February 2021 Newsletter

The latest in our series…

The People of the Park:

A Visit with Dr. Dave

By Dale Dauten

You know life is good when you’re asked to describe a perfect day and your response is “I’ve got lots of those around here.” We heard that response from Dave Kemppainen, known as Doctor Dave. Here’s how he described a day both perfect and typical: “I start with coffee with my sister Jen and her husband, here in the park, talking about family; then I do crafts, get out for a walk or run, spend time talking to people, and then in the evening I get to meet artists and be around creative people.”

Plus, there are the special days when Dr. Dave shares his giant drum. He speaks about that drum like it’s an old friend, one he calls “Thunder Bear.” It’s over five feet in diameter and it helps Dr. Dave share his Native American heritage.

That heritage is from his mother, Florence, a member of the Keweenaw Bay band of Chippewa. Dave was born and raised on a reservation in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, in Baraga. (The photo below is from the falls near Baraga.) His Finnish father, Ray, settled on the reservation, where the couple raised eight children.

While Dave stayed on the reservation through high school, he was always eager for adventure, and soon took jobs in various cities and states, including one stint working at O’Hare Airport, but it was in Kalispell, Montana, in his thirties, that Dave’s life came to a dramatic turning point.

That’s when Dave met his mentor, Dr. Garry Parker, who gave him the best advice he ever got: “You can go through life with your high school degree, but you being Native American and from a small town, a college degree would take you amazing places.” So, at 32, Dave decided to try community college. He got an associate’s degree. Then he got a bachelor’s. Then he added a master’s. It was then, in grad school at Montana State, that he met and married Monica. Both of them decided to pursue doctorates at the University of Oklahoma that had a program suited for both. Eventually, after 11 years of college, Dave became Doctor Dave, earning his PhD in Counseling Psychology at Oklahoma.

After graduation, Dr. Dave had an obligation to the Indian Health Service – they’d helped finance his program – and that took the couple to Oregon. Monica later got a job offer in Reno, Nevada, and that’s where the two spent the remaining years of their marriage. (Monica passed in 2017.)

In 2018, sister Jen invited Dave and their brother to come visit her at The Resort. After a week’s visit – a perfect Springtime week in the desert — the brother said to Dave, “If you don’t move down here, you’re crazy.” Dave moved into The Resort on Thanksgiving Day, 2019.


Along the way, Dr. Dave found a pair of activities that have stuck with him.

He’d played basketball in school and volunteered to help a friend coach a high school team. That led to helping referee games and eventually to taking a paid gig reffing for a men’s league. Dave soon got referee credentials and assignments all over the Western U.S. He still dons the striped shirt for games. (Asked if the anger from coaches or fans is stressful, Dr. Dave said, “I learned early on how to communicate with people. Now I go to jobs and they know me, and they’ll say, ‘What did you see?’ and I’ll ask, ‘What did you see? I explain that the two are different because I’m moving and they are in one place.”

The other life-altering event came on the day he was surfing the internet and came upon a giant drum and thought, “Could I make something like that?” And that led to the healing drum he named Thunder Bear. Given the challenges of working with a 61” diameter drum, he also created a smaller version, at 36”, and named it Thunder Cub.

Over time, he began to do programs with the drum, ones that bring together his heritage and his education. If you’d like to join in, watch the Activities calendar – Dr. Dave will be performing in the Ballroom again in February and in March and he promises that every program is unique.



If you’d like to volunteer to be the subject of an article, or have someone you’d like to learn more about, please let me know.

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Dale Dauten