George Bunzer – Gone but not forgotten
By Gary Bunzer, the RV Doctor
George was a unique character. He was also my Dad. He was almost 80 when he died in March of 2002, and if it wasn’t for him, you wouldn’t be reading this, nor would I have a career in the RV Industry. He passed down to me much of what he had absorbed through his mobile home industry genes, along with his sense of humor, his view of the world and his fascination with words.
George was a brilliant entrepreneur even before many really understood the meaningful depth of what that actually meant. A self-made man, he revolutionized the mobile home industry in Florida by being one of the first to build strictly custom-made, one-off, modular units, including a two-story mobile home. He employed a cadre of brilliant craftsmen within his business, Geo. J. Bunzer Industries, Inc. I grew up in that environment, spending my summers working for Bunzer Industries while going to junior and senior high school.
Himself a gifted craftsman, little did I know that my dad was exposing me to some of the best craftsmanship in the building trades as well as instilling in me a true, hard-nosed work ethic. During one summer, I’d shadow a master carpenter, the next I’d be connected at the hip to a master plumber, then a master electrician, then a master troubleshooter, then a senior manager, etc., until upon graduation from high school I was well-versed in all the building and repair trades.
After college, marriage, military and another year under his tutelage, my wife and I relocated to Southern California where I began my independent working life at a facility that serviced both mobile homes and recreation vehicles. Through my college studies, as well as my years spent as a U.S. Navy Seabee Military Instructor, and after a few years of master-level troubleshooting and repair in various RV shops, I came to embrace the prospect of teaching and began my technical consulting career solely within the RV Industry. But that’s only half the story.
You see, George was also a personality of sorts; he wrote many articles along with a monthly mobile home repair column for a small regional publication in Florida. In addition, after relocating to the mountains of western North Carolina, he ventured into the radio host chair of a local AM radio station with his own “Ask George” daily broadcast featuring repair tips for homeowners.
And oh, how he loved those Carolina Mountains! Earlier, while still living and working in Florida, we’d visit those mountains every summer for a couple of weeks at an old, revamped, TVA housing project-turned summer vacation resort near Murphy, NC – right in the corner where NC, TN and GA all come together. We rented the same cabin every year so he could have the same convergent view of Hiwassee Lake and the mountains from the same worn sofa in the main room.
Well, after he retired from the mobile home business, George moved with Mom to those mountains permanently. He still wrote his George Sez column every month for that little regional in Florida, but he was also getting a lot of RV-related questions coming in. As I was now firmly entrenched in the RV Industry, working for a full-service, rolling stock RV dealership in San Diego, he’d forward those types of questions to me. I’d write the response and he’d publish the Q&A in his column. Eventually, the majority of the questions became RV-related, so he suggested to the publisher that I simply take over the column. And the published “Gary Sez” column was born. The year was 1976.
Soon thereafter, we all settled in the Murphy area to enter into a business venture that expanded on yet another of George’s ingenious inventions: the RV Chalet (he held numerous other patents as well). Though that joint quest lasted only a year, it was successful, once again, in making an impact on the housing industry: The RV Chalet was featured in many articles and books showcasing unique single-family dwellings. (For a detailed explanation about the RV Chalet, go to this page). And here’s an online article that was featured in “Mother Earth News Magazine.”
In the meantime, back in California, I realized that the Gary Sez column was only featured in that one tiny tabloid publication down in Florida. I wondered if it might garner interest in other RV-friendly areas as well. This was before the days of media consolidation, when individual publishers still owned their respective geographical magazines. So the Gary Sez column gained additional traction. Within a few months one publisher wondered if he could change the name of the column to RV Doctor. I concurred as yet more publications signed on to the self-published labor of love. The RV Doctor column has now been published somewhere every month for more than 40 consecutive years. And I have George to thank for that, among other things.
George lived the rest of his life in his beloved NC mountains. He wasn’t afraid of dying, but he did have three wishes: he wanted to die at home, without pain, and with his family around him. He was granted all three wishes.
Shortly after he died, I was moved to write a song about him, basically thanking him for all the things he passed down to me over the years. So I gathered some of my musical friends and we booked time at a local recording studio in San Diego. I hope you enjoy this tune about the Old Man From the Hills, my dad, George Bunzer.