Our Stories: David Burrous
by Paul Gibb
David Burrous is best known by folks at the Fellowship as the co-chair of the Building Committee that so carefully oversaw a number of very long years of creating our remodeled and wonderfully expanded new building. But there’s lots more that’s interesting about this fellow that may not be as well known.
How did he go from being a Methodist kid in Denver to a devoted UU in Lafayette? Not by a very direct path. As a teenager he was deeply bothered by the Nicene Creed that was read every Sunday as part of the Methodist service, but at that time he didn’t know UUism existed. If he had not taken up the bassoon, he might even never have found that out. But his bassoon playing led him to be part of a woodwind quintet that played regularly at the UU Church of Boulder, where one of the quintet’s members, Betty Skipp, was a member. That was back in the late 1960s when David was still in his teens.
He was totally impressed with UUism at that time, but it would not be for another 35 years that he and his wife Alisa would become actual members. That was when, after moving from Louisville to Lafayette, he discovered that the Boulder Valley UU Fellowship had just moved to a building just a few blocks away. So he and Alisa quickly decided to become members. And they have been among the most devoted ones ever since.
And how did he end up spending his working years teaching the Russian language to high schoolers and junior high schoolers? Once again, it was because of his bassoon playing. One of the other members of his woodwind quintet taught Russian and persuaded the teenaged David to take lessons from him and then go to the University of Colorado and get a degree in Russian – leading to a career that would span over 30 years.
During that time he and Alisa took groups of his junior high school and high school students on trips to Russia, where he and some of the students committed the faux pas of getting to know some Russians on a somewhat personal level, something which was very much looked down upon by both the Russian and U.S. governments at that time. His conservative mother-in-law suspected him of being a Soviet spy – and it turned out his Russian acquaintances thought he might be an American spy and he came to suspect he was being watched by one or more KGB agents.
An interesting story he likes to tell is about how he and Alisa were able, after many unsuccessful attempts, to conceive their second child. An assistant principal at the school where he then worked told him about how he and his Korean-born wife had gone to Korea expecting to adopt a child but instead were persuaded to drink some “Korean bear heart tea” – an herbal tea with little pieces of a bear’s heart in it that was supposed to make people more fertile. This the acquaintance and his wife did, and right away they conceived a child. So David and Alisa tried some of the terrible-tasting tea – and they too almost immediately conceived a child.
Some of you have heard David’s wonderful bagpipe playing. When asked about his interest in playing bagpipes, he replied that his only ancestral connection to Scotland was through a grandmother he never got to know very well. Rather, his interest in bagpipes began when he heard one of them being played during a Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra concert in 1967. He loved the sound of it and immediately went out and bought one, took lessons, and started playing with a small band.
Those of us who have been in David and Alisa’s very large backyard have surely noticed that it is completely surrounded by model railroad tracks, often with two or more trains traversing the incredibly complex terrain and passing through towns with all sorts of structures. Everything is incredibly crafted and detailed – including even some tiny bagpipers on the roof of a scale-model building. A childhood hobby of his involved Lionel trains, but it was not until he moved to his present house in Lafayette and realized what a huge backyard he had that he was inspired to build an outdoor model railroad. It took him 10 to 12 years to complete.
When asked about the feelings he experienced upon seeing the completed BVUUF construction which he so energetically helped to spearhead, he managed to say just a single word: “AWE!” And then he followed it by saying that finally seeing the new Sanctuary after all the scaffolds were gone made him feel very spiritual.
Clearly he is a person who, once inspired by something, makes it his passion and follows through with it, whatever it is, until it is completely done.