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Featured Bozemanite: Dr. Don Funke

Liz Krause Williams  |  Monday Mar. 31st, 2014

If you live in the Gallatin Valley, it’s likely that you know Don Funke. How you know him—that’s up for grabs. Back ache or creaky neck? Maybe you’ve visited Advanced Spine and Wellness Clinic, Funke’s chiropractic office. Trouble with a green horse? You could have taken a horsemanship clinic from him. Dog’s got a limp? Funke may have perked him up with a chiropractic adjustment. Possibly you’ve shared a lifting conversation about faith, sat together through the recent Cowboy Poetry, or discussed the complicated issue of climate change. The complexity of Funke’s “labels” reflects his journey to understand his place in the world.

Funke grew up in Dryden, New York as the middle of three kids. His father was a computer engineer during the birth of computing. The American Computer and Robotics Museum in Bozeman is an uncanny replica of his parent’s basement. His east coast location and technology-pioneering father didn’t distract Funke from his inner need to be closer to natural things. He built fly fishing rods and tied flies. He took horseback riding lessons. Animals, undeveloped land, fresh air—these things grounded Funke.

While attending College of Chiropractic at Northwestern Health Sciences University in Minneapolis, he and his girlfriend traveled to the Madison River and Bear Trap Canyon for spring break. It was 1986 and he fell in love. Rocky cliffs, seemingly endless trout, and big skies. This place felt authentic. For nearly twenty years Funke wrestled with the need to make Montana his home and he eventually found a way.

After chiropractic school, Funke married his college sweetheart, Karen, and moved back to Dryden. They built a loving home for their two kids, Walter and Madeline. He started a successful chiropractic practice that supported his family for the next fifteen years.

Despite meeting—if not exceeding—the conventional standards of today’s society, Funke couldn’t shake wanderlust for closer connection to nature and for deeper spiritual understanding.

A friend needed help training horses. Without formal horse training experience, Funke dived in—almost obsessively—to learning the skill. The neighboring Cornell University had a twenty-foot long wall of horse training videos in the library. Funke’s self-education began. He was enthralled.

Training horses combined his chiropractic interest in body movement and biomechanics with connection and energy to make something artistic and beautiful out of horse movements. Funke would arrive at the barn at 4:30 a.m. in order to have time to work with the horses before heading to his practice at 7:30.

Funke pursued ways to integrate health, animals, and environment. He purchased a draft team that he used on his horse-powered vegetable farm. He earned his Animal Chiropractic Certificate from the American Veterinary Chiropractic Association. He came to know his faith while working the land and healing the bodies of people and animals.

When 9-11 happened deep grief settled into Funke. He felt burned out and disconnected and his wanderlust kicked into high gear. “Life is short” repeated in his mind. He yearned to make a living outside an office. Karen—his unrelenting supporter—agreed, they were Montana bound.

Their decision was brave if not risky. They sold everything—their house, much of their belongings, the chiropractic practice Funke spend fifteen years building. They pulled up stakes and bet their next chapter on Montana.

Funke dropped Karen and the kids in Minnesota to stay with relatives while he looked for work and a place for the family to live. He spent the first nights sleeping in his truck in Bear Trap Canyon, the same place that earned his love nearly twenty years before. When the brutal wind shattered the glass across his body one night, doors began opening.

The kindness of near-strangers, mere acquaintances from a local church Funke had already settled into, led to a very modest home for his family. Wife and kids joined him a month later, a little disappointed by the tiny and less-than-clean trailer. They made due and through new connections in the community, found ever-improving living quarters (one without a kitchen sink, was still a step in the right direction) until they landed back on their feet.

Meanwhile, Funke started training horses in the valley and building an animal chiropractic client base. Clients asked for horsemanship clinics and he obliged, eventually traveling around the state and in Idaho.

Years before, when cultivating his own faith, he had an idea to create a ministry program around horsemanship. Funke’s “Round Pen Ministry” was an opportunity to share faith education while training horses to groups up to 200 people.

While his businesses flourished, Funke was witnessing concerning changes in the environment around him. Winters were getting shorter and summers hotter and drier. He was intrigued by regional and global dialog about climate, economy, and community. With the same intense study he’d used learning horse training techniques in the 90s, Funke began absorbing information about western environmental concerns and global climate changes.

At the same time, he longed for an avenue to make religion and spirituality more accessible. A church has a built-in community – people helping people. The environmental challenges of the future require community-wide action but too often, unaffiliated community members are hesitant to become involved with a church. Funke was inspired by the work of Shane Claiborne, one of the founders of the Simple Way in Philadelphia. Claiborne doesn’t look the part of a religious leader. His ingenious approach to inclusive thinking is making spirituality more accessible and less threatening—and this approach strengthens community power to make change.

Environmental concern and spiritual accessibility would culminate in the most unexpected way for Funke. In 2008, he returned to human chiropractic work, eventually taking over Advanced Spine and Wellness Clinic in Bozeman in 2010. Two years later, during a conversation with patient Monique DiGiorgio of Future West, an idea emerged.

They were lamenting a wildfire that destroyed thousands of acres and incinerating seven horses alive—all belonging to Funke’s dear friend. His heart was broken.
 “I was relating the brokenness that I was feeling about the changes I was witnessing in the environment.” Based on various climate predictions, Funke believes the West will undergo a cataclysmic change. He has both an opportunity and a responsibility to take action.

And so, in May Funke will set aside his professional practices to dedicate his life to environmental advocacy. Riding4Creation is a 1,300 mile, four-month horseback trek through areas affected by climate change in the American West.

The resulting documentary film will be the impetus of real, local conversation and a means of capturing the best of the American West. Along the way he will collect the stories of ranchers, Native Americans, conservationists, religious leaders and communities, climate scientists, and communities working for a new vision for the American West.  

The unsupported pilgrimage will rely on the grace of strangers and bounty from the land for sustenance.

Gus, a ten-year-old Montana Traveler, and Lucy, a seven-year-old mule, will accompany Funke from Santa Fe, New Mexico to the Bozeman Public Library.
“Horseback travel is simply a way to open a dialogue. Because horses engender an almost universal affinity there is no better way to promote a conversation.” You are invited to join the conversation, in person along the trail, on horseback or on foot, at community events, or through the Riding4Creation blog.

The summer long journey is Funke’s way of “coping with the devastation being wrought on the American West by the effects of climate change.” It’s a spiritual pilgrimage and, he hopes, a call to action.

“Together we can diversify our economies, build stronger communities, create vibrant opportunities and protect natural resources. Eating together, riding together, growing food together, [and] creating energy together will all be valuable steps toward a sustainable future.”

Funke is many things. Doctor of Chiropractic for humans and animals. Horse trainer. Man of faith. Conservationist. Farmer. He is both quiet in his demeanor and loud in his passions. He bravely pursues ideals and dreams in spite of convention. He is a messenger—a conduit for conversation and discovery.

Don Funke lives in the Gallatin Valley with his wife, Karen (who he’s charmingly delighted to be celebrating 25 years of marriage with) and his Aussie-Heeler mix, Hank. Though he’s accomplished many things in his life, he’s most proud of his children, Madeline and Walter, for their independence, generosity, and kindness. Donate to Riding4Creation through www.riding4creation.org

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