50 Years of Fallingwater Inspiration Motivates Member to Give Back
March 4, 2019
It was a muddy, chilly spring morning in 1968 when Dan Bonga first saw Fallingwater.
“Seeing the house was awe-inspiring. I was truly mesmerized and fascinated, and at that moment I knew art and design were my life’s calling,” Dan recalled of that first visit as an interior design student with the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. “Personally experiencing Fallingwater changed my life.”
During the years after that poignant visit, Dan graduated college, married his best friend, began teaching art in the McKeesport Area School District and started a family. Life’s events and time never diminished Fallingwater’s significance for the Duquesne, Pa. native, who would take family and friends to Mill Run, Pa., to tour the house whenever his schedule allowed. He also organized several field trips to Fallingwater for hundreds of his fifth-grade students from the district’s Francis McClure Elementary.
“For years, I kept Fallingwater close. I read books on Frank Lloyd Wright and his work, and learned more about his design philosophy,” he said. “Like so many others, I believe Fallingwater is the best example of Wright’s genius.”
After 37 years of teaching and one week after retiring in 2008, Dan fulfilled a lifelong promise to himself.
“I became a Fallingwater volunteer so that I could spend as much time as possible there,” he recalled. “It still is a great way to continue learning and give back to the place that gave me so much 50 years earlier.”
Today, Dan volunteers more than 100 hours a year as a landscape hike leader and onsite informational guide. He leads visitors on hikes while explaining the natural features and ecology of the Bear Run Nature Reserve which surrounds Fallingwater. And if visitors need assistance or have follow-up questions after their tours, Dan also volunteers as one of the friendly onsite “Ask Me” guides.
“I just absolutely love contributing to people’s enjoyment of experiencing Fallingwater,” he said. “I like meeting people from around the world and I’ve even witnessed people crying after their tour. I can certainly relate to that overwhelming feeling!”
Not only is he a volunteer, Dan also became a Fallingwater member in 2012.
“I knew I had to lead by example and help preserve Fallingwater. This is a majestic architectural gem right here in our backyards – if we don’t feel compelled to protect and preserve it, who will?”
Saving and preserving Fallingwater for the next generation keeps Dan motivated. It’s his privilege to lead landscape hikes for students and adult learners participating in the Fallingwater Institute’s various residency programs. He often uses the opportunity as an outdoor classroom.
“We have to share the gift of Fallingwater with others so it can be around for another 80 plus years,” he said. “It’s meaningful that I can still use my teaching background in a way that inspires others after all these years, and that’s a pretty satisfying feeling.”