Sara Swanson

Manchester High School Alumni Update: Karen Bunney, Class of 1982

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Karen Bunney holding her children’s book, Bunnsville Buzz; The Adventures of Bessie Bunny. Photo courtesy of Carol Westfall.

Submitted by Carol Westfall,
Manchester High School Alumni Association

A graduate of Manchester High School’s Class of 1982, Karen Bunney is the author (and illustrator) of a children’s book, Bunnsville Buzz; The Adventures of Bessie Bunny. She currently resides in Aiken, SC, but Karen’s inspiration for the main character, Bessie Bunny, originates from her own life, starting right here in Manchester.

Like Bessie Bunny, who was born with larger-than-average ears and feet, and different from the other bunnies in Bunnsville, Karen understands what it’s like to be different. Karen was born with cerebral palsy and by high school, she was using a wheelchair. She grew up in a supportive Manchester community and loving family, including her parents, Dolores Budnik Bunney (Class of 1960) and William (Bill) Bunney (Class of 1957 – deceased).

Karen first attended the Manchester schools at age 12 – two classes, half days, in seventh grade. She was still walking at the time and was so excited to be going to school, just like her sister. By eighth grade, she was in school the full day and with the help of some tutoring, teachers, and supportive friends and family, Karen thrived.

She loved Manchester High School (MHS). “Public school was a blessing to me because I needed to be included and involved with kids my age who were not disabled; to be in class with everyone else,” said Karen. She attended football games and post-game dances. She was made an honorary cheerleader and awarded her own cheerleading sweater. School was not easy but she worked hard to achieve academically. Karen is especially grateful to one MHS teacher: Mrs. Hall. She took Typing I three times, so Mrs. Hall could teach Karen to type with one hand, a life skill that Karen still uses daily.

After graduation, Karen lived in Ann Arbor at a University of Michigan affiliated co-op which housed students from around the world. She was the only person there with a disability, and this was an opportunity for her to learn how to live on her own. Everyone was assigned various chores and required to either go to school or work. Karen gained additional confidence by taking computer classes at Washtenaw Community College (WCC) and interacting with a diverse range of people and cultures.

She was ready for her next adventure, which came in 1985 when her father was transferred to a Ford plant in Mexico. They would live in El Paso, TX. Karen still remembers the long drive to Texas where trees and greenery were replaced by miles and miles of sand, desert, tumbleweed, and vast expanses. She didn’t mind. Karen loved new adventures.

“What will I do with my life now?” she thought. Her sister, Melissa Bunney (Class of 1983), had the answer: “Apply to UTEP (University of Texas, El Paso).” Karen passed the entrance exam, toured the campus, and was impressed with the Disabled Student Services Office. On advice from the Texas Rehabilitation  Commission, Karen started with two UTEP classes and was supported with lots of tutoring. She persevered and nine years later, she had a bachelor’s degree in social work.

Karen loved college. She lived in a dorm, then an apartment. She learned how to use the public transit system and became active in several organizations that advocated for the rights of people with disabilities. Karen could be found around El Paso at a wheelchair protest to improve shopping access, or speaking up for the American Disabled for Accessible Public Transit Group, writing about tips on independent living and career training for the disabled, or educating people about the misconceptions of those who are physically challenged. She was interviewed on TV and written about in newspapers. Karen was making a difference for people with disabilities in El Paso.

After college, Karen worked for the Center for Independent Living in El Paso as the Job/Housing Coordinator, helping people with disabilities with employment and housing opportunities. She counseled clients on resume writing and cover letters, interviewing skills, and more. When her parents moved to Aiken, SC, Karen continued living in El Paso another three and a half years.

She then decided to move to South Carolina, and that’s where her Bessie Bunny character was born. Bessie Bunny doesn’t allow disabilities to stand in her way. She finds ways to emphasize her personality – not her disability – and to see each day as a new adventure. Just like Karen Bunney! Karen’s personal experiences are woven throughout the book and her hope is to inspire kids by giving them a good role model in Bessie Bunny and a positive inspiration for what it’s like to be in a wheelchair. Bunnsville Buzz; The Adventures of Bessie Bunny is available to check out at the Manchester Library or it can be purchased through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other book outlets.

Photo courtesy of Carol Westfall.

Karen credits her family with motivating her to be the person she is today, particularly her parents, sister Melissa, and Grandma, Betty Budnik, who was always “there” for the Bunney kids. “They raised me to be an independent person and treated me like everybody else. They expected and encouraged me to make something of myself.”

The MHS Alumni Association is proud of its many alumni – like Karen Bunney – who have had a strong start in Manchester. Our Alumni Association is dedicated to celebrating the MHS alumni history and supporting our future alumni through scholarships and encouragement. For additional information about the Manchester High School Alumni Association, its June 17th Alumni Banquet, or the MHS Scholarship Fund, go to or call 734-428-0530.

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