The man behind the Adventure Center

Dave Herpy

Dave Herpy

Breanna Reffel

Dave Herpy is a man of many talents. Herpy plays saxophone, goes whitewater rafting, rock climbs and kayaks. He has strong beliefs in preserving and maintaining the environment.

Today, Herpy combines many of those talents at his job as the outdoor adventure coordinator at the Adventure Center through the Student Recreation and Wellness Center. He oversees and manages the Adventure Center.

“I can’t run all of this by myself,” Herpy said. “I just coordinate and the students do everything else.”

Along with his outdoor adventure coordinator position, Herpy is an adjunct professor. He teaches Introduction to Rock Climbing and Introduction to Kayaking.

Herpy wants his students to learn that there is more to life than a career.

“I have learned so much about myself throughout my life; I have come to learn that life is short,” Herpy said. “With losing my mom at the age of 25 to cancer and having a family of my own, I think relationships with people are the most important thing in life.”

Adventure Center graduate assistant Michael McFall said he is inspired by Herpy’s attitude at work and in life.

“Dave’s work ethic has been a big influence,” McFall said. “He is very passionate about his work and expects everyone who works for him to take the same approach. He also has a general thirst for life that has fed my fire for life as well. We both love learning new things, going new places; he has been a lot of fun to work with.”

True to his job, Herpy has had an adventurous life.

From medicine to the great outdoors

Herpy didn’t always know that he wanted to have a career in recreation. Before his junior year in high school, Herpy was convinced that he was going to take the pre-med route because all his uncles are dentists or doctors.

Not until Herpy’s junior year when he got a new music teacher, did he get inspired about music himself.

Herpy was accepted at Kent State with a music and Honors College scholarship. He was also going to be in the marching band.

“A couple of weeks before I was about to come to Kent State, I was playing a gig at my local mall,” Herpy said. “I realized while I was playing that I don’t want to do this for the rest of my life.”

So Herpy withdrew from Kent State and enrolled in Lakeland Community College.

During the summer after his senior year in high school, Herpy had started working at the YMCA as a camp counselor.

“When the YMCA heard I was going to community college they asked me to continue my employment year round to teach roller hockey, pre-school soccer and home-school gym and swim,” Herpy said. “It was during those two years at the YMCA that I realized I really enjoyed the work I did. I saw the impact it had on the children, families and community that I lived in. I then knew that I could make an honest living making a positive impact and difference in society, so that’s why I chose to study recreation.”

During Herpy’s junior year of college he transferred back to Kent State to major in leisure studies with a concentration in recreational management. He worked at the Rec for two years and completed his internship with the Adventure Center.

Herpy credits his passion for the outdoors to his childhood. He went on his first camping trip when he was three years old.

“My family was a lower to middle-income family,” Herpy said. “We didn’t do the fancy, expensive beach vacation or Disney World, we went camping. Those camping vacations every summer were the highlight of my childhood.”

Herpy was also in the Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts.

“In Boy Scouts I got into rappelling,” Herpy said. “I did my first rappelling when I was 12 years old. I had my own harness, rope and climbing gear in the sixth grade.”

After graduating from Kent State, Herpy enrolled in the master’s program in recreation and sports science at Ohio University with a concentration in recreational studies.

Seeking adventure — and a job

While on his first adventure trip as a graduate assistant at Ohio University, Herpy had a bit of a scare while whitewater rafting down the lower Yakagany River.

“We were going on a notorious rapid for people dying, and it was my first time guiding a raft,” Herpy said. “I knew how to read the river, and I knew how to call the shots. There were six rafts. My raft was second to go through. Raft one got through with no problem.”

In this section of the Yakagany River, all the water rushes to the left because of the slope of the river bottom, so water pushes into an undercut rock and cuts down. If there is a low water level, a person can actually get pinned under this rock by the water pressure, Herpy said.

“We were going through the rapid,” Herpy said. “We had the right angle, but we just didn’t have the power to get through it. We got sucked sideways, so I told everyone to ‘high side,’ which means to get on the other side of the raft to prevent flipping.”

Before Herpy’s group had a chance to high side, the river flipped him and the five others over into the water.

“As I feel like I’m getting sucked towards the rock, I’m remembering my mom and my girlfriend saying ‘be careful,’” Herpy said. “Luckily, I got pushed through and the water rushed me around the rock. It was a panic that I will never forget. To this day, I have rafted that section multiple times. Every time I have gone through that rapid, I have got out and walked my raft around because it has freaked me out that much. That was the worst experience I have ever had on a trip and I will never forget it.”

After graduating from Ohio University, Herpy stayed unemployed while looking for full-time work. Herpy accepted his first full-time position at Hocking College, but only stayed for one quarter. He then worked part-time for Lake Metroparks, later turning into a full-time offer.

Herpy began working at the Kent State Adventure Center in 2007.

“Dave has a passion for what he does, and it shows,” McFall said. “The best leadership style … is to lead by example. That is how I feel David lives his life, and interacts with students. He wants them to be successful.”

Life’s greatest adventure

Herpy said his greatest adventure in his life is being a father.

“For me, becoming a father was life changing,” Herpy said. “You can prepare all you want, but you will never fully be prepared until you actually become a parent. The adventure of parenthood is the greatest feeling in the world.”

Herpy wants to instill his passion for the outdoors in his children. Herpy started taking his son hiking before he could even walk.

“I can see him soaking up nature,” Herpy said. “He watches chipmunks, squirrels and picks up rocks on the trail. To me it doesn’t get any better than that. It’s so much fun being in the woods with him.”

Herpy loves his job. He gets to live out his love of nature everyday whether it’s taking his employees to a swamp and kayaking with alligators, or giving back to the community.

“Confucius once said ‘Find a job you love and you will never work a day in your life,’” Herpy said. “I feel like I never really work. I truly enjoy what I do.”

Herpy’s passion for his job as outdoor adventure coordinator led him to receive the inaugural President’s Excellence Award by President Lester Lefton.

“I love my career and I am grateful for my awards, but there is one thing I love more than my job,” Herpy said. “I love being a father more than anything.”

Contact Breanna Reffel at [email protected].