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Why is Bonnie loved by so many? What made her different? Why do alumni, back for the first time in twenty years, end up hugging her? How did she endear herself to decades of students when her primary interactions with them came during the most tumultuous time – Middle School – many people ever experience? “You never know what a person is going through on any given day,” she says. “So why not be nice? Especially with teenagers. You got a zit on your nose, or your clothes smell, or you overslept, or you don’t have a lunch, or your mom’s being a jerk to you, or you’re being a jerk to your mom? Why make it more difficult? Kindness is so underrated. So if I can impart that, if I can be there for a kid who’s crying in my office – think about it. How important do you feel – whether you’re an adult or you’re thirteen – when somebody takes the time to talk to you? That’s a pretty big deal, isn’t it? And if I can do that for one person, then I’ve done my job.” As we finish our chicken wraps and sweet potato fries, there’s only one thing left to discuss. “I’m nervous,” Bonnie says, as if sensing the very topic in question. “I’m nervous because I don’t know what else I’m good at. This is all I’ve known for forty years. I babysat when I was twelve. I worked a concession stand at the baseball diamond in the summer. I was a lifeguard. I was a student-trainer at UW and then I started teaching right away. For forty years I’ve been teaching. I’m sixty-two and it’s like – holy shit – I don’t have to go to work next week. In fact, Wednesday is going to be a little weird because it’s August 1st and I don’t have to be at school. So I’m a little frightened. I have to admit that. But what am I going to do? What’s next? Well, you saw part of it today.”

We conclude our time together talking about the volunteer work she’ll do. At the House. At Hunger Task Force. At a number of other nonprofits that have played a pivotal role in her and her husband Mike’s lives. She’s excited to have time to work out every morning. To go to Madison. To watch sports. To read. She has just finished the new Patterson novel, The President is Missing. “I just read a full book,” she says. “550 pages. Oh my God. It was amazing.” Teaching since the age of five. It can’t be easy to simply turn the page, to begin writing the next chapter. “I’m nervous about what’s on the other side, but I don’t want to replace it with something just to be replacing it.” It, of course, is Prairie. A place that was made forever better thanks to her humor, compassion, and patience. ____ Heather Morris had a blast at her 20th Reunion — visiting campus and seeing what had both changed and remained the same, reconnecting with classmates, and spending time with her niece. In the days that followed her interaction with Bonnie in the hallway after Graduation, she had time to think about what the moment really meant. “I realized how right she was,” says Morris. “It all mattered. Prairie. My classmates. My family members who attended and taught here. And Mrs. Benes. It all shaped the person I am today. That moment with her, call it whatever you want – advice, consolation, friendship – it will stay with me forever. Because she was right. Every class, every friendship, every teacher, every experience – they all shaped us. And Mrs. Benes was at the heart of it all.”

Profile for ThePrairieSchool

Prairie | Volume 4 - Issue 2  

Prairie | Volume 4 - Issue 2