Community pays tribute to a special teacher on her 105th birthday

On Aug. 31, 2017, Loganville resident Katherine Bonar will celebrate her 105th birthday and, as they did last year for her 104th birthday, Loganville Christian Church, the mayor of Loganville and the Historical Society of Loganville plan to honor her during this Sunday’s services.

“We are not expecting Ms. Katherine on Sunday, but we will honor her anyway,” Loganville Christian Church Sunday School teacher Gloria Bienstock said. “Mayor Dan Curry will make a presentation and we will have a basket from Loganville Christian Church and the Historical Society.”
Loganville Mayor Dan Curry honoring Ms. Katherine Bonar on Aug. 31, 2016 on the occasion of her 104th birthday. Contributed photo
Another thing that those honoring Ms. Bonar will share this year is a letter that came about as a result of last year’s birthday celebration. Keith Propst had never forgotten his second grade teacher at Highland Elementary School in Lake Worth, Fla. She was one of those teachers, he said, that leaves you with “gifts” that you carry with you for the rest of your life. She was his favorite teacher almost 60 years ago and he got to hear about her again when the news of her 104th birthday celebration was shared. He also was able to connect on social media with another schoolmate, Janet (St. Bernard) Broen, who had shared Ms. Bonar’s classroom with him all those years ago. She too has fond memories of a favorite teacher. Although health issues have denied them meeting again in person, a letter from Propst sharing memories that he and Broen have of a treasured second-grade teacher will be shared at Sunday’s celebration in Loganville.
The full letter, as well as photographs from those early days back in a second-grade Florida classroom almost 60 years ago, are shared here as we wish Ms. Katherine Bonar, of Loganville, a Happy 105th Birthday for Aug. 31, 2017.
Mrs. Katherine Bonar, 1958 – 1959. Contributed photo

 Katherine Bonar – A Favorite Teacher

Keith Propst, Roswell, Georgia

Mrs. Katherine Bonar was my second grade teacher for the school year of 1958-9 at Highland Elementary School in Lake Worth, Florida. Lake Worth is a small, southeast Florida town just south of West Palm Beach.

I can say without hesitation that Mrs. Bonar was my first “favorite” teacher. From a distance of nearly 60 years, it’s clear how fortunate I was to have been assigned to her class in my second year of school.

How do you measure the impact of a teacher? One way is through the value of the “gifts” that her students take with them after their time with the teacher.

As second graders, we had mastered the alphabet and were on to learning to read. Mrs. Bonar led us through the schoolbooks to learn about the world beyond our little town–how the Lapplanders lived in the arctic and how Dutch children traditionally wore wooden shoes. Between the inspiration from Mrs. Bonar and the encouragement of my mother, I developed a love for reading and an interest in the world around me that has lasted my entire life.

I left Mrs. Bonar’s class with a love for school and learning. This attitude was the foundation for my education over the next 14 years and all the doors that were opened as a result.

Mrs. Bonar ran an orderly classroom, but she did so with gentleness and persuasion, not threats or punishment. Her kindness stands out to me after all these years. A couple of examples to explain what I experienced as a second grader.

I would often get through with a test quickly, and, while waiting, I would then want to turn the page over and draw pictures of ships or planes. I was worried that I might get into trouble for doing this, but Mrs. Bonar assured me that it was perfectly OK. It seems such a small thing, but this little gesture stands out after 60 years as an example of how she dealt with each of her students.

One or our classmates drew her a picture. He wrote, “For Mrs. Bonar” and “Form Steve” on it and proudly presented it to her. Mrs. Bonar never commented on the mistake, and she proudly hung the picture on the wall behind her desk. Even as a second grader, I thought that was very kind of her. She understood the value of the gift from one of her students.

Perhaps most of all, Mrs. Bonar gave us an understanding of what makes a “good” teacher. I left her class with the expectation that my teachers were there to help me learn. I understood how rewarding it could be to build a relationship with a teacher. She gave me a benchmark that I could use to evaluate each new teacher that I encountered. I loved and appreciated the opportunity to have a good education, and Mrs. Bonar helped plant the seed for that attitude about my schooling.

Purely by chance, I met Mrs. Bonar’s son at a Sunday school class in 1987. When I mentioned to Brian that I had had a Mrs. Bonar as my second grade teacher down in Lake Worth, FL, he surprised me by saying that was his mother. What a delightful discovery. A few weeks later, Brian said he had asked his mother about me, and he recounted that she said she remembered me. Even with the hundreds of students who she taught over her career, I can believe that Mrs. Bonar was the kind of teacher who would have individual memories of many of her pupils. She cared that much.

I was able to contact on social media one of my second grade classmates, Janet (St. Bernard) Broen, who shared these memories, “Do you remember Mrs. Bonar’s little giggle? I have always remembered how very gentle and feminine she was. And we felt safe back then; classes were orderly. I remember sitting in a circle at the front of the room and taking turns reading a story. Remember show and tell? Every parent’s nightmare!”

Like me, Janet clearly has strong and affectionate memories of her experiences with Mrs. Bonar.

I am grateful to Gloria Bienstock and the Loganville Christian Church, the City of Loganville, the Historical Society, and Sharon Swanepoel and the Loganville Local News for honoring Mrs. Bonar last August and again this year. The actions of these players combined to help me discover earlier this years that Mrs. Bonar was not only still alive but living in the metro Atlanta area. My thanks also to her caregiver, Mary DeCara, and to Brian for helping making these years comfortable for Mrs. Bonar. She is truly “an angel among us” and deserves all the best for the rest of her days in this life.

Keith Propst – 2nd Grade – 1958-1959. Contributed photo
Janet St. Bernard – Mrs. Bonar’s second grade class 1958-1959. Contributed photo.


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