STEPHEN A. BONNIE OPC '66 RECEIVES THE ALUMNI AWARD OF MERIT
The Alumni Award of Merit, given "to a graduate of the William Penn Charter School whose character and outstanding achievement have reflected lasting credit upon this school," was presented to Stephen A. Bonnie OPC '66 by his friend and former student, Andy Kramer OPC '81, at OPC Weekend 2016.
Bonnie, now the Director of Stewardship and Special Projects at Penn Charter, came to Penn Charter in 1960 and has been giving back ever since. His heartfelt, and – true to character – often funny remarks are below.
I really have to wonder what Dr. Gummere would think about my name going on that wall.
I know I would never make the other side.
Thanks to my friend, lawyer and former student, Andy Kramer, for those kind words. Thanks to the Alumni Society also for reaching consensus on one so old and unworthy. I would be remiss if I didn’t thank three women who propped me up for over 30 years in the Admissions Office: Anne Bailey Watters, Connie Bovee and Pat Cunningham. And thanks to my family who made it possible for me to go to Penn Charter and have this career. Especially to my mom, Betty, who is 97. Mom – thanks! And thanks to Dr. Ball for hiring me and to Dr. Ford for not firing me.
And so, long ago and far away, it was time for me to leave Houston public school after sixth grade and give independent schools a try.
I applied to Penn Charter and yes, Germantown Academy. Somehow I got into both and bad news, my father’s best friend was chairman of the board at GA. I had visited GA’s unique campus and lovely building down School House Lane and was also unimpressed by their director of admissions, who reminded me of Mr. Peepers (only the most mature here even know Mr. Peepers). But I had also visited PC’s beautiful edifice and met Ralph Palaia, the man who gave me a chance for this great opportunity. It was over… for me… it seemed like two years, but probably was two days, and I was finally allowed to make my choice – Penn Charter! So in September of 1960, before most of you were born, I began school at old PC on the same day as my teacher and mentor, Allan Brown, a curious karma to say the least.
With this incredible opportunity, I spent six years loving Penn Charter, playing soccer, running track, socializing too much, studying sometimes and having more fun than I probably should have. Bert Linton really tried to teach me mathematical concepts, Phil Maroney let me write extra credit book reports, Joe Perrott fed me Hamlet in small doses and Ollie Nuse said I was a hopeless artist. I also had the pleasure of learning soccer from Chick Conrad and track from Russ Faber: although – they didn’t seem to feel the pleasure. Oh, and back to Allan Brown: he contributed to my high self-esteem by writing two pages of corrections and criticism in bright red on my essay that was one-and-a-half pages long!
Let’s cut to the chase: I was in Reds McMillan’s Latin class when I receive a note typed in red from Dr. Gummere – “Report to my office at 11:15.” Oh baby…
I am waiting in that chair by his office at 11:10, the glass door is closed/ the walnut door is open. He doesn’t even look up, and says, “Come.” I go through the glass door partially… stop… and boom it hits me in the backside, and I am vaulted into his office… Again… He never looks up.
“You will be going to Temple.”
“That will be all.”
I gratefully sprinted back to Latin class. Doc John was the scariest man I ever knew.
Penn Charter prepared me really well for college. One of my jobs there was to help other student-athletes with how to put together a term paper and decipher the nuances of an essay test. Many of my fellow athletes were not English majors and appreciated my input even when it came deftly packaged in a sarcastic tone. Each year, the Penn Charter seniors have little idea about how blessed they will be.
I got my first teaching job at Lankenau School, formerly a girls’ school, across the street, which had now gone coed. Perhaps this was because I could teach English and history as well as coach, or perhaps it was because I had spent so much time there in my youth. My real break came when Buff Weigand hired me to coach Middle School soccer and track and it was – game on. It did, however, take applying for a teaching job at PC four times! But finally Wilbert Braxton and Earl Ball had mercy on me and hired me as a full time teacher in 1976… And sincerest thanks to both of them. My favorite course to teach was always seventh grade English, but it is also really a joy to presently teach my seniors in the William Penn course, where they generally seemed amused… or… is it bemused?
Penn Charter always taught us to be well-rounded and try different things, and the sports requirement encouraged us to try to be athletes. Somehow this led me to be the varsity track coach for the past 41 years. I cannot mention all the wonderful kids that I had the pleasure of working with, but I am proud of their numerous championships, thrilled with the development of our girls program, and thanks to Liz Flemming, and I take great enjoyment in seeing how these track graduates have utilized the life skills that Penn Charter taught them. And thank you to those generous people who funded our beautiful new track.
When the great Ralph Paiaia retired in 1982, Earl Ball was kind enough to allow me to be Director of Admissions. The Admissions job gave me the opportunity to give young people the same gift from which I had benefitted. I thought about that every day. That period saw the matriculation of girls to Penn Charter and far greater economic and racial diversity. I was most proud that we, as a Quaker school, looked beyond test scores and chose to give opportunity based on a student’s character and Inner Light. The former headmaster and liberator, Anthony Benezet, who supported these same ideas in the 1700s, would be most impressed. When Ralph Palaia had his retirement party, he was asked, “You made many great picks, but did you make any mistakes?” He said after a long pause, “Yes, Steve Bonnie and Rick Mellor.” I will reflect even longer, but then reveal my two picks at the party that follows tonight.
Speaking of jokes, I have experienced a lot of them regarding my various “projects” around campus: e.g. refinishing old teachers' desks, painting the window wells, creating offices out of closets, fixing the Meeting Room benches and generally being annoying. I see this as “in school” community service, and I highly recommend it to everyone.
Now in my Penn Charter anchor leg, Darryl Ford was kind enough to ask me to serve as Director of Stewardship and Special Projects. This is truly the ultimate “give back” job. While you are tired of my letters, emails and hysterical phone calls begging for more money, your largesse does more good for kids than you can ever imagine. Funds for scholarships, computers, books, class trips, better facilities and teacher education are just a few of the wonderful ways you keep our school great. This brings us back to the theme: Penn Charter gave and gives us so much; we all need to find new ways to give back to our alma mater. Even if you simply paint an ugly window well.
And as I close this rather pedestrian disquisition, I am reminded of the Quaker testimony of community. We see it in the gathering here tonight, in these reunions throughout this weekend, in the various ways all of you give to PC all year long and in everything that still happens here every day just as it has since 1689. Friend William Penn was right, Good Instruction Is Better than Riches, and our riches here are the Penn Charter kids.
Thank you, thank you, and Beat GA!