Eagle Karleen Bonaly, who passed away last week, remember for independence and generosity | VailDaily.com

Eagle Karleen Bonaly, who passed away last week, remember for independence and generosity

Kathy Heicher
Karleen Bonaly

Eagle resident Karleen Bonaly will be remembered as a sweet, pretty, tiny little lady with a smile that could light up a room … or an entire community.

Bonaly, 92, died Jan. 21 following a lengthy illness. She will be remembered for that smile, her quick wit, and for the helping hand she lent to many community events and activities.

She was born Feb. 18, 1911 in Audrain County, Mo. to Hollie and Nora Barnett. Karleen graduated from high school in Leavenworth, Kan. On Oct. 24, 1932 she married Verne Bonaly in Leavenworth.

They were an adventurous couple, recalls her nephew, Jack Jewett and his wife, Sherrie, of St. Joseph, Mo. They recall that when she was young, Karleen and Verne would ride motorcyles – sometimes facing backwards. They also did some flying together.

“She was brave. They had a good time, doing crazy things,” says Jack Jewett. The couple shared an awe of the mountains, and in 1963 they moved to Eagle, where Verne worked for the Civil Air Administration (now the FAA) and did odd jobs such as plumbing and electrical work. Verne died in Red Cliff on Jan. 11, 1969.

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Prior to moving to Eagle, Karleen worked as a secretary for a barrel company in Kansas, and worked at various other jobs. In Eagle, she worked for the county assessor’s office until her retirement in 1976.

Independent spirit

The petite woman – less than five feet tall – was an avid birdwatcher, and also an expert at identifying wildflowers; although her favorite flower was the very domestic pansy.

Karleen was an accomplished fly fisherman, and would often pack up her gear and head up the creek with friends. Virginia Thompson often accompanied her on fishing trips. Friends recall that while Karleen was adept at catching fish, she did not like to eat them.

“She loved the mountains… she was just awed by the mountains,” recalls Jewett. She loved any excuse to get up to the mountains: fishing, a hamburger fry, or just an opportunity to relax, he said, adding his aunt never failed to comment on how beautiful the mountain scenery was, or how lovely the wildflowers were.

Patty Gibbons of Eagle is a couple of generations younger than Bonaly, but she was drawn in by that ready smile and those twinkly eyes the first time she met her. At the time, Gibbons was working at Colorado Mountain College, and Bonaly was a part of the cheerful, chatty senior citizen aerobics class.

One of the things Gibbons said she admired about Bonaly was her independence. A widow for many decades, Bonaly had a big circle of friends to fall back on; and she kept busy with volunteer work. She was a member of the Methodist Church chime choir, and volunteered many hours at the senior center and on church fund-raisers such as the homemade chicken and noodle supper.

When the noodle dough wasn’t the right degree of stiffness, she would throw it right back at the volunteers who had been kneading the flour, recalls her friend and longtime neighbor, Ella Bindley.

“She was always cheerful. She could always crack a little joke about anything. She smiled even up to the end,” says Bindley.

Then there were the card games. Karleen could play just about any card game imaginable, and she was good.

“She was an ace at cards. The only times I won were because she maybe let me,” recalls Gibbons. They played cards up to two weeks before Bonaly’s death – and she still won.

Grand marshal

Bonaly loved to garden, and always had a neat little vegetable patch. She shared her produce with neighbors with characteristic generosity.

The Jewetts recall that Bonaly was a fabulous cook. When she went to Missouri to visit she’d often bring along a homemade treat, such as chokecherry jelly. She particularly enjoyed eating tomatoes grown in Missouri, claiming they were the best.

Last summer, Karleen was one of several ladies dubbed “The Golden Girls” who were honored as grand marshals of the Flight Days parade for their many years of public service. Despite being somewhat frail from continuing complications related to a broken hip, Bonaly gamely pulled together a hillbilly costume and rode on the float with her cohorts. Predictably, she was smiling with the best of them.

As her health grew more frail, her friends took to stopping by her house daily for coffee and visits. She loved the visits, but was not inclined to let her friends do a lot of work.

“She was very independent. She was just a person that buckled down and took care of herself,” says Bindley.

Neither friends nor relatives can remember her being out-of-sorts. They do remember her warmth and her laughter.

“She was marvelous. She was my favorite aunt. I loved her the best of all of my relatives,” says Jack Jewett.

“We’ll all miss her,” says Bindley.

This story first appeared in the Eagle Valley Enterprise.

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