Bonnie Claire Wilson
April 2, 1924 - June 9, 2017
Bonnie Claire (Benson) Wilson was born in Salem Oregon on April 2nd, 1924 to George and Freeda Benson. She lived her entire life in Salem, first on Market St. at the home her father built. Then the family moved for a few years to Mission St. And, back to the Market St. house for the remainder of her childhood years until she married and moved out. After Bonnie was married the happy couple moved into an apartment on Commercial St. across from Golden Mortuary where they lived for about 2 years while husband Bill, and Bonnie’s father built their home in the hills of West Salem. Eventually they moved into the house on Riverview Dr. sometime in 1950. Finally, about 7 years ago, when Bonnie needed a bit more help she moved in with daughter Julie in Portland where she remained for the rest of her life. Bonnie was the kind of person who could light up a room with her smile. She was energetic, intelligent, and hardworking. Here is Bonnie’s story;
She was born the fourth child of George and the third child of Freeda Benson’s. Theirs was a second marriage and a union of love. The house Bonnie grew up in was founded on loving each other, honest and hard work, and her father and mother saw to it that it was a warm and happy place for the children. The first child born to Freeda and George Benson was Francis Benson. Unfortunately, he was born with downs syndrome. My mother loved and cherished her big brother and called him Francie. Francie died in his teenage years. A second child was born a couple of years after Francie was born and was named Gladys Evelda but she only lived a few months. Then Bonnie came along. And, 11 years later her younger sister Marilynn was born into this loving family. Despite the number of years in age difference Marilynn and Bonnie remained close throughout their lives and Bonnie deeply cherished her sister and their relationship.
Bonnie’s grandparents; Wilhelmina and Theodore Stolk homesteaded land in the Kaiser area; then called Clear Lake. My mother often shared many fond memories of visiting the farm as a child; playing with the cousins, running through the fields or helping her grandmother in the kitchen. She loved her time there. The farm sat above the banks of the Willamette River and still to this day walnut trees stand there where her grandmother planted them. Bonnie was also active in Camp Fire Girls as a young girl and into her teen years and went to Camp Namanu nearly every summer during this time.
Bonnie attended Salem High (now called North Salem High School) and graduated in 1942. After graduation, she went to Willamette University to work on her degree in education with the plan to become a teacher. Due to the depression, however her time on campus was short but appreciated and a special for her. After leaving Willamette University she went to work at the Salem Smart shop in downtown Salem and stayed there for several years. She eventually became a buyer for the store and often traveled to Portland on the train to make purchases as a buyer. She very much enjoyed this part of her job. She would often tell stories about walking through Portland shopping for the store and how much fun this was for her.
Then the war came and off to Europe the men went to fight. During the early years of World War II one of Bonnie’s girlfriends encouraged her to write to the soldiers at a local army base. Her girlfriend had gotten some soldiers names and asked Bonnie if she would choose one. At first Bonnie refused to do so stating that her father would not allow this. Her girlfriend left one name on her bedside stand when she left that day. Eventually Bonnie did write to this soldier who as stationed at Camp Adair. This lead to a pen-pal friendship with William Wilson. After several letters over a few months Bill decided to come to Salem and meet with Bonnie’s father to ask his permission to court her. George Benson was impressed with this soldier and agreed. The two men stood at the fireplace talking as she arrived home from work that day. She had not known that Bill Wilson would be there, and as my father told this story many years ago, he said “it was love at first sight”. Bonnie and Bill Wilson married in her family church in Salem on August 30th 1946.
Bonnie and Bill welcomed their first child into their lives 5 years later, a son they named Mark Asbury Wilson. Another 5 years went by and they welcomed their second child; Julie Elizabeth Wilson. Mark preceded Bonnie in death at the young age of 10 years old in 1962. The death of her precious son affected Bonnie’s life in many ways, but she was young and strong and had a wonderful husband that lead her through her grief as they clung to each other during this dark time in their lives. With the help of family and friends Bonnie learned to live her life again but often quietly suffered her loss in private with her beloved husband always at her side. It is thought that this love strengthened their marriage during this time of tragedy and they cleaved together until Bill’s death many years later.
Now, Bill Wilson loved to fish and he loved the ocean so they decided to purchase property in Pacific City in the early 1960’s. They bought a small lot on Cape Drive and proceeded to build their treasured beach house. They saved their pennies and as they could over the years they finally finished it. They soon became “weekenders” and joined the “Kiwanda Kapers”, a social club of locals and other weekenders that met monthly and organized different functions. During this time Bonnie became the wife of a deep-sea fisherman. She took on this role with gusto and learned from her new friends and neighbors in Pacific City how to forage the local area for the wonderful Pacific Northwest cuisine. Bonnie quickly became an expert on finding and harvesting local berries, clams, and mushrooms from the forested areas and the wetlands around Pacific City. Together they loved their time on the coast in their little beach house. With family and friends always invited they hosted many parties, Bill loved to cook, and they often could be found walking the local beaches beachcombing for glass floats or watching the sunset in each other’s arms.
Bonnie’s young daughter went into grade school she became restless and wanted to plan and work on her next challenge. She had hoped earlier in her life to become a teacher. But now she thought more about becoming a nurse. The new local community college; Chemeketa had been built in Salem and was up and running. They offered a two-year Associates Degree in Nursing program that Bonnie was interested in. She soon decided this was for her. Bonnie began her work in the nursing program at Chemeketa Community College in 1969 and was in the first graduating class on June 11th, 1971. After her graduation, she became an RN and worked for many years at Salem Hospital; then called Salem Memorial Hospital. She was there as an RN when the two hospitals merged into one large complex. She also worked for quite a few years at the Oregon State Hospital. She finally retired, for the first time, at age 60 to be able to travel with husband Bill. She went back to nursing later to “buy a new car” and worked then at the State Hospital again for several years. At age 65 Bill finally talked her into retiring completely and traveling, or spending time at the beach house. These years were leisure years for them. They traveled all over the world and the family would joke that, at times, we had no idea where they were. They traveled across the Scandinavian countries; Norway, Denmark, and Sweden. They visited Great Britain several times and saw Queen Elizabeth on her silver jubilee celebration. They also went to Wales, Ireland, and Scotland. And, during this time they went to Hawaii on many trips often with my father’s younger brother and his wife; Bud and Franny Nelson. My parents loved to travel with them on their many ventures to the islands, as well as to Europe, and all around the country. They also went to Shriner’s functions together around the country and into other countries many times together.
During the trip to Norway Bill found his half-sister and they visited with her family for the day. Bonnie often talked about this saying it was more smiles and gestures as they did not speak the language and Bill’s relatives did not speak English. It was a wonderful time though and her memories of this trip were fondly passed on. In 1981 Julie moved to New Mexico with her new family and every year since then Bill and Bonnie would travel to the Great Southwest to visit their daughter and grandchildren. They often planned trips through various states around this time and visited places such as the Grand Canyon, attended Elder Hostiles and took classes on many wonderful things in many different places on their journey to see the kids. Sometimes they would drive to Reno, then after a few days go on to Santa Fe for their visit. Of course, on the return trip they would stop in Laughlin for a few days there and then return home to Oregon.
Bonnie was a grandmother and a great-grandmother. She had three grandchildren whom she loved and cherished. Her grandchildren are Talahna Rowley, Will and Ryan Bucher. Her great grandchildren number 6 total, however if you count all her grandkids spouses’ kiddo’s then there were many more than this and she loved and cherished every one of them. Indeed, Bonnie was a very loved and special person and she cherished her family members throughout her life.
Bonnie passed peacefully on June 9th, 2017 in the presence of her caregiver and the hospice nurse who were at her bedside with her. She had gone to the hospital in January with pneumonia and after having had pneumonia so many times she never recovered fully from this event. During the last few years her health had begun to fail yet she remained strong and vigilant in her own personal care until the very end. A life-long Oregonian, Bonnie was a strong woman and lived her life with gusto.
Funeral services will be held at Goldens Mortuary, 605 Commercial St. SE Salem, Oregon on Saturday June 17th at 11:00am. Graveside services will be held directly afterward with a processional to Belcrest Cemetery 1295 Browning Ave. S Salem, Oregon at approximately 12:30pm. Everyone who knew Bonnie is welcome to come and help celebrate her life.
The family would like to thank all the help and hard work of the hospice nurses and caregivers during the last few weeks of Bonnie’s life. We would like to also thank Visiting Angels for the loving care given to Bonnie for the past several years. If you would like to donate in Bonnie’s name her love and dedication was to the Shriner’s Hospital in Portland. She also loved the Humane Society and had, over the years, adopted many puppies and kitties there. The Doryman’s Association of Pacific City is also near to her heart.