Bonita Colony, Former Copper Valley Teacher

Bonita Colony, October 11, 1933 to July 13, 2022  Bonita Grace Colony (née Burroughs) was born to Don F. and Grace May Burroughs October 11,...


Bonita Colony, October 11, 1933 to July 13, 2022 


Bonita Grace Colony (née Burroughs) was born to Don F. and Grace May Burroughs October 11, 1933 at the family home near Platteville, Wisconsin. The town's doctor wasn't in attendance of the birth, being certain Bonita wasn't truly ready to arrive. Bonita (often Bonnie to friends) passed away peacefully after a short illness July 13, 2022 in Salem, Oregon. Her children were in attendance, hoping that Bonita wasn't truly ready to depart.


While Bonita was still a small child, her father, mother, and brothers Dean and Dwight moved to a hillside orchard high above Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. Though her father was a "children don't speak until spoken to" person, Bonita recalled plenty of fun in her early years. She told of bareback riding on Ladd the farm draft horse (trying hard not to let him scrape her off with low-hanging branches), fending off their belligerent banty rooster, and careening down the steep hill to school on the back of Dwight's bicycle. Her father died when Bonita was 9, and she and her mom moved into town while her brothers moved on to their adult lives. The tightest of mother-daughter bonds developed as they forged their new life together up through Bonita's graduation from Coeur d'Alene High School and years at Junior College. Bonita earned her Bachelor's degree in teaching from Eastern Washington University.

Making music came easily to Bonita and in great variety. As a four-year-old she sat and played the VFW piano by ear. Her father was so proud that, somehow, he managed to buy a piano for her. She enjoyed playing piano for the ballet studio, glockenspiel in the Coeur d'Alene High School band, the string bass in the orchestra (possibly because she was the tallest kid in her class), accordion, and even ukulele. It may have been her ukulele skills that first drew her future husband, Lee Colony, to the edges of the fireside singalong on the shores of Lake Coeur d'Alene. Whatever drew them together, they were inseparable, and were married one year and one day after their first date.

Lee lobbied enthusiastically for the newlyweds to homestead in Alaska. Bonita countered that she was unwilling to leave her washer or dryer, or electricity behind. No hot and cold running water? No electricity? No dice! Instead, they set out for North Liberty, Iowa near Lee's childhood home. They began the arduous task of raising three children: Elaine, Wayne, and Gail. Bonita taught elementary school in Coralville, and then at Penn Elementary in North Liberty.

While Lee was recovering from a farming accident, Bonita suggested he leverage that opportunity away from work to go hunting in Alaska with his brother. She was certain that would help "get Alaska out of his system." That tactic squarely backfired, with Lee returning from his Alaskan adventure and announcing, "We are moving!" And move they did.

Life in Alaska was a source of deep joy, adventure, and love of wilderness for Bonita and Lee. As Bonita liked to say, "Anchorage isn't really Alaska, but you can drive to Alaska on the weekends." Nearly every available weekend the family went exploring, heading south to immerse in the beauty of the Kenai Peninsula, or heading north to discover the many wonders of the Matanuska and Susitna Valleys. Whether stream fishing, riverboating, snowmachining, hunting, gold panning, back packing, camping, or just driving across the miles, Bonita was eager to see what might lie just around the bend. That love of wilderness led to purchasing land far off the beaten path, building a cabin, and naming the spot Broken Birch Ranch. Bonita often laughed that she had not been willing to give up her modern conveniences as a young woman, but now in her 40s she was sleeping on the ground, digging an outhouse, felling trees, cooking over an open fire and building an off-the-grid retreat. Life could not have been better.

In between the weekends, there was meaningful work. Bonita deeply touched the lives of myriad students at Mountain View Elementary and ultimately across the Anchorage School District. A few of Bonita's most stellar students remained in touch across her lifetime, and their unfolding lives gave her the greatest of joy. Her career trajectory led through becoming an ASD Reading Specialist, then a Slingerland teacher focused on instruction for students with Dyslexia, and then into a Master's Degree from the University of Alaska Anchorage. 

When their children launched from home, Bonita and Lee moved to Glennallen to be closer to Alaska. She taught her final years in public education with the Copper River School District. The culmination of Bonita's lifework came when she became the dean of the Slingerland Institute and later became a founding board member and the first President of IMSLEC (International Multisensory Structured Language Education Council). In those capacities she taught and worked with colleagues across the U.S., Australia, and the Philippines. Lee accompanied her on many of these travels, with caravanning across Australia becoming a cherished adventure.

When Lee died unexpectedly, Bonita moved to Salem, Oregon to be closer to her daughters Elaine and Gail, and granddaughter Miranda. A gift of two flying lessons was one glimmer of light in the darkness of Bonita's deep grief. She began learning to fly, joined the Valley Flyers club, and purchased a high-performance Beechcraft. Bonita loved aviation and the freedom it gave her to explore the skies across the northwest and western Canada, as well as the many delightful friends she made in the flying community.

Bonita is survived by: her three children and their spouses - Elaine and Mike Crawley, Wayne and Cindy Colony, and Gail and Art Obendorf; her granddaughter – Miranda and Jesse Featherstone, and great-granddaughter Lydia Rain Featherstone (Helper);

Brother and sister-in-law Joe and Peggy Colony;

Nieces: Lynn (Glenn) Hubert; Jan (Paul) Colony; Rebecca (Ron) Hacker, Marci Mills;

Nephews: Marc Gatchett, David (Valerie) Colony, Mike (Sherry) Colony, Patrick (Karen)) Colony, and Jim (Jannie) Boynton.

Bonita was preceded in death by her husband and best friend Lee Colony, parents Don and Grace Burroughs, brothers Dean and Dwight Burroughs, and sister Janice Burroughs.

In the summer of 2023 family and friends will again gather for a celebration, but this time in Alaska and for placement of Bonita's ashes next to Lee's in the Talkeetna Cemetery. They are both together now and exploring what lies "Just Around the Bend."


Reprinted from the Cedar Rapids Gazette 

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