By Carol Hogan
Last week Evelyn Bonallo turned a grand 90 years of age. On hand to help the honoree celebrate were her seven children, 15 grandchildren and 14 (soon to be 15) great-grandchildren, neighbors and friends. It was a fête of love, flowers and food complete with a festive three-tiered cake decorated for spring.
In her characteristically quiet way, the 5-foot-tall former side center on the high school basketball team took it all in stride.
But there’s so much more to the story of this pint-sized Blaine resident, who for 50 years has conducted an educational command post for her children from a five-bedroom Victorian home on Boblett Street.
Bonallo’s life learning began with a summer job at a bank in Hayden Lake, Idaho, where she lived. “I’m only here for the summer,” she told her supervisor, “then I’m going to college.”
The supervisor replied, “We’ll teach you everything you want to know at the bank.”
So Bonallo stayed, worked and learned.
A “tag-along” little sister, she’d already met her future husband, “Doc,” her older brother’s friend who drove them all to school in Coeur d’Alene each day. When her brother entered the service during World War II, it was just Doc and her until he joined the Army Infantry as a medical corpsman.
Bonallo continued learning at the bank. In 1945 Doc returned home and asked her father for permission to get engaged. In 1947 they married and moved to Puyallup and Doc enrolled in Washington State University’s veterinary program. After graduation, the U. S. Department of Agriculture hired him. His job was vaccinating roving bovine herds, including buffalo.
While he followed the herd Bonallo stayed home caring for her own growing herd: Barbara, Colleen, Trish, Dan, Fred, Lois and Robin.
She didn’t like his absence from home, often for a week or more, and was delighted when Doc got a job with the agriculture department at the Blaine border. They packed up the family and moved.
“We had moved at least five times, following the herds,” Colleen said. “When we came to Blaine in January 1966, mom was finally able to unpack.” Doc was home every night.
As the family drove around house hunting, they exclaimed, “Look at all the churches!”
“Our former church in Eastport, Idaho, was in a community hall,” Bonallo said. They joined the United Church of Christ (UCC), and the late pastor Don Walter officiated at five of their children’s weddings.
While caring for her 120-year-old house, Bonallo taught the children the monetary facts of life. She showed them how to handle finances and how to budget their allowance.
“Mom has remarkable skills for handling money,” Colleen said. “My dad received an allowance, too.”
Bonallo taught by example how to be a citizen volunteer. Active in the PTA and a caregiver before there was a name for it, she showed several women in town how to handle their finances, drove them to appointments and helped them find residential housing.
Her biggest accomplishment is as one of the original founders of the Blaine Food Bank – born in 1972 from volunteer labor in the UCC basement.
“We had a room and we got donations from the government,” she said. “Once a month sacks of this and sacks of that would appear.” Bonallo helped distribute food twice a week at church and later at the food bank facility.
Her work didn’t go unnoticed.
Recently, a black limousine pulled up in front of her house and a chauffeur drove Bonallo to Bellingham for an awards banquet honoring Whatcom County volunteers. She received a plaque and a certificate honoring her 50 years at the food bank.
When Bonallo had a small stroke, she retired from volunteering. “Three years ago I retired from driving,” she said.