Former longtime Anokan dies at 90

Former Anoka resident Harold Bonnell has died at the age of 90.

Harold Bonnell in the 1970s.
Harold Bonnell in the 1970s.

Bonnell was very active in the community before he moved to Ann Arbor, Mich., in 1993, serving on a long list of boards and commissions both in Anoka and the Twin Cities. Bonnell died April 2 from complications related to Alzheimer’s disease.

“He was a first class guy from a first class family,” said Bob (Robert B.) Johnson, one of Bonnell’s oldest and best friends.

Bonnell was the son of the late Leola P. and Carl E. Bonnell, former Anoka mayor (1953-1960) and business owner. Carl Bonnell also became a well-known folk artist later in life.

He followed his father’s lead and lived a life that was full of civic and community involvement.

Bonnell was a charter 20-year member and served as chairman of the Anoka Housing and Redevelopment Authority; on the boards of the State Bank of Anoka, the Harlan Thurston Foundation and the Correctional Service of Minnesota. He was also the secretary-treasurer of the Minneapolis Athletic Club.

He also served for many years as the treasurer at Zion Lutheran Church, Anoka, where he was instrumental in fund-raising and acquiring the church’s pipe organ, said son Mark Bonnell.

The Bonnell family moved to Anoka in 1925, where Carl Bonnell operated Bonnell Family Grocery.

Bonnell graduated from Anoka High School in 1939, where he was the school president and captain of the football team. He went on to Carleton College, Northfield, where his education was interrupted by World War II. He served as a technical sergeant in the Army Air Corps in Burma.

Harold Bonnell graduated in 1939 from Anoka High School, where he was class president and captain of the football team. File photo
Harold Bonnell graduated in 1939 from Anoka High School, where he was class president and captain of the football team. File photo

Following the war he finished his bachelor of arts degree at Carleton and went on to earn a master’s in business administration degree at Harvard University and became a certified public accountant.

Johnson and Bonnell met in seventh grade, were classmates and played on the varsity basketball team together in the late 1930s. They remained close throughout their lives, part of a tight knit group that for decades made sure they got together once a year to catch up.

“He was very wise and worked very hard,” said Johnson, Anoka’s city engineer for 30 years.

Johnson’s wife Lenore called Bonnell one of the most intelligent and kind men she knew.

Johnson recalls while he, Bonnell and other friends were raising young families they would gather every year on a Monday night to watch the championship Final Four basketball game.

In later years they didn’t see each other often, but occasionally talked on the phone and exchanged Christmas greetings.


and generous

After running his father’s grocery store in 1951, Bonnell joined the accounting firm Peat, Marwick, Mitchell and Co., becoming a partner in the Minneapolis office in 1960 where he was in charge of the Cargill, Green Giant and Control Data audits.

On his retirement from the company in 1980, he was called one of the firm’s “technical giants” and was acknowledged as one of the nation’s leading grain experts.

In 1980 he was appointed by the United States Department of Agriculture to a three-person arbitration board that settled losses incurred by the grain industry as a result of the embargo of grain exports to the Soviet Union following its invasion of Afghanistan.

“Harold did a lot to support Anoka,” said Steve Schmidt. “He was widely known and respected.”

Bonnell served on the board of directors of Anoka State Bank while Schmidt was president and chairman of the board.

“Harold Bonnell was a mover and a shaker way beyond Anoka,” Schmidt said.

According to Schmidt, for many years Bonnell handled the finances and taxes for the Harlan Thurston Foundation, pro bono.

Son Mark Bonnell remembers his father as a typical example of the greatest generation – a hardworking family man.

He was a kind man, said Mark, very involved in the Boy Scouts, loved the outdoors and was an Eagle Scout himself.

Bonnell was also a Boy Scout merit badge counselor.

“Dozens of Boy Scouts came through our house to earn their citizenship badges,” recalled Mark. “He was very strict and they really earned them.”

Bonnell was also known as a very giving man.

“One of his most obvious and admirable character traits which was his generosity – to family and friends and to his churches, schools and many charitable organizations,” said Mark.

Many years ago he established the Bonnell Family Endowment Scholarship at St. Olaf College, Northfield, where three of his children attended school. Every year it provides financial aid to graduates of Anoka High School.

Back in 2007 the Bonnell family also donated a piece of property along the Rum River to the city of Anoka for use as a sanctuary as well as a tribute to Carl Bonnell.

Bonnell is survived by his wife Rebecca, four children along several grandchildren and one great-granddaughter and one sister. He was preceded in death by his parents, sister and first wife Janet (Carlson) Bonnell.

A memorial service in Bonnell’s honor is planned 2 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 17 at the University Lutheran Church of Hope, 601 13th Ave. S.E. in Minneapolis.

Mandy Moran Froemming is at [email protected]