Community pays tribute to Bonnell family donation

Community members, city officials and members of the Bonnell family gathered along the Rum River Saturday, June 21 to officially dedicate a piece of land donated to the city of Anoka.

Anoka City Councilmember Steve Schmidt shares memories of Carl and Leola Bonnell, who were close friends of his grandparents. Photo courtesy of the Bonnell family
Anoka City Councilmember Steve Schmidt shares memories of Carl and Leola Bonnell, who were close friends of his grandparents. Photo courtesy of the Bonnell family

The gift was made back in 2007 by the grandchildren of Carl and Leola Bonnell. The Bonnell grandchildren were in Anoka Saturday for an informal dedication of the Ferry Street property.

The property was donated at the request of Harold Bonnell, Carl and Leola’s son, following his death.

Carl Bonnell has a lasting legacy, moving to Anoka in 1925 and operating Bonnell Grocery Store for many years. In the 1950s he also became vice president of State Bank. He served for eight years on the city commission that built Green Haven Golf Course. He then served four terms as mayor of Anoka, from 1953-1961, during a time that included the construction of Anoka City Hall, the Charles Horn swimming pool, the back nine holes at Green Haven and planning for Mercy Hospital. He took up drawing in his 70s and became a popular local folk artist. Carl died in 1979.

Leola was active in the community, serving as president of Philolectian Society and was a member of a long list of volunteer organizations. She helped organize the first museum of the Historical Society in Colonial Hall.

The Ferry Street site dedicated Saturday includes an interpretive sign highlighting the history of the family, a cement pad and park bench. The Bonnells had packed the lot with terraced gardens down to the river, which included the hybrid lilies Carl grew. Along with Bernard Crandall and Stella Cushman, the Bonnells founded the Anoka Garden Club.

Saturday’s dedication was organized by Mark Bonnell, Carl and Leola’s eldest grandchild.

It included some memories shared by Anoka City Councilmember Steve Schmidt, whose grandparents were close friends of the Bonnells.

The property fits into Anoka’s plans to develop a park system along the Rum River, north of the dam, and to preserve the natural beauty of the area, according to Schmidt.

Councilmembers Mark Freeburg and Jeff Weaver, along with members of other city boards, commissions and retired staff attended the gathering.

The dedication monument was organized by Anoka City Planner Crystal Pauman and the sign was made by Barbara Schilling at the Sign Station.

Carl Bonnell is also the namesake of playing fields at Brisbin Street and Seventh Avenue in Anoka, along with a 39-acre Wildlife Management Area near St. Francis.

Last year Mark also self-published “Leola and Carl Bonnell: Anoka Remembered.” The 500-page book is loaded with family and local history.

In 1976 Mark recorded 10 hours of  interviews with his grandparents, Carl and Leola.

Over the years he transcribed those interviews, but didn’t get to work on the book until he retired.

“I spent a lot of time with my grandparents when they were in their older years, the age I am now,” said Mark, a retired physician who lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico. “They were a great example to me of how to live an active life.”

The book includes stories, letters, poetry and photographs.

It also shows many of Carl Bonnell’s artwork, which Mark estimates number about 500. More than 250 were located while he was writing the book. Many of the drawings are of historical places around Anoka.

“It was a great way to get in touch with cousins, and all kinds of family,” Mark said of the process of putting together the book.

Anyone interested in buying a copy of “Anoka Remembered” should contact Mark Bonnell at [email protected] or 505-795-0096.

Mandy Moran Froemming is at [email protected]