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Brainerd Council President, Bonnie Cumberland, dies at home

Bonnie Cumberland, who taught countless Brainerd students and worked for a better community, was found dead in her home Monday night.

Soft-spoken and quick to offer an encouraging word to others, Cumberland provided an example of strength and endurance as she battled cancer.

Her sudden death at the age of 67 was a shock to her fellow council members Monday night.

“The entire council and all of our people are entirely in shock,” Mayor James Wallin said. “She was one beautiful lady and an excellent representative for the city of Brainerd.

“...To me it’s tragic we lost such a beautiful lady — in the prime of her life yet. Everybody was in shock tonight.”

Wallin said council members knew something was wrong when Cumberland didn’t show for Monday’s Brainerd City Council meeting as she rarely missed meetings and was usually early.

“Bonnie was as dependable as a Swiss watch,” Wallin said.

When the former Brainerd mayor and long-time city council member didn’t arrive for Monday’s regular council session, Brainerd police officers were dispatched to her northeast Brainerd home. After finding her car parked there, officers ended up breaking down the door. They found her inside. It appeared the mail had not been picked up for a couple of days.

In the late 1990s, when Cumberland was serving as Brainerd mayor, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She served as mayor for eight years. At the time, she said people often said “You’re Bonnie. You’re the mayor with breast cancer.”

In subsequent Dispatch interviews, Cumberland said surviving breast cancer made her appreciate life more. She retired from Brainerd High School in 2002 after 34 years as a marketing teacher.

She was active in her church and the community, serving on the Brainerd Public Utilities Commission. Cumberland was Brainerd Citizen of the Year in 2001. She was co-president of Alpha Delta Kappa, a teaching sorority. She was an honorary chair for the American Cancer Society Relay for Life.

“She was really just a joy to work with,” Wallin said. “She was so dedicated to the city and the community in so many ways. She was really an attribute to the city and council and just a wonderful lady. It comes as just a shock to us.”

Cumberland was described as a dedicated and energetic council president who, as a strong advocate for Brainerd, always wanted to make the city better.

“I was proud and honored to serve with her,” Wallin said, noting Cumberland wanted to see the city grow and be recognized as a beautiful place. “She was going to do everything she could to make this a better town and work with people.”

Cumberland’s death, Wallin noted, comes just days after Brainerd Police Officer Michael Lambert was laid to rest. He said in short order, two lives were cut short that were dedicated to the city.

“We just can’t believe she’s gone,” Wallin said. ”It’s tragic and sad. We’ve lost such a beautiful person that loves this city and served it well.”

RENEE RICHARDSON, senior reporter, may be reached at 855-5852 or Follow on Twitter at

Renee Richardson
Richardson is a Pacelli High School graduate from Austin, Minn., who earned an applied science degree from the University of Minnesota, Waseca, with an emphasis in horse management. She worked extensively in the resort industry. She received an associate’s degree from Central Lakes College, where she was editor of the Westbank Journal student newspaper, as well as a summer intern at the Dispatch. She graduated from St. Cloud State University summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in mass communications and interned at the St. Cloud Times covering business while attending SCSU. She's been with the Brainerd Dispatch since 1996.
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