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Bonnie was the best

I don’t know how any Brainerd High School student who had Bonnie Cumberland for a marketing teacher could say a negative word about her.

She was one of the kindest, most caring people I’ve ever known.

The former BHS teacher, former mayor of Brainerd and president of the Brainerd City Council was found dead Monday night at her home in northeast Brainerd.

Bonnie was one of my teachers my senior year at BHS when I was enrolled in her Distributive Education Clubs of America (DECA) class. DECA’s website, which we didn’t have access to in the 1970s, says it prepares emerging leaders and entrepreneurs in marketing, finance, hospitality and management in high schools and colleges around the globe.

What I remember about Bonnie’s class was that it was all about teaching basic life skills and items such as personal hygiene (which a few classmates hopefully learned). It was a class that I looked forward to attending.

One of the biggest favors that Bonnie and DECA did for me was land me a job at what was then Schaefer’s Model Market on Maple Street in Brainerd, site of the current Office Shop. Part of the DECA program was the opportunity to work a few hours each school day. It led to Schaefer’s keeping me on the payroll through my freshman summer in college.

I will always be grateful to Bonnie for that opportunity.

Through many years since BHS, Bonnie and I bumped into each other infrequently. But whenever we did, Bonnie always remembered me and that I was one of her former students.

I hadn’t seen Bonnie for a long time until this fall. As a member of the Brainerd YMCA Board of Directors, one of my tasks while working on a strategic plan was to interview prominent community members, and get their thoughts and perceptions about the Y.

When Y executive director Randy Klinger suggested I interview Bonnie, I jumped at the opportunity. I knew it would be rewarding and it was.

After running a few errands earlier that day, Bonnie met me at the Dispatch. The hour or so we spent in the conference room was like old home week. We reminisced about an era long gone and shared some laughs.

Bonnie talked about being involved in the Y’s Silver Sneakers program. She made a few suggestions that the Y could implement in its strategic plan. And she expressed that she didn’t know what Brainerd would look like if it didn’t have the Y located at Sixth and Oak streets.

Unfortunately, that was the last time I saw Bonnie. But our brief meeting just solidified the character of a person I got to know as a young kid who had no idea what the future had in store.

Bonnie made a positive impact on my life, and I will never forget that.

MIKE BIALKA may be reached at or 855-5861. Follow on Twitter at