Bonna Vanderlyn’s service to Hartford Community will live on
By Jon Bisnett At her home, on the quiet Tuesday morning of May 5, Bonna Jean Vanderlyn slipped her earthly bonds as quietly as she lived. As graduate of Hartford High in 1949, with her passing at age 88, Bonna leaves a legacy that will always remain in the hearts and minds of the small town she loved so deeply. United Methodist Church Pastor Stephanie Norton remembered her as “a hard worker, diligent and smart. Her trademarks were strength and kindness,” at the small private ceremony held the following Saturday. Members of the Hartford Fire Department saluted their friend and benefactor with an American Flag flown from Ladder # 1841, (a truck she purchased when the HFD had the need,) known affectionately as the Miss Bonna, as members of the department carried her coffin to its final resting place in Maple Hill Cemetery. “Who would have ever thought we’d still be here after all these years,” mused Bonna, during the celebration of the 50th Anniversary of her local Harding’s store back in 2013, whom then went on to reveal the secret. It was all about following Art’s dream.
The Dream A young, ambitious Art Vanderlyn graduated high school at the age of just 17. Back in those days it was tough to find work if you weren’t 18, but Art found a job with the Hartford Kroger Grocery. Starting at the bottom as just a kid, the hard working Vanderlyn found himself with a real knack for the grocery business, quickly became a rising star and in his early 20s moved up to be one of, if not the youngest Kroger store manager in the entire country. Enjoying the moderate success of his hard work, the young Vanderlyn met the love of his life, a petite local farm gal named Bonna Modro. Bonna then worked as a stenographer at an office of the State of Michigan on Main Street and Art would walk by her window each day to make the Kroger bank deposit. One thing led to another and they were hitched. The pair went on to build a modest home in the City of Hartford, where Bonna still lived.
Giving back Following Mel Harding’s credo of friendly service, Bonna’s store has been a soft-spoken unassuming titan of philanthropy in the area. Support for the Hartford Public Schools, Animal Aid and the Hartford Fire Department lead a list of so many she won’t even admit. Her success she attributed to the thousands of loyal customers that shopped the Hartford Harding’s for years and years. Bonna never was flashy. Never a fancy house or lavish vacations, save just one guilty pleasure, her Lincoln Town Car. In many ways one could say that Bonna never measured the wealth she accumulated in life with dollar signs or a bank balance, but more bask in the luxury to help others with her fortune. Bonna’s love of animals was obvious and led to her support of many associated causes. Over the years she was honored as an Honorary Member of the Lions Club, and Fire Department, in addition Founding Member of the Hartford Foundation for Quality Education. Most recently the family trust she established bore fruit in annual, perpetual high school senior and adult learner scholarships. Her ultimate gift to the community came in a gift in excess of $1 million to create the Art & Bonna Vanderlyn Community Center which will serve as the new home of the Hartford Public Library.
Retrospective Back in 2013 on the occasion of Miss Bonna’s 82nd birthday, this reporter wrote the following: “Though we never know exactly what the future may bring and when, I just have a feeling this savvy little businesswoman has a plan in place that will preserve the Vanderlyn legacy of hometown values and friendly service and gratitude long after she is gone.” Now as the undisputed Tri-Cities Queen of Retail has left this mortal plane to be reunited with her beloved Art, the pair will forever have left their mark on the hearts of those small-town folks that supported their remarkable success all these years. God’s speed, Miss Bonna… You were truly one in a million. A celebration of life will be held at the Hartford United Methodist Church as soon as Stay at Home restrictions are lifted. Memorials may be made to the Art and Bonna Vanderlyn Community Center c/o the Hartford Public Library.