Today we learned with great sorrow of the passing of the indomitable Bonnie Bucqueroux — journalist, educator, activist, artist, gardener, cook, writer, videographer, environmentalist, mentor, friend, and serious dog lover. Bonnie was the very definition of polymath, although she’d never admit to such.
Our long-distance friendship started only four years ago, but will remain one of the most important I’ll ever know.
My first encounter with Bonnie was when I stumbled upon a three-part interview she taped with fellow MSU colleague Eric Scorsone on the topic of Michigan’s new Emergency Manager law. At the time, I was with a group that eventually formed the ballot question committee to petition for the repeal of the harsh law. Scorsone, an Ag-Econ professor, is an expert in the area of municipal economics. Bonnie peppered him with a barrage of well-informed and insightful questions. The information she obtained became much of the groundwork for our successful petition drive, and eventual repeal of the law.
Since that time back in 2011, we have had an ongoing conversation about a number of topics — both political and personal. She generously shared her wide-ranging knowledge and experience, always taking time out of her busy schedule to talk or Facebook message. More than once, she helped me navigate journalism ethics questions. One of my guiding principles has always been to ask myself “What would Bonnie do?” On those occasions when the answer didn’t come, Bonnie was just a phone call away.
Bonnie always inquired of my son Scott, a student journalist, offering encouragement and praise of his work. She was pleased to learn that Scott has continued his journalism pursuits at the Michigan Daily. Scott just got a little promotion of sorts there, and I was looking forward to sharing that with Bonnie, she would have been delighted.
Here’s a sweet story of how she helped Scott through a very difficult time during his junior year at Traverse City Central High School. Scott worked on the school newspaper as photo editor and the editor of a satirical page called The Leek — fashioned in the spirit of The Onion.
The Leek, a longtime feature at the paper, always pushed the edge — known for its extreme hyperbole, loaded double-entendres, gentle lampoons of administrators — with school policy always in the crosshairs. Exactly the kind of stuff Bonnie loved! Scott devised an infographic that mocked “grinding” — a form of dirty dancing the school had recently banned. Some mean spirited person, for reasons still unknown, uploaded the graphic to all the regional news outlets’ various social media (TV, radio, print) without making it clear that it was a satirical piece. The scandal exploded with calls for his expulsion, suggestions that he should be flogged, among other hurtful threats. The story was picked-up by the AP, and was appearing across the nation.
Within about 48 hours, the media discovered that they’d been duped by the anonymous uploader, and the retractions and mea culpas started. Still, Scott felt sick about it. School administrators stood by his side, but it wasn’t until Bonnie shared a similar experience with him that he felt better.
It seems Bonnie’s no holds-barred approach to life was with her at an early age. She too, worked on her high school paper. Tasked with writing about prom fashions, she decided to take a different look at the features story. She submitted a satirical piece suggesting that the latest look in prom wear was a maternity gown, given the number of teen pregnancies. Ooops, her school administration wasn’t so supportive though. She nearly got herself kicked-out of school.Sharing her experience made Scott feel like a kindred spirit. She told him not to buckle under pressure, and he hasn’t.
Bonnie has always been passionate about student journalism, encouraging the next generation to keep at the profession even though it’s in flux. Bonnie was deeply concerned with the prospect of heavy-handed editorial control on school papers. Excessive censorship, she felt, stifled the learning curve. Proud of her former students, she followed their progress, and was truly pleased to see them doing well and working hard.
While many professional journalists are quick to scorn citizen journalism, not so Bonnie. If she had her way, everyone would be publishing and podcasting. On one occasion, she gently suggested I correct a minor misspelling, apologizing, saying she was “a born proofreader”, and kindly acknowledging how difficult it is for self-publishers to edit their own words. Amen to that! It was so good to hear that from a person of her experience.
There are confidences she shared that, while I’ll never repeat, left me feeling blessed to have been trusted with some of her life’s difficulties. She sure listened to plenty of mine!
Bonnie, even in poor health, was funny, sarcastic, feisty, tough, humble, generous, quirky, and forever thinking-up new creative endeavors to pursue.
I’ll finish with my last direct communication with her, once again demonstrating her selfless nature. We had just finished a long phone conversation. She was worried that none of her meds seemed to be resolving her DVT condition, but that didn’t stop her from railing against the scourge of paywall journalism, among other annoyances. As always, Bonnie gave me sage advice, and left me feeling energized and grateful for her friendship. I messaged her right away, and am glad my last words to her were those of deep affection:
I’d like to think she’s in a good place, surrounded by dogs, baking turduckens, drawing tomatoes, and fighting the good fight. I’ll still continue to ask myself “What would Bonnie do?”
She will be missed.
Christmas 2006 — Bonnie’s “The Tale of the Turducken” video.