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Barry Bonoff

Barry Bonoff

Retired store owner and current volunteer at Gatewood Elementary

Born: Omaha, NE, United States
Heritage: European American

Same thing your parents would probably tell ya, ya gotta concentrate in school guys, you really do. Because as America gets bigger and grows and as a lot of people competing for very sometimes few jobs. Like right now we’re going—you all know what the word recession means?

Well, America’s in a recession and has been for a number of years. So, unless you concentrate in school, you’re gonna be in hard luck finding a good job. You’re just…it’s okay when you’re a kid having to go work at McDonalds, but not when you’re 68 years old. So, you’ve got to really concentrate. Life is not easy today. It’s easier when I was a kid. So study, learn, read, read, read anything. It’s my greatest thing I can do for my kids is get them to read. I don’t care what it is. Comic books, sports books, any kind of book. Read. Okay.

Barry Bonoff

Retired store owner and current volunteer at Gatewood Elementary

Many of you do know me, my name is Barry Bonoff. Most of you know me by what name? Barry…yeah, right, right. Okay, I was born in Omaha Nebraska, June 30, 1931. So this year I have a milestone birthday. I’m not so happy about it, but that’s the way it is.

As a kid, I only spent two years in Omaha. And my dad took a new job in St. Louis. They lived in St. Louis, Missouri. You all know St. Louis? You heard of St. Louis? Okay. Alright. Stayed there 3 years and got another job in Minneapolis at a store in downtown Minneapolis which is no longer there called John W. Thomas Company.

Anyway, I was in kindergarten in Minneapolis and went through all the public school system of Minneapolis. Went to Washburn high school. You heard of Washburn (sounds like Warshburn) High School? The great high school produced me!

It was a great school, still is a great school. As a matter of fact I went back there about three months ago for a what was it, fiftieth or sixtieth reunion. I don’t know, it was a long time, but um you want me to talk about just being a kid or growing up? I played sports in junior high school until I broke my leg in football so I quit doing that because my mother said, that’s the end of me, so I didn’t do any sports after that.

As a kid, I lived at Lake Minnetonka in the summers, which was fabulous. And we had a nice speed boat and I water skied all the time. Played on Lake Minnetonka a lot. It was great fun. What else can I tell ya when I was a kid? I belonged to a place called Temple Israel and I got very active in that. And joined the Boy Scout troop in 8th or 9th grade and stayed with them all through high school. I really enjoyed that.

I was a lousy student in high school, I gotta tell ya. Don’t anybody repeat what I did. I just had too much fun. And then, in those days, if you wanted to go to the University of Minnesota and you were a Minnesota resident, you could go no matter what your grades were.
They had a college called General College at the University. So I went to General College and all my friends went to the major school and that was very embarrassing for me. Not to ah, achieve the scholastic ability that I thought I was due only because I didn’t do a blooming thing.

So by the time I got through my freshman year, I had three As and a B so I could go into the advanced school. But guys, don’t follow Barry’s footsteps in school. Study hard. I make my kids study hard. It’s really important. It was very embarrassing not to go to the school that all my friends went to ‘cause I didn’t study. Okay! That’s lesson number 3 or 4 from Barry. Ah, what else do you want as a kid? Okay, yes.

When you see this uniform, when I was a freshman at the University of Minnesota America decided to go to war in Korea. Anybody know where Korea is? Have you heard of Korea? The country in southeast Asia? And they a big civil war fight and America was concerned that the Chinese socialists would take over South Korea and that would be very bad for America. So, I didn’t really want to fight—blood and Barry don’t mix very well—so I joined ROTC: reserve officers training corps at the University. So for 4 years I stayed in ROTC and completed my education; I didn’t have to fight.

And then after I graduated college, I went in active duty and got this uniform, which is so much fun to wear. I hardly ever wore a uniform my entire time in the army, I’ll tell ya that story. My favorite thing in life to this moment, except being with you guys.

I got into the counter-intelligence corp and for 19 months, in the army on active duty, I never wore a uniform. I lived in Ronney, North Carolina and I did all my work from my house in a small office. It was really a nice way to fight wars. No one shot at me. It was nice, very nice. So be good in school and then you can get good jobs if you have to go into service.

Okay, that’s my college. I married a girl I went with in high school and college. We had our first child when I was in the Army. He lives in Portland Oregon, he’s a water scientist. He’s a great kid; I miss him a lot.

My other kids…um…how many children live in Minnetonka? Oh, most of you. Well, my daughter, Terry, is a Minnesota state senator from Minnetonka. She really loves that job. She’s chairman of the education committee, which is a lot to do about your life and schools. So I’m very proud of her for that.

I have two other children. One’s in Chicago and has three children. And my oldest son is in Portland, Oregon as I said. And my youngest son lives here. He’s not married. Okay, that’s my…

Then I have young kids. I remarried. My young kids, they’re 16 years old and they’re juniors at Hopkins High School and they all went to Gatewood. Yes, and Miss Van Wye was the teacher of one of them. Yeah. And Ms. Montgomery was the principal at the time. So that’s how I got to know her.

I have a great love for this school. My kids are juniors and they’re both doing really well in school. Both on the swim teams and my son’s on the track team. They love the school system here. Hope you guys do and really work hard at it ‘cause it’s a great school system. I’m very proud of it.

Then I went into business. You don’t need to know about that….oh, yes they do, huh? Okay, okay. Well, after the army, my dad owned a small store in Minneapolis, a women’s clothing store. Fancy clothes, expensive clothes he sold. I went to work there ‘cause we opened a store at Southdale Center when Southdale... 1957 Southdale was built.

And I started out as the manager of our store there. I really liked being at Southdale, it was fun. Brand new indoor shopping center, it was very rare in America. So I stayed with that business for 25 years. A long time, we ended up with six or seven stores. That was a great part of my life.

My daughter Terry, who I just mentioned, she worked with me, too. But then we got rid of the stores and I did other things in life. Come here, help at Gatewood. Now I work at Kraemer hardware store. How many of you know Kraemer’s? It’s a great store, about three blocks from here. And um, so I love that. That’s a new career. I’m a little old for a new career, but anyway, that’s what I do.

I was an only child. I had no brothers and no sisters. My life was…my dad was rarely home. I never saw my dad for years and years and years except on Sunday morning breakfast. He was a busy guy. What else, I don’t know.

My mom was typical of those days. Mom, she ah, stayed home and didn’t work and took care of her son. She was the first Braille teacher in the state of Minnesota. That was really important work.

After World War II, lot of blind soldiers so our synagogue started a group called the Braille Association. And my mother ran it and was the teacher. She used to go all sorts of different areas of the state teaching people how to do braille so they can help teach and also read and learn. That was a big thing she did. What else about my mother?

My mother was a master bridge player. She got some national awards. She didn’t like to play bridge with me ‘cause I was any good at it. We rarely played cards together. That’s about all about my folks.
In high school…and they don’t have many of these anymore…there was a club of kids called the Fifteen Club. I was part of that. We used to play cards every afternoon and play football or baseball or basketball every Saturday afternoon, all through high school.

So that was great fun. Those friends I made in high school are still my closest friends today. That was important to me. So stay with your friends, guys. It’s really neat to share your life with. Still see ‘em, we talk on the phone. We write email. Email, yeah, email, you guys all know about email, right? It took me a while to learn it, believe me. It was very alien to me, those computers. But now I can do it.

High school. What else do you wanna know about high school? I told you I was a lousy student. Teachers didn’t like me. They were really upset with me often. Don’t do that! Have I already said that? Thank you.

College was probably one of the best things I ever did in life. Loved college. It was fun; I majored in Political Science. You know what political science means? Political science, anybody got an idea? Anybody? Nope, nope, what’s politics mean? Anybody give a def…Yeah, government, yeah, exactly. Very good.

I learned about the American government and the Minnesota government. I um, I used to have a great time in college about that. Wanted to go work for the State Department, but my dad didn’t want me to so…my government career ended with the Army.

Counter intelligent course—CIC—was about the most plum job you could ever have in the Army. It was great. Nobody shoots you ‘cause you’re basically in the United States. And when you’re in the Army, you often get shot at if you’re in the war zones. So being in the counter-intelligence corps, I wasn’t.

We were investigating two different kinds of people. One were Russians in America who had jobs in America. Most of them that we worked on were professors at Universities in America and we just wanted to make sure they were law-abiding and didn’t do bad things to America.

I’ll tell ya this story. One guy, a professor of—what was he a professor of—metallurgy at Duke University in North Carolina. We thought he was up to bad things. So one day I went to his office to meet him and to interrogate him. Anybody know what the word interrogate means? Yes, oh, you’re good today, you’re hot, you’re on a roll! That’s good.

Anyway, I went to this guy’s office and as soon as I walked in his office—oh, this is a great story—a flash goes off in the ceiling and my picture was taken. And that sort of shook me up a little bit. And then he, the guy was not around. He left America that day. So we never did interview him.

On that I went to Russia on business—a second business after my store career—oh probably about 15 years ago. And I got to the airport and I’m in line and I’m checking out and the guy says they wanted to see me. So he talks to me and he says, “We have your picture here.” And he shows me the picture that they took when I was in Duke 25, 30 years before. They sent the picture right then and there over to Moscow. So my picture’s famous in Russia. I had no problems when I went to Russia. Okay.

Talk about Lake Minnetonka, what were the differences between then and now? There were very few speedboats on the lake at that time. Chris-Craft was a major boat manufacturer, it was small at the time, it’s large now. They had very fast boats. We water skied three or four times a week, my friends and I. It was just great fun. Go all over the Lake and try to establish some relationships with girls and things like that, but ...

There weren’t near the number of houses then as there are now. And nowhere near…the boat traffic is ten times, probably twenty times greater (now). It was a very quiet, peaceful lake at that time. It was great fun. Kids my age just had a ball. The woman I ended up marrying the first time lived at the Lake, too. We had lots of time together there.

Summers are different for you guys, I’m sure, than they were for me. We moved from our house in town in May and moved back in September to it. So all summer long, we were at the Lake. It was neat. My dad could go to work just like he did no matter where he lived.

Speaking of up north, I had a cabin in the Boundary Waters. You know what the Boundary Waters is? Yes, what is it? Well, that’s part of the Boundary Waters. I was way west of there, east of there on the Grand Marais.

Anyway, I had a cabin, I built the cabin in 197—something or other. How are we on time? Okay. 1977 and it burned down three years ago next month in a big forest fire up there. That’s one of the saddest things of my entire life. I think about it almost every day and miss it so. I loved being up there in the Boundary Waters. It was great, great, great, great. My kids loved it it was wonderful.

Trees. Lots of trees. We all have trees in our yards, but for the most part here. But there, I mean, it’s just forest. Some of the major evergreens of America are up in the Boundary Waters. And there are so many lakes. I don’t know, two-three hundred lakes in an area in ten miles, just ...

I’m very, I’m handy. Photography I enjoy. I like to do some woodworking, but I failed almost everything I try. I don’t smile when something breaks. I get so mad at me. Not a lot of hobbies, yes?
I had this second group of kids. When they were in 2nd or 3rd grade, I came to just help, volunteer, help teachers and Miss Van Wye. A lot of teachers. Mostly when kids were having a hard time reading, is who I would be working with, sometimes they were having a hard time in math, but I’m not that good in math so I wasn’t a big help in math. Miss Van Wye knows that, too.

Then I became what is known as a para-professional, which is, that’s a great title. Para means, I don’t know what, para means two so I was two—I don’t know. I’m going off track. So they hired me for three years and then they ran out of money to pay para-professionals in this school system so I went back as a volunteer.

How many of you know a Learning Lab, know of Learning Lab? I think it’s one of the most unique groups for kids ever. And I think we’re the only one in the district that has it. A former Gatewood teacher got the idea for it.

Every Wednesday morning, from 9:30 – 11:45, a number of people, six-eight sometimes, get together and help teachers who are having a hard time getting things done on time. And so every Wednesday we’re at school and I love that. I really do. It’s great fun. It’s a lot of nice kids. Fourth-grade teachers use us, sixth-grade teachers, mostly second-grade teachers use us.

We like to help, it’s fun to help and I’m very proud to be a Learning Lab-whatever instructor. I just love the teachers in this school and they are all competent. I’ve only had one teacher in all the years who I didn’t think was the most competent. Every other teacher I’ve ran into in this school is just fabulous, excellent, talented, kind, help kids and nurture kids and teach kids.

Parents. That’s a big problem. A lot of parents are so busy with their own lives trying to make a living that they don’t have enough time to spend with their children after school hours. Education just can’t stop at 4:00 in the afternoon. So we gotta work at night and that’s when parents come in.

So, guys, go home, and every day, every day, and ask get your mom or dad or whoever’s staying with you, “Can you help me with reading? With math? With this problem? My report?” Get your parents involved. It isn’t always their fault that they aren’t involved. You want them to be involved, they can be involved. And they’ll help you. And then you’ll help them, too. They’ll learn something from you. So keep giving your parents a little nudge every once in a while to be of help. I know many of you, your parents are helping. I believe that strongly that parents have gotta get involved with kids and kids gotta get involved with parents. Okay, that’s my end of speech.


Read, Read, Read

Honoring Barry Bonoff

Read, Read, Read
(Honoring Barry Bonoff)

I don’t know but I’ve been told
To study hard, read, read, read
To be all you can be
And read, read, read


I went to Temple Israel
Joined a Boy Scout Troop
Stayed with them through high school
And when high school was through,
Went to General College
At the University
And during the Korean War
I was in the ROTC

After General College
I got my uniform
Nineteen months in the Army
In the counter-intelligence corps
Got married to a girl
I knew as a kid
Together had four children
I’m so proud of all they did

I got remarried
Had two more kids who went through
Gatewood Elementary
Just like all of you
From a clothing store
To Kraemer’s hardware
Through all these years
I still like coming here.

Talk about Lake Minnetonka
Few speedboats on that lake
Back when I was younger
We skied until late
Then to the Boundary Waters
East of Grand Marais
There we had a cabin
Where my kids loved to play

I love to help kids
read and do math
As a paraprofessional
To help keep them on track
Concentrate in school
I’m sure you all know
As America gets bigger
You too have to grow

Words and Music by Larry Long with Heidi Farner’s 1st grade class and Amanda Van Wye’s 4th grade class of Gatewood Elementary Minnetonka, MN

© Larry Long 2011 / BMI