Friends remember former councilman and activist Ron Bonlender - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

Friends remember former councilman and community activist Ron Bonlender

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YAKIMA, Wash- A well-known and respected Yakima community activist and former city councilman died Friday of an apparent heart attack.  Those close to him remember a man full of passion and kindness.

"Such a jolly, funny, funny man", remembers Mary Baechler, who calls Bonlender her mentor.

"He was pugnacious, he was fearless, and he really cared about everybody", says Don Hinman, a 15-year-long friend of Bonlender.

Friends remember Ron Bonlender as much for his personality as his politics.  They say the former Yakima city councilman and state congressional candidate had a knack for connecting with the community.

"He was real and he really, really cared about people", remembers Hinman tearfully.

Bonlender moved to Yakima 30 years ago, and has made a lasting impression on his adopted city.  A force in the local Democratic Party, his political views were generally left-leaning which may be why he only won one local election.

"But he wasn't going to put up with being stopped so he would charge forward like a bull in a China shop", Hinman, former campaign manager for Bonlender says.

Though he hasn't held elected office since 2008, Bonlender inspired recent political movements.  He gave a new-to-politics community organizer the idea to move Yakima to district only voting for city council members.

"I remember thinking, this is really brilliant, and that's how I met him, the next day my group went to work on districts", says Baechler, of the group Central Washington Progress.

"His vision really was making sure everyone was represented in government, that's why he felt so strongly about districts", adds Hinman.

That ballot measure failed last April.  But the just the night before he died, Bonlender was out supporting the home rule charter initiative which has a similar goal.

"He was always interested in what the local politics of the area was when we traveled, he said ‘we ought to do that in Yakima'", recalls Hinman,

But just as often as you'd see him at city hall, you could find Ron Bonlender at the "Sub Shop of Yakima" locations he owned with his wife Kathi, at the farmers market, at a neighborhood block watch meeting, or at the downtown new year celebration he helped create.

"He cared so much about Yakima", reflects Baechler.

He is survived by his wife Kathi, their six children, and grandchildren.  Ron Bonlender was 68. 

In lieu of flowers, Bonlender's family requests that those wishing to honor his memory make donations to the Committee for Downtown Yakima (CDY), a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving and revitalizing downtown Yakima.  His family believes that helping CDY would best honor his passion for improving Yakima.     


Committee for Downtown Yakima
P.O. Box 881
Yakima, WA 98907

Memorial services open to the public are as follows:

Public Viewing
Friday, October 28 5-7 PM
Shaw and Sons
201 North 2nd Street

Mass of Christian Burial
Saturday, October 29 1 PM
St. Joseph Parish
212 North 4th Street

Reception Following Services
4th Street Theatre (Capital Theatre Complex)
14 South 4th Street