Armatage, Lyndale community ed director was ‘beacon of light’

Steve Bonine pictured with his granddaughter Claira. Photo courtesy Jessica Sanders

Steve Bonine had a bigger-than-life personality and a passion for making learning fun, according to Armatage Montessori School principal Joan Franks.

“Every life he touched was changed for the better because of him,” Franks said.

Bonine, the longtime community education coordinator at Armatage and Lyndale Community School, died unexpectedly Jan. 12. He was 63.

Bonine began working in the Minneapolis district in January 1997 as an educational assistant before becoming the community education coordinator at Armatage the next fall. He also worked at Kenny Community School during his tenure.

In a eulogy, Franks called Bonine a “one-in-a-million” person who influenced every life he touched. She said “Bonini” brought humor, dedication, determination and passion to his job, noting the lively conversations she and Bonine shared over the years.

“He was a beacon of light,” she said.

Bonine was born in 1955 in St. Paul and grew up as the second oldest in a family of six children. He worked as a carpenter for a time after high school before joining the Peace Corps in his mid-20s. Before joining the staff at Minneapolis Public Schools, Bonine worked at the Minnesota Women’s Indian Resource Center in Minneapolis, where he ran after-school enrichment programming.

Bonine’s older brother, Bruce, said Steve was a pretty complex guy who was simple in his ways, calling him the little brother that an older brother wanted to tag along with. He said Steve was a giving guy who would play with his nieces and nephews at family events before sitting with the adults.

“To them, they all thought they were his favorite,” Bruce Bonine said. “He had a way of making them feel that way.”

Jessica Sanders, Bonine’s only child, said Bonine was one of the most selfless men she’s ever met. She said Bonine always had a smile on his face and could always make light of a situation, even if it was difficult.

“He always wanted to put a smile on someone’s face and make you see the good,” she said.

Mark Stauduhar, principal at Lyndale, said Bonine was someone who gave selflessly to everyone who wanted to be a part of the school community. He said Bonine had a nickname for everybody and worked hours that went above his expected duty.

“It didn’t matter the time of day or year,” said Franks, adding that it wasn’t uncommon for Bonine to work 14-, 15- or even 16-hour days. “He was there if you asked him.”

Franks said the kids loved Bonine, noting his ability to remember kids’ names. She said there was a sense of sadness across the school after his passing, noting how students made banners for his memorial service, which was held at the school. Franks estimated that over 800 people were in attendance.

Sanders said it brings her peace and comfort to see the impact that Bonine made, noting the stories she heard during the service. Bruce Bonine said it was amazing to see how beloved Steve was, noting the powerful experience of meeting the teachers and staffs at the schools.

“It was an amazing awakening on how loved this guy was,” Bruce Bonine said. “We knew what he meant to us, but we didn’t know he meant the same thing to so many other people.”

Bonine is survived by Sanders, her husband Chad Sanders and their four children, as well as his mother, five siblings, 18 nieces and nephews and 21 great nieces and nephews. A scholarship fund has been set up at Armatage in his name to support students whose families can’t afford to pay for afterschool activities.