When David and Rita Dawn McMillan decided to do a slight renovation on one of their bedrooms they had no idea what they would find hiding behind the wall. In one of their bedrooms there was some shelving built into the wall. Mrs. McMillan disliked it intensely.
"I hated it. We had one like that in our other house and I hated that one," Mrs. McMillan said.
In November of this year, the McMillan's had the shelving removed and the wall closed off. In the process, the carpenter found a board with a note on it. The note was printed in capital letters and read "Extra room added and this window closed Aug 1920." The reverse side of the note said, "Ellis Bonnell Aug. 25, 1920." The note bore two signatures in cursive writing, Clarence Bonnell and Ellis Bonnell. Dr. Ellis Bonnell was Bonnell's son.
"I recognized the name from the high school gym, where I teach," McMillan said. "I thought perhaps we should save it. I didn't know much about Bonnell beyond the gym."
Bonnell is a name deeply linked to the history of Saline County. Bonnell was an educator, naturalist, historian and all-round outdoorsman who touched the lives and helped enrich the minds of all those he came in contact with.
Invited to join the faculty of the Harrisburg Township High School by Principal Harry Taylor in 1904, Bonnell is credited with setting up the departments of manual training, chemistry, biology and science. It is said that Bonnell would set up a department and Taylor would then find the teachers to staff it. In the course of 43 years of teaching Bonnell taught at one time or another zoology, physics, physiology, physiography, geometry, biology and other sciences and manual training. Bonnell also coached the school Debate Team.
Lucy Foster remembers Bonnell fondly as her biology teacher in the mid 1930's.
"I loved his Biology tests. He would give the students a 20 question study guide and on the day of the test those 20 questions were numbered and five were drawn at random. Each question was worth 20 points and Mr. Bonnell graded spelling and punctuation, not just the correct answer. We had no excuse not to know the answers. He was one of my favorite teachers."
Foster, remembers that Bonnell was one of the first local teachers who taught about the topic we now know as sex education.
"He would lecture the boys one day and the girls the next day. Always kept the classes separate," Foster said.
Foster recalls that Bonnell is credited with the concept and suggested the location for the Harrisburg Township Park.
"He got me my first job after high school working at the town park pool," Foster said.
Page 2 of 2 - Foster also believes that Bonnell was very involved with getting her the first job as a teacher she had after graduating from college, teaching Latin at Ridgway. Foster went on to teach Latin at the Harrisburg High School from 1957 to 1982 and remembers Bonnell's warmth and concern for his students today.
"I was a country girl and he helped see to it I found my way around the school and got involved in activities I might not have tried, like being on the debate team," Foster said. "He helped a poor little country girl get civilized."
During vacations Bonnell would teach at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. He wrote numerous articles both for "The Daily Register" and for scientific journals. After heavy rains or snows "The Daily Register" consulted with Bonnell who maintained a weather station owned by the U.S. government in his home. Bonnell is credited with being the first person to mention the rock formation of Stone Face in print and is remembered as being an avid outdoorsman who would take students on camp outs as well as field trips to areas of natural and geological beauty and interest. In 1928 Bonnell was elected as President of the Illinois Academy of Science.
He authored two books, both compiled from articles he wrote for "The Daily Register." These books, "The Illinois Ozarks" and "Each in a Day: Being Guides for Making One Day Round-Trip Journeys from Harrisburg to Places of Natural and Historic Interest" are still in print today. "The Illinois Ozarks" is available to be read online at the site https://archive.org/details/illinoisozarks00bonn and is available in several different formats.
Clarence Bonnell died suddenly in 1947 in Del Rio, Texas, on the way back from a Rotarian convention in San Diego, Calif.