Scenes from the City: Bonnie Rupe
Written by Abby McGuire.
Light shines through a window glistening with raindrops onto a spread of blank pages I hope to fill with notes about a woman I met by chance. Bonnie Rupe sits across from me in the coffee shop, a radiating example of true light and passion. Over tea, we talk about travel, generation gaps, her degrees in French and English, and I’m thinking I will need many more blank pages to get everything down. Her presence is so different than anything I’ve ever experienced. I’m feeling like a complete rookie as she glances at my notes and smiles.
I met her at my day job, wearing a magnetic name tag and asking “What are you up to today?’’ She told me she was picking up tulips to take to a friend. So, naturally, I asked about her friend, only to learn this friend is a Holocaust survivor. I didn’t know what to say, and my age showed as I blurted out, “They’re still alive?!” Bonnie told me after our interaction that day, she told her friend Elizabeth what I said and they had a nice laugh about it.
Elizabeth is a Holocaust survivor that Bonnie has spent years with, listening to her life story and recording it for others to read. Bonnie now considers her a dear friend, and in conversation refers to her as one of the many “sacred souls” she has been able to meet.
I hear her words and with each one, I recognize how bold Bonnie is. She blazed her own trail, setting out to learn what she wanted to learn in the way she wanted to learn it. She started pushing the envelope at a young age with world travel to learn French and continued to do so in her classroom as a high school English teacher. She spent 30 years teaching, 12 of those years spent at Mason.
This man, who had never shared his hardship with anyone, was given the opportunity to share his story with a young man who may have never asked if he wasn’t inspired by a teacher with the passion to ask her students to step out of the box.
She tells me she believes in pivotal moments – five pivotal moments, to be exact. One of these moments was when a bright, young sophomore in her classroom years ago asked to meet a Holocaust survivor. Bonnie goes on to say that she hadn’t been much of a history lover in school – she hated memorizing all the dates, so most of it went over her head. Bonnie was struck by the thirst her students had to learn more about the Holocaust, so she created a campaign to invest in their passions.
She read books given to her by students written by authors like Gerda Weissmann Klein, and eventually took it upon herself to invite these survivors to speak to her students. A small ripple raged into a wave of interest within the school, prompting Bonnie to start a multicultural literature class to inspire students to make change in the world. Her openness to learning new things for her students helped her blossom into a liaison for Holocaust survivors trying to find their voice through grief and loss.
Bonnie assigned her seniors a final project that involved interviewing someone from another culture and creating an oral history. A student mentioned that his grandfather, John, had survived the Holocaust. This man, who had never shared his hardship with anyone, was given the opportunity to share his story with a young man who may have never asked if he wasn’t inspired by a teacher with the passion to ask her students to step out of the box. Bonnie then set out to listen to the words of other survivors, understanding that maybe there hadn’t ever been anyone else to listen.
Retirement allowed her to find time to further invest in a world of tragedy she wanted to shed light on. After reaching out to Jewish Family Service, she was introduced to survivors all around the Cincinnati area that had fled persecution and started a new life. A simple writing group turned into multiple projects and manuscripts that have now been sent out across the country. Bonnie found herself translating non-native English and being washed in the words of people that still battle the demons of their past.
Tearing up, I look down to see my reflection in the gold band of her wedding ring, and wonder how anyone can give her the amount of love she has given to others. She has been a guiding light for so many amazing men and women as they find their voices before they leave this world. Bonnie’s life is a series of moments strung together by perfect timing, and I am humbled to know such a woman that lives in the greater area of Cincinnati. As she fiddles with the pages of my journal and smiles about the opportunities she has been given by chance, I decide it hasn’t been chance at all.