Remembering Bonnie Cone on Founders Day

Remembering Bonnie Cone on Founders Day
Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Since its founding on Sept. 23, 1946, UNC Charlotte has transformed from a night school serving World War II veterans into a vibrant research university, making it one of the great success stories of American higher education.

With characteristic grace and determination, Bonnie E. Cone, University founder, worked tirelessly for the institution, motivating students to never give up, winning friends and attracting benefactors. Miss Bonnie, as she was known, was an educator, a trailblazer and most importantly a visionary who bettered the lives of countless students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends of UNC Charlotte.

Sharing Memories of Miss Bonnie

Ellison Clary ’68

Ellison Clary was a senior at Garinger High School when he first met Miss Bonnie. She was speaking at an assembly, and he remembers her asking, “How many of you have not committed to a college?” Clary was among those who raised a hand. Miss Bonnie paused and then continued, “I hope you will come to Charlotte College. And, if you do, we will be part of the statewide university system by the time you graduate.”

At the time Clary wasn’t sure that he would go to college. He grew up in a working-class family, had average grades and was not an athlete, so an athletic scholarship was out of the question. Yet, Miss Bonnie inspired him. “I applied and was accepted,” said Clary. “It was 1963 and tuition was $125 per semester.”

Clary is quick to point out that Miss Bonnie was right. When he graduated in 1968, Charlotte College had become UNC Charlotte, the fourth campus of the statewide university system. “She was really something else!” said Clary.

Ann Newman, ’78

As a nursing student at UNC Charlotte in the 1970s, Ann Newman knew all about the legendary Miss Bonnie and remembers seeing her at nursing functions perfectly dressed and coiffed, always with a purse on her arm.

“She was such a dynamic woman,” said Newman. “I always wished I had known her as a young woman, but I didn't get to know her well until joining the faculty of the College of Nursing.” Newman remembers picking Miss Bonnie up to take her to the Nursing Research Day Luncheon. “I treasure the conversations we had on the ride,” said Newman.

In 2018, Newman co-authored “Miss Bonnie's Nurses: The First Fifty Years of Nursing at UNC Charlotte.” She battled with her editor who insisted that calling her "Miss Bonnie” was inappropriate and condescending. She insisted that Newman refer to her by her academic standing, Dr. Bonnie Cone. “No amount of explaining that “Miss Bonnie” was a term of endearment would satisfy the editor, so I eventually just explained it was my book and stood my ground,” said Newman. “Miss Bonnie is one of my all time (s)heroes!”

Dennis Bunker ’81

Dennis Bunker remembers Miss Bonnie’s love of roses and how much she enjoyed tending to her rose garden. One evening he was in need of a dozen roses to give to Kathy, the girl he was dating, who is now his wife of 23 years.

“I stopped by Miss Bonnie’s house and together we picked a dozen roses from her garden,” said Bunker. Before heading to see Kathy, he stopped by the hospital to visit a fraternity brother and left a rose for him. “I brought 11 to Kathy,” he said. As a fun side note, the Bunker’s gave each other a rose bush on their 10th anniversary.

Bunker also remembers asking Miss Bonnie to write his grad school recommendation. He knew if she wrote it, he would be accepted. “Nobody said no to her,” said Bunker fondly.

Mike Wilson ’93

At age 19, Mike Wilson was a first-generation college student with a scholarship to UNC Charlotte. He also was a self-professed “idiot.” He wanted to transfer to a higher-profile university, because he thought that would look better on his application to law school, so he asked University founder Bonnie Cone for a letter of recommendation.

“She said to me, ‘Mr. Wilson, is it more important to you to be a part of something that someone built for you, or is it more important to be a part of building something yourself?’ I realized that Miss Bonnie was asking me to consider whether I was a 49er and would help her advance this University’s mission or whether I was so insecure and shallow that I had to run off to a name-brand institution, seeking comfort and protection by obtaining a degree where a number of others had attended before me.”

He decided to stay at UNC Charlotte and work with his friends to make the University—and himself—better. As a sophomore, he ran for student body president and won by a landslide, then he helped bring the Student Activities Center/Dale F. Halton Arena to fruition. “This taught me that an idea, backed up by a sound plan and coupled with hard work, can be an amazing and positive catalyst for change.”

Want to learn more about Miss Bonnie? Check out these articles: