Bo & Bee Bonow

6/1/2013

They grew up in the Midwest, fell in love in college, married in 1947 and headed to the Northwest as soon as he finished his senior year, lured by his accounts of a place he'd seen in the Army - a place, he told his bride Bee, so beautiful that "rhododendrons crowded the roadways."

Perhaps a bit of an overstatement, Bo Bonow says, his eyes twinkling. But all it took was a glimpse of the mountains to seal his adventurous wife's love affair with the Northwest. "It wasn't Ohio," she laughs.

Bo taught engineering at the University of Washington and later set up and headed a two-year engineering transfer program at what was then Bellevue Community College.  They raised their four children in Seattle's Central Area. In 1964, the Bonows headed to Nigeria for two years where Bo helped set up a technical school.

"We'd always wanted to learn to ride," Bo says. "We got over to Nigeria and the only way you could do it is to play polo. So we played polo." When they returned to the Northwest, they helped start the Seattle Polo Club and joined the Woodbrook Hunt Club in Tacoma.

Now 89, the couple remains the "dear friends" they were when they started a life together 65 years ago.

Two years ago while living on Vashon Island, Bo developed aspiration pneumonia, a potentially life-threatening condition caused when food or fluid is breathed into the lungs. Treated at a Seattle hospital, he remembers a doctor asking "Do you want to eat - or do you want to live?" and now takes his food and fluids via a PEG (a tube inserted through his abdominal wall into his stomach).

The Bonows now live in the lower level of their son-in-law and daughter's home west of Ellensburg. They exercise regularly at a local gym and participate in a writing club - the youngest member is 26, the oldest 92 - that they helped start. On Wednesdays, they and their daughter show up at a local nursing home to entertain residents.

"We'll come in and they'll be sitting there with their heads down," says Bo. "I play the piano. Then Bee belts out some oldies but goodies. It's a kick in the tail to see them lift their heads and start smiling."

The couple, who have lived 28 different places during their life including three homes in Kittitas County, say there's good reason they love Ellensburg.

"What we like about the town is the doctors and the hospital," Bee says. Dr. Timothy O'Brien of KVH General Surgery maintains Bo's PEG and keeps tabs on Bee's skin cancer spots. Sandy Gress, the office manager, "laughs a lot. That's unusual in a medical setting," Bo says.

As for O'Brien, "what's good is that he makes you feel like he's a real human being," Bo says. "He's always relaxed, takes his time, explains what he's doing and why he's doing it. He doesn't have a god complex - and I like that." From their primary care providers at KVH Internal Medicine to the hospital lab tech who recently did a blood draw on Bo, "everyone makes you feel welcome," Bo says.

"It's like they really care - like they're our friends," Bee says. "It must come down from the top."