For many, it was a tough day. But at the end, it was also a feel good experience, coming together to honor a woman who was revered in her community and raising funds in her memory for those still battling cancer.
Bonnie Gellerman served as a bus driver and teacher’s aide for years at Valley Home School and her freshly painted Bus No. 4 was on display at the school on Saturday, July 31 to serve as a backdrop for the event.
From roughly 4 p.m. to nearly 11 p.m., community residents were busy on the school campus in the special fundraiser, with proceeds going to Team Bonnie and its participation in the American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life, coming in October.
“I think it’s absolutely humbling to see so much support,” Cody Madera, Bonnie’s son, said on Saturday afternoon. “This is validation for the things my mother stood for and everything she could have asked for.”
The day also included remarks by new Valley Home School Superintendent Bill Slikker and former superintendent Tom Price, as the school dedicated its Bonnie Gellerman Multipurpose Room.
There was music, food, games, special theme laps, a balloon release, heartfelt tributes from friends and co-workers … and a message of hope and encouragement for those still fighting.
Slikker said though he is new to the Valley Home campus, he felt the Saturday festivities were indicative of the community spirit.
“It’s a family atmosphere, one big family,” Slikker said. “People come out to support each other.”
A few superhero costumes were in evidence, with the initial lap encouraging that type of dress, while another lap later in the day saw everyone provided with a sunflower to carry with them. The sunflowers were then placed in vases in front of the multipurpose building, with the dedication and then a balloon release. A contingent of Stanislaus County sheriff’s deputies made an appearance and the department also did a flyover with its helicopter, much to the delight of the crowd.
“This just touches my heart,” said Winnie Mullins, one of the event organizers. “It’s something I am glad we did.”
School board member Emily Webster told the crowd that Bonnie impacted many lives.
“The heart of Valley Home beats strong with the love Bonnie gave to this community,” she said.
Sixteen-year-old Callie Chrisman performed several songs in Bonnie’s honor and also was joined for a special number by sisters Avery, 10, and Alexis Cornett, 8.
A group of recently graduated eighth graders – headed next to Oakdale High School – also provided information about Bonnie’s Closet, established in her honor, with clothes available for any kids in need.
“Not everybody has a Bonnie,” said eighth grade teacher Holly Benkula. “How precious; how irreplaceable.”
Benkula also read a proclamation in Bonnie’s honor from the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors, which had been delivered earlier in the day by Supervisor Buck Condit.
Former superintendent Price said Bonnie was not only a bus driver and teacher’s aide but also served as yard duty and basketball coach, wearing many hats.
“What a wonderful example she was for our children,” he said. “We’re all better people because we knew her.”
With the various food vendors, merchandise, games and auction items, plus additional donations, the July 31 event raised more than $4000 for the American Cancer Society, exceeding organizers’ expectations.
“She had the smallest feet in the world,” son Madera summarized, “but the biggest shoes to fill.”