Wanda Mariene Larson Bonnett, creator of quilts, smiles, and grammatically perfect sentences, passed away peacefully on January 7th at the age of 89. She lived a full life, brimming with love, and was endlessly devoted to her friends and family. After decades of spreading joy, Wanda asked that we apologize on her behalf… no more cranberry sauce. However, her recipe and life story are available to inspire, uplift, and nourish.
Wanda was the daughter of Edna Leona Wood and Earl Larson and sister of May, Leroy and Paul. She is survived by her 4 children, Lori, Doug, Suzy, Greg; 2 step-children, Bruce and Sharon; 17 grandchildren; and 44 great grandchildren.
Wanda Bonnett loved words. Long words. New words. But especially good words. If one were to, hypothetically, sift through the stack of papers stacked on her kitchen table, you would find envelopes, post-its, receipts all scribbled over with delicious new words -- aposiopesis, tautology, vexillologist -- all captured to savor, but, more importantly, to share.
This past Christmas, Grandma was heartset on finding some especially good words. She had spent months preparing the perfect gifts for her grandkids, and needed words to, along with a bright red bow, tie them all together. For someone unusually voluble (an adjective recently discovered on the back of a Bridge scoring card…), Grandma mulled over the gift message for a surprising amount of time. After literal days spent mumbling and meandering, she triumphantly announced one morning the precious words she knew she wanted to give to those she held most dear.
Family. Christmas. Fun. Love.
Carefully inscribed and fastened, this sweet message and accompanying gifts were some of the last things Grandma ever shared.
When it came time to write up a life sketch for Wanda, divided into four parts, it was my turn to mull and meander. That is, until I realized Grandma had already provided me with the solution. The perfect words.
Family. Christmas. Fun. Love.
Four words, four sections, one incredible life. Now let’s just hope the rest of the words can measure up…
Those who knew Wanda knew that she had a place and a plan for everything. True to form, Grandma had some ideas for her life sketch. In an earnest conversation, Grandma recently expressed what she most wanted people to remember about her -- that Wanda Bonnett loved her family. At the risk of inciting her wrath, I would propose a slight amendment… Wanda Bonnett loved her family fiercely.
Born to Edna Leona Wood and Earl Larson on October 30th, 1931. (Side note: despite the occasional expressed exasperation, Grandma leaned in to her Halloween/birthday proximity for the most part, mastering a mean cackle and proudly displaying a “Don’t Make Me Flip My Witch Switch” mug in her kitchen year round…) Wanda was one of the middle children in a beautifully balanced family of 2 boys and 2 girls -- an idyllic feat she would later replicate with her own progeny. Although close to her mama, Wanda was a self-admitted “Daddy’s Girl,” maintaining a tender relationship with her dad that turned, later, into a tender remembrance. In a feat never to be replicated, Wanda sang a heartrending solo at her beloved father’s funeral after he tragically passed away in a car accident (the secret, she would later confess, was thinking of red underwear… a tip I may have never fully appreciated until this exact moment…).
Matching and magnifying her fierce love of family, Wanda Bonnett had a thing for tradition. Tutti Fruitti Ice Cream. Balloon raisings at dawn. Bagels in the park. Julia’s (and only Julia’s…) cranberry sauce. Pumpkin Chiffon. Delightfully messy homemade marshmallows. THE Family Christmas Party. Living room gift exchanges by the fireplace. Broken glass salad. Shrimp Drink. Picnics up Provo Canyon. Purple pickled eggs. Ice blocking in the summertime. The Riverside swimming pool. So many in this room have had their memories and very identities shaped by the magnetic woman we are here to celebrate today.
Wanda knew how to bring people together. To make every day events feel magical. To simply, effortlessly, miraculously, forge a family.
When asking Wanda’s four children about their most treasured memories of her, they unanimously include her singing in a red dress. Whether it was sitting cross-legged on the floor of her bedroom next to the piano during long practice sessions, dressed up and tucked into a rapt audience of Country Club attendees, or standing next to a Santa who may or may not have flown in on a helicopter just for the festive affair -- listening to Wanda sing in the annual Christmas program was, for all her children, something as beautiful and bright as the fur-lined, hoop-skirted dress Wanda wore each year for the occasion.
Indispensable to Wanda (and to all those who came to count themselves among her delighted listeners) was the appreciation, creation, and sharing of music. After taking up the bassoon as a young woman, Wanda, in quick succession, mastered the guitar, piano, ukulele, harpsichord, and bass fiddle (the last at the request of her high school band instructor who needed a last-minute fiddle player for an upcoming concert and turned to his most universally gifted student, who, of course, gamely accepted the call).
But Wanda’s real passion and claim to fame was her singing. Beyond performing in those memorable Christmas programs, Wanda used her notable voice to bring life to a range of performances in musicals across the state. Quickly rocketing to leading lady status, as a young mother, Wanda somehow found the time to star in acclaimed local performances. She was Ado Annie in “Oklahoma,” Babe in “The Pajama Game,” Sally Adams -- THE Madam -- in “Call Me Madam,” and the beautiful Marsinah is “Kismet” -- twice.
After stepping down from the stage, Wanda continued to make music -- everywhere and just about all the time. Wanda often claimed she could find a song associated with any word or phrase, and would often burst into full-throated singing when pressed to prove her point (for those who may not know, she was a tad bit on the competitive side…). Many activities, from the small to the monumental, were accompanied with a specific tune, regularly taught to loved ones who were encouraged to join in the music-making (willing or not). Washing dishes was accomplished with a “Oh my goodness, oh my soul, there goes Alice down the hole!,” phone calls were initiated with “Hello, I love you won’t you tell me your name?,” annual marshmallow making was accompanied with “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.”
To paraphrase the words of that last song, Wanda truly lived with a constant “carol right within her heart.” Luckily for us, that carol usually made its way out and into all of our own hearts.
One of Wanda’s favorite humble-brags was that she had been the president of every organization she was ever a part of… except, that is, for Relief Society… This statement was made even more impressive when one stopped to consider the sheer number of organizations with which Wanda was affiliated. The “Gluttonous Gourmets” Dinner Group (colloquially called the G.G.’s), Band, Chorus, Glee Club, the Quilters Guild, Student Body Presidency, Bridge Club -- the list goes on.
It’s staggering, in fact, to think of all that Wanda was able to fit into one lifetime. Determined never to let time pass her by, Wanda packed meaning into every minute. She spent her working career at Geneva Steel -- actively participating in the Secretaries Association, mastering shorthand (which she credited for her later, shall we say, distinctive handwriting...), and squeezing in courses for professional development and self improvement.
In one such course designed to help improve memory, Wanda was tasked with memorizing an issue of Time magazine front to back. For the class final, the teacher randomly called out the number of a page, and the ‘victim’ had to stand and recite it verbatim. Never one to be deterred by a challenge, Grandma stood and flawlessly delivered her assigned page. Although eventually she would overwrite the part of her brain occupied with facts memorized in that course, Wanda would long recall that page 47 of the February, 1964 edition of Time magazine certainly had a lot to say about one Thelonious Monk.
When she did eventually retire from Geneva Steel (where she, coincidentally worked for a Mr. Steel -- no relation…), she wondered how she would ever fill her time. In her words, she would often explain, “and that is when I discovered quilting….” And not just quilting. After retirement, Wanda discovered (and in some cases rediscovered) a slew of beautiful ways to occupy her hours. French cooking, bridge, calligraphy, crochet, lace making, painting, glass glazing, exercising (fun fact: at 89 Wanda was still powering through 40 push-ups every morning...), knitting, golf, gardening, sewing.
Despite living a life jam-packed with action and achievement, Wanda always made time for those things of greatest importance -- a prolific creator, Wanda’s most beautiful creations by far were her relationships with the people she loved.
In the words of her daughter Suzy, Wanda tended her people. No rose bush or souffle ever received more tender care (and that’s saying quite a lot considering the overall quality of Grandma’s gardening and baking…). As I’m sure all of you now in attendance can testify --- in every act, and with every word, Wanda Bonnett radiated love.
Anyone who spent any amount of time in the Bonnett household knows that the phone there was constantly in use. Four classic, classy black landline phones were kept busy with conversations between Wanda and her long list of regular correspondents, most of whose numbers she knew by heart. For many family members, a conversation with Wanda was part of the fabric of daily life -- a quick check in, frequently starting with a “Hello Dear,” and always ending always with an “I love you.”
Every meaningful life event, for many in her circle of family and friends, was never truly official until it was commemorated by a conversation with Wanda. What is the Holiday Season without a “Merry, Merry, Happy, Happy!”; a birthday without a thoughtfully written and perfectly prompt card signed with that unmistakable signature; the fourth Thursday in November without a, “Happy Thanksgiving, Turkey!”? No matter how large her circle of friends became or her family grew, Wanda was punctilious in her communication and never forgot, well, anything, but especially anything that mattered to the people she loved.
Wanda’s capacity for love was as vast as her stockpile of ways to show it. Beyond those beloved phone calls -- cooking, crafts, thoughtful gifts, and patient teaching were some of the other methods adopted by Wanda to spread joy and demonstrate care. In her final days, when words failed her, she adopted a unique way of communicating her love. She would look you in the eye and slowly raise her hand to pat her heart.
In commemoration of this small, treasured ritual, I now ask for your participation and your personal reflection. If you’ve ever eaten something delicious prepared by Wanda, would you please pat your heart. (Bonus points if it was cranberry sauce…) Now how about if she ever shared a recipe with you? Taught you a new word? Given you a gift? How about corrected your grammar? Recommended a book? Shown you a quilt? Made you a quilt? Lifted your spirits with a heartfelt compliment or word of comfort? Sang you a song? Enveloped you in a hug? Made you feel loved?
That’s what I thought…
As you lower your hands from your heart, know that that is where Wanda Larson Bonnett -- mother, grandmother, friend, inspiration, joy -- will live forever. May we do our best to remember and honor her this day and always, and to live our lives loving, and tending, those around us with a care worthy of our very own ‘Wanda the Good Witch.’
Raw Cranberry Relish (Wanda Bonnett via Julia Child)
1 quart (1 lb.) fresh cranberries
2 cups sugar
Grated zest from one orange
Wash cranberries and place in the large bowl of an electric mixer with the sugar and orange zest. Set at low speed (using a flat beater for the heavy-duty mixer) and run the mixer for 15 minutes. Scrape bowl down and let rest for 30 minutes. If sugar has not completely dissolved, turn on mixer again and mix for a few more minutes. Scrape into a container and refrigerate. It will last for several weeks.
A memorial service will be held on Tuesday, January 12, 2021 from 11:00 am-12:00 pm at the Edgemont Chapel at 2950 N Canyon Rd, Provo, Utah. A visitation will be held prior to the service from 9:00 am-10:30 am; interment will be held at the Provo CIty Cemetery, located at 610 S State Street, Provo, Utah. Wanda’s memorial service will be live-streamed at https://bit.ly/39fiCWl (scroll down to where it says Wanda E5 Funeral for Wanda Bonnett).
In lieu of flowers, we invite you to initiate a meaningful conversation with a long-lost friend or family member in honor of Wanda, who appreciated few things more than a good chat.
To send flowers to the family or plant a tree in memory of Wanda (Larson) Bonnett, please visit our floral store.