According to Waupaca County Farm Bureau’s records, Bob and Eloyious Bonikowske joined Farm Bureau in 1968, but Bob’s history goes back even further.
In high school, Bob was asked if he would play Santa Clause. Bob agreed, so every year he would dress up and the principle would drive him around to all the little country schools in the Manawa area where he would entertain and bring joy to all of the little kids in school. Even many years later after the children got older they would meet Bob on the street and say, “You were Santa Clause when I was in school.”
It didn’t take long after joining Farm Bureau that the Board of Directors saw the leadership ability in Bob and elected him president. They had many great years with Bob as president, but one year stands out.
With Bob at the helm, and with the help of the membership chairman, and the board of directors, Waupaca County Farm Bureau had tremendous membership growth. So much so that the membership chairman was awarded a trip to the AFBF Annual Meeting in San Diego, California. The year was 1972, and for those who remember that year it was a very wet fall. So much rain fell that many farmers found it difficult, or impossible to get their corn harvested. The membership chairman, Bob’s cousin, found himself in this situation and had to cancel out of the trip at the last minute. But Bob had other ideas, instead of letting the trip go to waste, he talked it over with his family, got the ok from the school for his children to come to school late, (somebody had to do the chores) and Bob and Eloise were off to California.
Of course this was before 9/11. Oh, I forgot to mention the pre-convention tour was to Hawaii, so once they landed they boarded another plane and flew to Hawaii for 6 days of fun in the sun. Included were tours of all the memorials, luaus’, grass skirts and leis. I can just picture Bob in a grass skirt doing the hula. Even though she had to pay $350 to go along, Eloyious said the trip was worth it.
Eloyious was also a great leader. She held the position of Women’s Committee Chair for many years, which was no small feat, because back then the Fair Food Stand was run by the Women’s Committee.
Bob and Eloyious were also great visionaries. When they first joined Farm Bureau the food stand was a tent. They envisioned a building, complete with hot and cold running water, sinks to do dishes, coolers, fryers, a grill and a screened in area to keep the inspectors happy. With their leadership and ability, the original food stand was built. Two additions were later built for seating space and an expanded kitchen. With the new facility, fair goers had a place to come for great food and great conversations.
The menu expanded to include chili, hot beef, hot ham and cheese, BBQ, hotdogs, homemade fries, nachos, shakes and of course “the best burgers at the fair”. During an average fair the food stand would go through about 1800# of hamburger. That would mean on an average day Bob would be taking a burger off the grill about every 1 minute 45 seconds, from 9 am until well after midnight. And not only that, but in the beginning the burgers were not pre-formed patties, so Eloyious and the others were making the patties by hand.
Great givers, great leaders and great visionaries.
Centennial Story submitted by WFBF District 7 Coordinator Wes Raadatz. Excerpts for this story were taken from a speech recognizing the couple as the recipients of Waupaca County Farm Bureau’s 2014 Distinguished Service Award.