The College of Performing Arts recently bid farewell to a beloved and long-serving staff member as Bonita “Bonnie” Walker retired after 32 years of service at Chapman University. “Bonnie has been a fixture of the theatre department and CoPA for a long time, and I have really appreciated her unflagging dedication to our students, who knew they could always count on her for a sympathetic ear,” said Giulio Ongaro, dean of the college.
The Early Days
It was 1988, at what was then Chapman College, when Bonnie began work in the Department of Education office as a credential analyst. She was instrumental in helping the department transition from typewriters to computers! Later, she moved to the Department of Communication as the unit’s first departmental secretary. In 1991, when Chapman became a university, she served as department assistant to Theatre and Dance which was one unit at the time. Eventually the two disciplines split into separate departments and joined with the music conservatory to form the College of Performing Arts, at which point Bonnie moved over to serve as department assistant for the Theatre program.
“Bonnie was essential in helping me establish Shakespeare Orange County at Chapman in the early ‘90s, and her assistance and expertise ensured its successful beginnings. During SOC’s 22-year existence, (12 years in Waltmar Theatre, 10 years at the festival amphitheater in Garden Grove) she participated in all aspects of the organization from administrative to artistic. She even designed and constructed props for our production of The Compleate Works of Shakespeare Abridged. Her performance of Virges in Much Ado About Nothing was a highlight alongside husband, Craig Brown, as Dogberry [see main header image, credit T. Bradac]. She was truly a company member.
During my time as chair of the then-Theatre and Dance department, her administrative support was invaluable. She was always willing to go the extra mile to help faculty, staff, and especially students. In the late ’90s the students awarded Bonnie so often that they created an award in honor of her kindness and helpfulness, calling it “The Bonnie-Walker-You-Deserve-a-Hug-Award.” I was a happy recipient and it’s on my desk to this day.”
Thomas F. Bradac
Department of Theatre Chair 1991–2008
More Than Just an Assistant
Bonnie played a central role in the Department of Theatre, not only managing the day-to-day business of an academic unit but also serving as a welcoming host to visiting prospective students and their families and nurturing and supporting the hundreds of students who have passed through the theatre program at Chapman. Her responsibilities ranged from scheduling entrance auditions for prospective students to ensuring graduating student names were spelled correctly in the annual theatre banquet program. Students regarded her not only as their “mom away from home” but also as a peer who understood what they were experiencing since she had taken most of the theatre courses offered at Chapman and even appeared in several productions, including The Grapes Wrath, Ladyhouse Blues, and The Merry Wives of Windsor.
“I literally worked with Bonnie for decades at Chapman. A few weeks ago, I was allowed into my office to pick up books, and I went into the main office and sat, alone, in her chair, just meditating on her importance and on my gratitude for her work.
During our time together, Bonnie was a student (she took so many of our performance courses as well as the London Theatre Tour), an actor (she played Ma Joad in Chapman’s production of The Grapes of Wrath, which I directed; we also acted together at Shakespeare Orange County), and of course our administrative assistant, juggling a myriad of jobs and responsibilities.
When I was department chair, she was a partner and a treasured advisor at a time when there was little support for the chair’s responsibilities. But most of all I think of Bonnie working with the students, both current and incoming. Too many times to count I would walk in the office to find Bonnie with an interested high school student and parents, laughing and giving important information to help the student understand our department. Her work-study students loved working with her, and I know the department student body would turn to Bonnie for advice, encouragement, or just a hug if needed. Whenever she was introduced to the student body, at town halls and award ceremonies, she would be welcomed by a roar of applause. She was our Ma Joad, encouraging us on, helping us get there.”
Department Chair 1991–2008
Over the years of her Chapman career, Bonnie worked for four different theatre department chairs and served on the department committee to acquire national accreditation. She also coordinated the 30th-Anniversary Regional Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival hosted by Chapman and managed the on-campus presence of Shakespeare Orange County, which produced shows every winter and summer. Bonnie’s theatre experience was also occasionally enlisted on the production side. She ran follow-spotlights for American Celebration performances (now known as Chapman Celebrates), and later served as backstage manager and award-winner handler to such stars as Debbie Reynolds, Jerry Lewis, James Caan and Annette Bening. She also served as special assistant to Placido Domingo at the opening of Musco Center for the Arts in 2016.
“Bonnie has been the heart and soul of the department for all the time I have known her. She cares deeply about each and every student, staff and faculty member in the department. She always knows what is going on, who needs to know what, and how to get help no matter what happens! She takes care of everyone who is new, making sure that everyone knows she is there for them. She is truly a special person who has been a solid foundation for all of us in theatre. She will be missed.”
Nina LeNoir, Ph.D.
Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education
Department of Theatre Chair 2009–2014
“Bonnie is going to be so very missed by everyone in the Department of Theatre, from alumni to students to faculty. She has been the heart of the department for as long as I’ve been at Chapman and it is abundantly clear to see how much the students love her and, I think, feel like she’s their mom away from home…like a den mother, taking care of her kids! As chair, I’ve relied on her knowledge and skills to help run the department and I’m grateful for everything she’s done and taught me. Bonnie is family to us and always will be. Though I know she’ll be close-by (and promised to stop over once and awhile), we’ll miss her deep love for the department.”
Department of Theatre Chair 2016–Present
The Next Act
For her next act, Bonnie and her husband, Craig Brown, who retired from Chapman in 2019, plan to travel and just relax. In her departing remarks to the college, she expressed how much she loved working at Chapman, saying “I could not have asked for a better environment to be in for the past 32 years. Working with each of you has enriched my life in more ways than I could possibly count. And working for the students has been an incalculable source of fulfillment for me.”
We wish her the very best.
Joann King contributed to this article.