We are deeply saddened by the sudden death of William E. Bonham on July 1, 2020, at the age of 95. Please join the family in a celebration of Bill’s life in the Pecan Orchard at 4402 West Berrendo Road, on Friday, July 10th, at 9:30 a.m. Please bring masks and folding chairs and park on Ruth Road off of Berrendo just west of the Relief Route. Escorts in quads will transport guests and their folding chairs to the orchard.
Bill and his twin brother Bobby were born to Earl and Lillie Greening Bonham in Long Beach, California, on March 19, 1925. Lillie’s mother traveled from a homestead in New Mexico to assist with the birth. While the twins were small, Earl and Lillie moved back to New Mexico and settled in East Grand Plains, where siblings Jimmy and Tommy were born.
Bill attended East Grand Plains School and fought to protect his two younger brothers from bullies. He attended Roswell’s first high school, which had been built by his father. Earl also built the Chaves County Courthouse where Billy and Bobby played on the thin stone ledge that visually separates the basement from the first floor. Bill used to play with his friend Bob Baker at the Hondo River where they liked to wiggle down into the quicksand to see how deep they could sink.
When America entered World War II, the twins were permitted to leave high school ahead of graduation to enter the armed services. Bill joined the Army Air Force because he wanted to fly. He flew B-22s, B-29s, and cargo planes, and he could fly anywhere in the mainland U.S. as long as he took a trainee navigator with him. He had several near-fatal escapades but was able to pull out of them by daring and quick-witted flying maneuvers.
Bill deployed to Germany at the end of the war and was given the job of evicting German families temporarily so their homes could be used by U.S. troops. Bill never wanted to return to Europe as a tourist, saying that the U.S. was far preferable to any country in Europe. The Air Force offered Bill a promotion, which he declined because he didn’t want a desk job.
Support Local Journalism
Subscribe to the Roswell Daily Record today.
Support Local Journalism
Bill and Bobby entered Texas Tech in Lubbock. While there, they rescued an elderly couple whose house was burning down by rushing into the burning house and carrying the man and his wife outside.
Bill returned to Roswell to start farming. He married the love of his life, Betty Jean Baker, on September 2, 1945. They rented a hundred-acre farm northeast of Roswell where daughter Brenda was born in 1949. Bill bought a lot in town on East Mathews next to St. Peter’s rectory and built a garage apartment. The family lived in the apartment while Bill built a duplex in front of it. They moved into the duplex where son Bobby was born in 1951. They bought a 240-acre farm on Berrendo Road and lived in a two-room house while Bill built the house on the farm where son Richard was born in 1954 and daughter Betty Ann was born in 1959.
Bill constructed a land leveler, which he pulled behind his tractor, and shaped each field so that every row would drain water from the irrigation ditch to the end of the row. Bill irrigated by setting siphon tubes, then checking the water every few hours until time to change the tubes to another set of rows. He raised cotton and alfalfa. He baled hay at night when the moisture was at the correct level so the leaves would not fall off the alfalfa.
Bill and Betty took their children to First Methodist Church and volunteered in Sunday School, prayer groups, Vacation Bible School, and church services. Bill served as chairman of the church board for a number of years, and was head usher for 50 years. Every October, he hosted a chili cookoff, hayride, and bonfire at the Bonham farm. He was active in the church’s Cowboy Bell Scholarship program. He was also a friend to the Poor Clare sisters and shook the Monastery’s pecan trees every year at harvest time.
Bill partnered with Jack Woods at American Moving and Storage in renting a warehouse; he then built Roswell Self Storage, which was managed by daughter Betty Ann. Sons Bobby and Richard became good mechanics working on the farm. Richard went to college and became a petroleum engineer, and Brenda went to college and became a social worker. Bobby became his father’s right-hand man in running the Bonham farms. Bill and Bobby partnered with Virgil and Bruce Haley to purchase the Mountain States pecan orchard. Bobby, Bruce, and Bobby’s sons currently work the shared orchard and their respective private orchards.
Bill and Betty enjoyed playing bridge with friends Pete and Margaret Kling (now Margaret Kinkaid), and they often hosted parties for their bridge club. Other players were frequently intimidated by Bill’s aggressive bidding style, especially his “3 No-Trump.” The Bonhams and the Klings bought a rustic cabin together in Alto, where their families enjoyed the cool mountain air on weekends.
Bill was also a spelunker, and he took his daughter Brenda and grandson Justin on many underground adventures.
Bill was courageous and quick-witted whenever he saw someone having a medical emergency. When his son Richard fell into the irrigation ditch with his head in the culvert, Bill bounded out of the house with huge strides, grabbed Richard, and pulled him out of the ditch.
One day, Bill and Betty were eating at a restaurant when a woman at another table started choking and turning blue. Bill tried the Heimlich maneuver, then grabbed a fork, skewered the meat, and pulled it from her throat, saving her life.
Bill was generous, and in the days before cell phones, he always stopped to help drivers stranded on the roadside. He changed flat tires, pulled out cars stuck in the mud, and once fixed a lady’s carburetor with a spring from a ballpoint pen. He was known for his ability to avoid a head-on collision by driving at high speed between the two oncoming cars, forcing them to part so he could pass.
Bill enjoyed daily visits with friends at McDonald’s over coffee. At 95, he exercised daily, taking two brisk 2-mile walks each day. On Sundays, after church, Bill visited friends living in retirement homes, taking them a church bulletin and a page of jokes and cartoons. His comforting presence and dry sense of humor will be missed by all.
Bill was preceded in death by his parents, Earl and Lillie Bonham, his twin brother Bobby Bonham, his wife Betty Jean Bonham, his sister-in-law Lavonne Bonham, and his son-in-law Keith Roberts. He is survived by brothers Jimmy Bonham (Bette) of Oregon and Tommy Bonham of Albuquerque and their children, and by his children: Brenda Bonham, Bobby Bonham (Louetta), Richard Bonham (Dana), and Betty Ann Roberts. His grandchildren: Matthew Bonham (Agnes), Hoby Bonham (Amanda), Monica Bonham Sweeney (Scott), Storrie Morris, Shauna Miller, Paul Bonham (Sarah), Christopher Bonham, Daniel Bonham, Jonathan Bonham, Justin Rogers (Melanie), Ryan Rogers, and Teresa Roberts. His Great grandchildren: Georgia Bonham, Christopher Bonham, Phoebe Bonham, Chance Bonham, Lyla Bonham, Jeremiah Sweeney, Willow Sweeney, Sage Morris, Seth Morris, Sadie Morris, Payton McCarty, and Riley McCarty. Great great grandchildren: Stryker Bonham and Ava Bonham.
William’s (Bill) tribute was written in his honor by his family.
Please take a moment and share a fond memory or thought with Bill’s family at www.andersonbethany.com.