After a lifetime of service to their own communities, Bertram and Corella Bonner were inspired to create the Bonner Scholars Program.
They sought to encourage civic engagement while providing access to higher education for financially eligible students. The establishment of the Bonner Foundation , which oversees the Bonner Scholars Program, came from a desire to use their hard-earned fortune to help people who came from similar backgrounds. Each worked hard to earn an education and give back to the communities in which they lived.
Bertram Bonner was born in 1899 in Brooklyn, New York. He put himself through college by taking classes at night. He worked in finance before diving into the real estate business and experiencing financial success. Like many others, he lost everything in the 1929 stock market crash. Nevertheless, he remained in the real estate business and earned back everything he lost and more over a career spanning six decades.
Corella spent her childhood in coal-mining towns in rural West Virginia, Tennessee, and Kentucky. She moved to Detroit looking for educational and career opportunities; she worked a day job while attending night classes at Wayne State University. She relocated to become a manager at a New York hotel, where she met Bertram in 1939. They were married four years later.
Civic engagement became a priority for the Bonners. They first began giving back to their communities by providing food for families in need. Their anti-hunger initiatives expanded when they moved to New Jersey in 1956, and began a broad-based ecumenical crisis ministry program housed in the Nassau Presbyterian Church. Their civic efforts expanded in 1989 with the creation of the Bonner Foundation to continue their work beyond their lifetimes.
The Bonner Foundation operates several programs—the Bonner Scholars and the Bonner Leaders Programs for those interested in higher education, and the Crisis Ministry Program, which distributes money for faith-based communities to mitigate hunger.
Berea College in Berea, Kentucky, established the first Bonner Scholars Program in 1990. Two years later, the Bonner Scholars Program was established at Oberlin College. It became an endowed program at Oberlin in April 2007, through collaborations among the Bonner Foundation, Oberlin College, and the Bonner Center for Community-Engaged Learning, Teaching, and Research.