Esther Bonnet, lifelong volunteer and advocate, leaves a legacy of hope that touches the Village Learning Place

Posted on Wednesday, October 3, 2018 by Melissa Howison

Esther Bonnet spent her life creating ways to uplift her beloved Baltimore community. Now, that legacy will establish a new Graphic Novel Collection on the Village Learning Place library bookshelves. The collection will be made possible by a donation in Ms. Bonnet’s honor, through the Johns Hopkins University Woman’s Club.

Ms. Bonnet was a long-time member of the JHU Woman’s Club, where she championed education, strong communities, and empowering the elderly. The Woman’s Club gift in her honor will also fund reading and math intervention services in our Let’s Invest in Neighborhood Kids (LINK) After School program.

“The Hopkins Woman’s Club would like to give this gift in honor of Esther Bonnet, who inspired the members of our club to donate both money and time to service projects that help children and adults in the communities of Baltimore,” said Marilyn Tabb, the current JHU Woman’s Club President and a close friend of Ms. Bonnet’s.

Ms. Bonnet moved to North Baltimore in 1967 when her husband, Dr. Philip Bonnet, joined the faculty at JHU. Immediately, she devoted her time to helping improve the quality of life for people in her new city.

She envisioned a transportation service for elderly residents to ease travel between home, healthcare appointments, shopping trips, entertainment activities, and more. In 1970, the vision became a reality when Ms. Bonnet and City Councilwoman Mary-Pat Clarke co-founded Action In Maturity (AIM). AIM still operates today and has grown to service nearly 40% of Baltimore City.

At the same time, Ms. Bonnet served as a member of the Greater Homewood Corp., now Strong City Baltimore, to help improve the community.

In the 1990s, she forged a partnership between the JHU Woman’s Club and Barclay Elementary/Middle school that would become deeply meaningful to many Woman’s Club members for decades to come.

According to Marilyn, the Barclay School library needed support and redevelopment after the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) revoked its accreditation back in the 1960s. Ms. Bonnet saw enormous potential for the JHU Woman’s Club members, many of whom had professional experience as librarians or teachers, to help restore it.

Ms. Bonnet took on the project with her signature passion. She recruited Woman’s Club members to volunteer as library staff, raised money for books and supplies, and oversaw operations.

Marilyn, a former teacher, volunteered at the Barclay School library. She remembers there were as many as 20 volunteers at times, some of whom came every week to help run the library and teach classes, because of Ms. Bonnet’s enthusiasm.

“She just inspired all of us,” Marilyn said.

Her positive influence in the library never faded. Marilyn said even in her last years, when Ms. Bonnet couldn’t visit the library as often due to mobility issues, her desk remained. “All of us sort of respected that as her desk,” Marilyn said. “She was just totally well loved, I mean everyone loved her and truly respected her spirit.”

MSDE restored the Barclay School library’s accreditation status during the time Ms. Bonnet and the JHU Woman’s Club managed operations, which continued into the late 2010s. Library operations returned to the hands of school administration, and the Woman’s Club began looking for other opportunities to support the community.

“The programs and school partnerships of the Village Learning Place made an impression on our membership,” according to Marilyn.

Ms. Bonnet passed away in May 2017, but her advocacy continues to inspire positive change through gifts given in her honor.  Visit the VLP library this fall to check out the Graphic Novel Collection as it develops and see for yourself the impact of Esther Bonnet’s legacy.