Stanley Bonacker was like an inquisitive sponge, his oldest son, Jeff said.
“My wife asked me once what kind of music he liked, and I couldn’t answer her,” Jeff said. “He sat in his chair and read magazines and newspapers. The rest of us were on the couch watching TV, but he had the lamp on and his nose in a book. If something interested him, he would call people up out of the blue so he could talk with them and learn more.”
Mr. Bonacker died Nov. 9 at age 84. He was a fourth-generation farmer and operated a farm supply store.
He grew up on his parents’ dairy farm in House Springs and met Mary Tripoli as a teenager.
They went to different high schools but met through sports – she played volleyball and softball; he played baseball and basketball. They were married in 1958.
“He went in the Army Reserves,” Mary said. “He left for training a month after we got married.”
They welcomed Jeff in 1960, David in 1964 and Marsha in 1968.
In the mid-1960s, the family began to breed Charolais cattle. In a pattern that showed up many times in his life, Mr. Bonacker embraced new ideas and techniques.
“My dad knew people who stuck to the old ways got left behind; people willing to move forward with the times and technology were able to survive and even thrive,” Jeff said.
In 1970, Mr. Bonacker left the partnership with his father and brother to run his own farm, where he instituted no-till farming beginning in 1983.
“University studies he read indicated it was a way to control pollution, and he was one of the first in the area to adopt it,” Dave said. “It wasn’t popular at the time but ended up being what everybody does today.”
In 1974, the family opened Windy Hill Farm Supply, resulting in connections made all around the region and even the world.
“When companies based in St. Louis, like Monsanto, or the university had foreign visitors who wanted to see an American farm, Dad hosted them,” Jeff said. “He’d show them around and Mom would feed them. He enjoyed sharing what he knew and learning from them.”
Mary said visitors came from Asia, Africa, Mexico and South America, as well as from all around the country.
“Stanley liked to talk about cows. To anybody,” she said. “For a man who, when I met him, wouldn’t talk on the phone, it was amazing.”
Dave said the face-to-face interactions were always productive.
“Conversations would lead to a new product line, a new idea in genetics, a new idea to use in the cornfield,” he said.
Mary said the farm was aptly named.
“We call it Windy Hill because everybody talks too much,” she joked. “Especially Stanley.”
The association with a broader world helped shape the Bonacker kids’ attitudes.
“As kids, we were exposed to a lot of different people and ways of doing things,” Jeff said. “We were able to adapt to things and ideas that came along.”
Over the years, Mr. Bonacker shepherded his little empire shrewdly toward expansion and increased self-sufficiency for his children and grandchildren.
“Developing a farm that can expand to feed three families, that’s hard to do,” Dave said. “My dad did a great job.”
Both brothers are content to continue their father’s legacy, including his commitment to community involvement.
Mr. Bonacker was active in the agricultural community, showing cattle across the state and heading auctions and 4-H shows for many years. He served on a number of committees and boards related to farming and cattle raising and was recognized for his environmental efforts.
“He was the kind of person who uses their knowledge and experience to help others,” Jeff said. “He shared our experiences at the county level and around the state.”
He sometimes needed to be reined in a bit, however.
“Dad had lots of ideas, and if he didn’t have Mom to make him finish it, he’d be off on the next idea,” Jeff said. “It took the two of them to do it all, and as we kids got old enough to pull our weight, we helped. It took all of us to implement the ideas.”
Jeff said his dad was “a man of great vision.”
“Politicians during election time always sought out my dad as one of the ‘last farmers in the area,’” Jeff said. “Dad would tell them, ‘The family with one cow or five chickens, somebody who’s raising a goat for meat, they’re farmers, too. There are a lot more farmers than you think.’ “He promoted the ‘grow your own food, know where it’s coming from’ idea long before it became popular.”
Both his sons say Mr. Bonacker will be remembered for his outgoing personality and his devotion to family.
“And ‘family’ is an extremely broad term,” Dave said. “Definitely his kids, his grandkids, but it goes beyond that. Anybody he ever met or talked to, even once, he considered part of his family.
“Everybody talks about his smile and how happy he was, but he was also a very determined man when he set out to get something done. I know he is at peace, knowing he left the farm in the hands of capable people.”
“Life Story,” posted Saturdays on Leader Publications’ website, focuses on one individual’s impact on his or her community.