Shirley Bonner was awarded an Associate of Biblical Studies from Tripp Bible Institute in Marion, N.C., on April 23. Bonner maintained an A+ letter grade average during the 60 semester hours. She also is working on an additional 86 sets of lessons required to earn an Advanced Biblical Studies Certificate and a Bachelor of Biblical Studies.
"The busier you keep your mind the better your memory will be," Bonner said. "So, I thought I would go back to school. I searched on the internet and found Tripp Bible Institute. They mailed the lessons to me, I worked at my own pace, and the lessons were graded and sent back to me with the new lessons."
Bonner was born in 1937 to parents Linzy and Onice Allen and grew up in Henry County. She married Jimmy Calvin Bonner, and they recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. They have two children - Dondi Bonner and Denise Allen. She is affectionately known as Memommie, to her five grandchildren: Carrie McNutt, Beth and Rebecca Bonner, and Heath and Lacy Allen and two great-grandchildren.
A member of the Beta Club, Bonner graduated from Henry County High School in 1955 and was awarded a medal for being the best typist in her senior class. She took a business English course at Smith Hughes Vocational Night School in Atlanta.
Bonner was employed as the secretary to the president of Dowling Textile Manufacturing Company in McDonough for eight years. She worked at Ficquett Elementary School in Covington as a Title I parapro from 1975 to 1985 and as a secretary/attendance clerk from 1985 to 2001 when she retired. In 1996, Bonner was voted as the support person of the year at Ficquett Elementary.
"When I learned that Shirley had attained her degree at the age of 70, I was not at all surprised," said Cindy Brown. "Shirley and I have been friends for some 20-plus years, having worked together on a daily basis for two-and-a-half of those years. Possessing a quick wit, a staunch faith and an eagerness to learn, Shirley has always been an inspiration to me and to my family. I am sure that all of Shirley's friends join me in praising her for her diligence in attaining her degree. Shirley possesses an innate kindness towards all and I've never heard her say a bad word about anyone."
Bonner was baptized on June 6, 1953, and said that she received the Holy Ghost later that year on Aug. 13. From 1972 to 1990, she served as the Sunday school secretary for the Church of Lord Jesus Christ/Gospel Tabernacle. Over the years, she lived a life of service to the church in various roles. Bonner served as a member of the youth committee, coordinated youth activities, directed Christmas plays, taught Sunday school, sang in the choir for 54 years and coordinated senior citizen functions and mother/daughter banquets. She served as the secretary for the Voice of Pentecost Church from 1999 to 2007. Bonner has read the Bible in entirety each year for several years through a daily bible reading program.
"I have been very blessed by the Lord down through the years and he continues to bless me every day," Bonner said. My church has always been my life and I never miss a service unless it is absolutely necessary. I attend service on Sunday morning, Sunday night, and all Monday night church prayer meetings, Wednesday night Bible study and any other time there is something going on at church."
Bonner was encouraged to continue her studies by her family who cheered her on and said her husband stood behind her and supported the time she needed to study.
"One day, she surprised us all and announced she was going back to school," said her daughter, Denise. Her accomplishment is such a great attribute to her character. We knew she was working vigorously, but had no idea she was completing it so quickly. We think she is the greatest mother in the world. She never has anything negative to say about anyone. She has a positive attitude about everything all the time."
Bonner took inspiration from John 6:63 (KJV) to pursue the degree.
"It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life."
Bonner recommends the study to others. Each study showed her something interesting and new and reinforced knowledge she had learned in Sunday school. The Bachelor's of Biblical Studies will qualify Bonner to teach in a private Bible school.
"I don't know if I will teach anywhere at my age," said Bonner. "I am mostly doing this for the knowledge and to keep my mind busy. It makes me want to study more and more."
Bonner is known as a "prayer warrior" among her friends and family. She asked God for a miracle when her son-in-law became sick recently.
"They told us that they suspected he had an aneurism in the brain," she said. "I refused to accept it and believed God that it was just going to be something minor. When they did the next test, everything was OK."
Bonner took piano lessons from her assistant pastor, the Rev. Eugene Carr for two years and later continued the lessons through Bertie Ann Hardy.
She was introduced to scrap-booking through a friend, Marcie Williams. Since then, she has filled three scrapbooks with the history and activities of the church dating back to 1932.
A traveler since her childhood, she has enjoyed her many trips across the United States from California to Florida. Her dream is to someday visit Vermont.
After 50 years of marriage, Bonner's advice to families is to build a strong relationship with your spouse and to put God first in everything you do. She encourages parents to bring their children up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
"I give the Lord credit for everything he has done in my life and in my home all these years and I could not have done anything without him," she said. "The verse I hold on to is Philippians 4:13 (KJV): 'I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me'."