Written by Don L. Bonker
Don Bonker felt abundantly blessed throughout his lifetime, notably proud of his beloved and gifted wife, Carolyn, and faith-based, socially conscious children – Dawn Elyse and Jonathan, as well as a rewarding career that spanned 50 years, including 22 years in public service.
As to his early life, the former U.S. Congressman was born in Denver, CO (1937), served in the U.S. Coast Guard, moved to Vancouver, WA., and graduated from Lewis & Clark College in 1964. Upon graduation, he entered politics as an intern for U.S. Senator Maurine Neuberger and then returned to Vancouver to become the youngest elected official in Washington State.
As Clark County Auditor, his notable accomplishments, including the first in the nation to use computerized voting, gained recognition statewide, setting up his candidacy for Secretary of State in 1972. Although unsuccessful, he was elected two years later to the U.S. Congress and served the Third Congressional District for 14 years in the U.S. House of Representatives.
In Congress, Don’s accomplishments were many, including passing major environmental bills – working with the NW delegation to establish the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, 1984 Washington Wilderness Act additions, the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, and the Grays Harbor National Wildlife Refuge. He was principal sponsor of seven additional bills, all enacted, that protect and preserve Washington’s natural resources. One on Long Island in Pacific County, preserving the largest intact remnant of old growth cedar trees in the Pacific NW, that encompasses the Don Bonker Cedar Grove Trail, which now officially bears his name.
His leadership on national issues was evident in his position on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, including his chairing the Subcommittee on Human Rights and International Organizations; it was his chairmanship of the Subcommittee on Trade and International Economic Policy where he became a national leader on U.S. trade policy. He was also Chairman of the Speaker’s Task Force on Trade and served on the President’s Export Council, and in 1986 authored, “America’s Trade Crisis.”
Don ran for the U.S. Senate in 1988 and again in 1992 and was unsuccessful in gaining the nomination. Thus, he entered the private sector, joining APCO Worldwide, at the time a small consulting firm of eleven people which eventually became the world’s second-largest public affairs company with 1600 people in 27 countries. At APCO during the 1990s, Don specialized in helping governments and business leaders in Russia and former Soviet Republics in transitioning to a market economy. In his last seven years with the firm, he represented leading Asia-Pacific trading partners, including COSCO shipping and Huawei.
During the 1990’s, Don was also president of the International Management and Development Institute (IMDI), a Transatlantic organization that conducted Congressional Roundtable sessions throughout Europe, bringing together Congressional and Executive Branch officials and Europe’s top business leaders to discuss issues of importance to the two continents. He was also chairman of the Parliamentary Human Rights Foundation, assisting parliaments in European countries to make human rights a priority in their foreign policy.
Upon retirement, Don was appointed by two governors to serve on the Columbia Gorge Commission, and served as an Advisory Board member of Globeone, a financial technology company based in Santa Monica.
He authored three books, America’s Trade Crisis (1986, Houghton Mifflin), A Higher Calling (2019, Harper Collins) and Preserving our National Resources. He was a columnist for the China News and had several articles through the years in the Wall Street Journal, Seattle Times, Daily Columbian and other newspapers. Don continued to write Op-Eds about the value of democracy and other pressing issues up until his last days. The day before he died, he shared his concern about the potential impacts of the debt crisis.
But his most cherished moments were on Bainbridge Island, at their home called Journey’s End, property once homesteaded by his wife’s family, where they hosted events and enjoyed the natural beauty and spent precious time with family. Despite many accomplishments throughout his lifetime, Don always felt that his greatest legacy were the children, something he felt deeply about to the very end.
Don and Carolyn were married July 10, 1971, and celebrated their 50th anniversary in Vancouver, WA in 2021, where they were married. They were blessed with children, Dawn Elyse and Jonathan Todd (Katie) and five grandchildren, Hannah, Naomi, Judah, Micaiah, and David.
Surrounded by family, Don died peacefully by God’s grace on his way to glory at 86 after a brief illness. Remembering the Life of Don Bonker: A service will be held 2pm Friday, June 23rd at Rolling Bay Presbyterian Church on Bainbridge Island. There will also be a memorial for him in Washington DC this fall, details have not been finalized.
In lieu of flowers please consider donating to the ongoing legacy of service instilled in the Bonker children: RUF International: www.givetoruf.org/donate/UFinternational & The Salvation Army NW: https://northwest.salvationarmy.org.