May 23, 2017 | By Chuck Carlson
Frank Bonta, ’49, who died May 20 after a long illness at the age of 92, was known in recent years for his love of being a grandfather, golf and gardening—the “3 G’s” as he liked to put it.
But there was another longtime love in his life.
“It’s hard to put into words what Albion College meant to Frank, and our entire family,” said Bonta’s son-in-law Chuck Frayer, ’77. “Although Frank had a long, distinguished career at Albion, the College was always more than a place to work. The relationships he formed at Albion continued beyond his retirement and remained at the center of his life.”
It was a sentiment echoed by longtime friend Mike Sequite, ’75.
“He’d always ask, ‘What’s going on at Albion?’” he said. “After he retired we’d have lunch once a month or so and we’d reminisce, and all he’d want to talk about is Albion. He loved the place so dearly.”
For 44 years, from 1951 until his retirement in 1995, Frank Bonta was the face of the admissions office at Albion College. He began as a counselor in 1951, was promoted to director in 1961 and was named dean of admissions in 1973. A year after his retirement, in 1996, the College’s new admission building was named for Bonta, a move that surprised and humbled him.
Mike Turner, '69, who returned to Albion in 1970 as assistant men's basketball coach and became head coach in 1974 before retiring in 2007, was one of Bonta's best friends.
"He was a faithful, faithful follower of Albion even in retirement," Turner said. "We used to joke that in his 44 years at Albion, nobody got in without passing through his gates. He was relentless in promoting Albion."
For 11 student generations Bonta watched as they came and went, and it was always his goal to make sure every student who was admitted would not only succeed at Albion but take that success with them through life. And that included his daughters Julie, ’77, and Amy, ’78, as well as a granddaughter, Lauren Bender, ’05.
“I think he had relationships with many, many people,” Julie said. “He wasn’t just interested in getting people into college. He wanted to give people a chance because he’d been given so many chances in his life. He definitely was more than just a man sitting there saying yes or no.”
When it came to recruitment goals, Bonta would always say that hitting it every year was a challenge he accepted happily—“like landing a 747 on a dime.”
Bonta spent three years in the Navy during World War II before enrolling at Albion, where he was a pitcher on the baseball team from 1947-49 and was teased by coach Morley Fraser for his less-than-impressive fastball.
After graduating with a degree in history and political science, he worked for two years as executive assistant to the managing director of the Veterans of Foreign Wars National Home in Eaton Rapids before returning to Albion in the admissions office.
Sequite, who had applied to Albion as a transfer student after first attending Grand Rapids Junior College, was one of those students who, on first blush, might not have seemed destined for Albion.
“I probably wouldn’t have gotten into Albion if it wasn’t for Frank,” he said. “I wasn’t a very good student but he and [football coach] Frank Joranko helped me get in. I think [Frank Bonta] was just a guy who saw potential in me. He was an athlete and he loved athletics. He took an interest in the young athletes.”
As longtime Albion sports fans can recall, Bonta for years could always be found standing in his “reserved” spot along the fence at Sprankle-Sprandle Stadium watching football games and in the northside bleachers of Kresge Gym watching basketball.
“I always called him ‘Coach Bonta,’” Sequite said. “He loved hanging around with all the coaches.”
But for Sequite, Bonta was more than a college administrator.
“He was a mentor for me, a sounding board,” said Sequite, who earned his degree in psychology and physical education and went on to work more than 30 years at the College in campus security, institutional advancement and admissions. “He had so much institutional knowledge. He knew so many people and he helped me with my career at Albion. He mentored so many people. He was just a wonderful, kind gentleman and someone you could learn from.”
Another longtime friend, Jim Whitehouse, '69, remembers how close Bonta was with his grandfather, who also happened to be College president, W.W. Whitehouse.
“He and my granddad were really close and he leaned on Frank for all kinds of things,” Whitehouse said. That included watching out for him as a child.
“My granddad would call Frank, and with his English accent he’d call him ‘Mr. Bohnta,’ and he’d ask him, ‘Mr. Bohnta, would you mind tending my grandchildren for a while?’ And he’d take us swimming and down to the athletic field. It was great. He was a wonderful man.”
And because President Whitehouse hated driving, Bonta would chauffeur him to speaking engagements around the region.
“He was always there for granddad,” Whitehouse said. “He did that even after granddad retired.”
In retirement, Bonta doted on his grandchildren, played a lot of golf and was well known for producing thousands of tomatoes from the garden at his home in Eaton Rapids, where he lived for decades with his wife, Patricia, ’50.
Bonta, who earned his master’s degree in 1966 and his educational specialist degree in 1970, both from Michigan State University, also received an honorary doctor of laws degree from Albion in 1982. He was inducted into Albion’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 2002 and was awarded the College’s inaugural President’s Award in 2016.
President Mauri Ditzler, who created the award with Bonta in mind as one of the first recipients, also paid tribute.
"Once or twice in a generation someone comes along who embodies all that is noble about his or her college," he said. "Frank Bonta was that person for this College. For so many students, Frank was the first person they met at Albion and to this day reminds them of what is special about their alma mater. He will always have a special place in the Albion community."
And Albion College always remained a part of Frank Bonta.
“He always carried himself in such a gentlemanly manner,” Sequite said. “There was never anything out of place. He always looked right because his appearance was so important. He wanted to create a great image of Albion and he wanted to project it.”
There will be a visitation and memorial service on June 24 at 11 a.m. at the First United Methodist Church, 600 S. Main St. in Eaton Rapids. The family suggests that memorial contributions can be made to Albion College, which will dedicate the funds toward planned renovations of the Bonta Admission Center.
Members of the Albion College community are encouraged to share their memories of Frank Bonta on the College's Facebook page or by emailing .