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News

Carthage mourns the loss of longtime Director of Athletics Bob Bonn

June 29, 2020

Bob BonnDecades of student-athletes and colleagues are mourning the loss of Bob Bonn, who presided over Carthage’s steady ascent to the upper echelon of collegiate athletics.

Mr. Bonn, who retired in 2018 after 26 years as director of athletics, died unexpectedly June 26. He was 68.

“The untimely loss of Bob Bonn is truly heartbreaking for all of us in the Carthage community. We treasure the tremendous legacy he leaves for Carthage Athletics and the many student-athletes who competed under his guidance,” said President John Swallow. “Bob was reluctant to accept honors, saying it was always about the students. It was, of course, and largely owing to his selfless leadership.”

The program raised 117 banners on Mr. Bonn’s watch, each signifying a conference championship or top-eight national finish. Over that period, Carthage Athletics added nine NCAA Division III sports (including five for women), completed more than $50 million in facility renovations, and built a $3 million endowment — a rarity for a school of this size.

Mirroring the academic growth of the College, the athletic program contributed heavily to the rise in enrollment. For most of his time on campus, Mr. Bonn also oversaw a couple of popular majors as chair of the Exercise and Sport Science Department.

One of his first hires at Carthage, men’s soccer head coach Steve Domin ’93, M.Ed. ’95, considered Mr. Bonn a friend, mentor, and community leader.

“He will always be ‘Doc Bonn’ to many, and, when we hear his name, it will continue to invoke a flood of emotions: some good, some challenging, and most always building toward something unique,” Coach Domin said. “He is among the most influential people in our College’s history, with a mark in nearly every corner.”

“I don’t know where to begin to talk about a man that had such an impact on Carthage Athletics, my life and the lives of so many coaches, staff, and student-athletes,” said Leanne Ulmer, head women’s volleyball coach. “Our hearts are broken but grateful for the time we had with him. He believed in us! He was a champion for improving all our lives and would give us sage advice about many topics. He was a fierce competitor and he pushed us all to be better. 

“Bob was a great friend, a cherished member of the community, a mentor to so many, a loving husband, proud father and adoring ‘Papa’ to his grandsons,” she continued. “When he told us he was retiring we were sad to see his time at Carthage end but so happy for him to have time for all his retirement dreams. … Doc had a lot of golf dates scheduled this summer with many alumni, students, and staff, and it’s tough thinking those rounds won’t be played. We will be forever grateful for all he has done for us and pray for comfort and peace for his family and this very difficult time.”

A pair of prestigious awards in 2019 illustrated the scope of Mr. Bonn’s influence. A former president of both organizations, he was inducted into the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics’ Hall of Fame and received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Association of Athletic Development Directors.

Mr. Bonn earned a doctorate in sport psychology and sociology from Boston University in 1983. He started his career in coaching, first in high school basketball and then at the collegiate level. He then added administrative duties at Pacific University in Oregon before finding a long-term home in the Kenosha area, where he continued to live in retirement.

President Emeritus F. Gregory Campbell fondly remembers hiring Mr. Bonn. 

“In 1991, as Carthage was searching the country for a new athletic director, Bob Bonn emerged as a prime candidate,” Mr. Campbell said. “The problem was his college basketball team in Oregon was just starting their new season. He told me he would refuse any offer if that meant leaving his team before they completed their schedule. It was then I knew we had found the right person for the job.

“For 26 years, Bob fiercely promoted Carthage’s athletic and physical education programs,” Mr. Campbell continued. “Along the way, he and I had some epic encounters.  (Some even thought us a bit stubborn.) But we enjoyed those debates and derived inspiration from a common vision for Carthage and its students.  We became close friends and worked together as loyal teammates.”

Carthage red permeates the Bonn family. Mr. Bonn’s wife, Michele, retired after working as an assistant professor, registrar, and director of advising at the College. Their son Steven is a 2010 alumnus, and their other son, Ryan, is an adjunct faculty member in the Chemistry Department.

The family plans to hold private services at this time and a larger celebration of Mr. Bonn’s life when physical distancing guidelines allow.

Donations in Mr. Bonn’s honor should be directed to the Michele and Robert Bonn Athletic Endowment, which the couple started in 2008 and honors Mr. Bonn’s personal commitment to endowed funds. Gifts can be made online at www.carthage.edu/givenow or mailed to the Office of Institutional Advancement, 2001 Alford Park Drive, Kenosha, WI 53140.