Prior to Vernelle Bonar being buried alongside her late husband Bill at St. Paul Lutheran Church cemetery about a mile west of Treynor, family members made sure that arguably her most prized possession made it into her casket.
“She read her Bible daily, over and over,” Jeri Schnepel said of her aunt, whose death certificate listed COVID-19 as a contributing factor. “Her Bible was so worn … And we had her buried with it, because it was just a part of her.
“And when COVID hit, I think her not being able to go to church every week was one of the hardest things on her. That and not being able to go to the hair dresser.”
After moving to a plot of farm ground outside of Treynor in the mid-1970s, Vernelle and Bill Bonar became well-known pillars in the community. They attended church together, spent hours chatting up locals over coffee and were avid fans of anything Treynor athletics.
And though Vernelle is the star of this show, it’s important to recognize that Bill is a strong supporting cast member. A tale about Vernelle’s life simply wouldn’t be told properly without Bill’s presence.
“You really can’t talk about one without the other, because they were so, so close,” said Denise Wilson, longtime friend of the Bonars and youth minister at St. Paul Lutheran Church.
Bill passed in December 2017, but prior to his death he spent his last six months of life alongside his sweetheart at Risen Son Christian Village in Council Bluffs. At the time, Vernelle had been there about a year, forced to make the move from Treynor do to declining health.
“They loved being together, you just hardly ever saw one without being with other,” Schnepel said. “They were just the sweetest couple; always doting on one another, holding hands -- just so sweet.”
Vernelle and Bill never had children; however, Schnepel said her aunt and uncle treated her and her five siblings as their own. Every year, two at a time, they would head out to their aunt and uncles farm for a week.
Countless memories were made on those trips, and relationships were built that carried well into adulthood.
Vernelle, Schnepel said, was a woman who was always far more concerned with listening to what others had to say rather than monopolizing a conversation. She adored companionship and was genuinely invested in other people’s happiness.
“She was always asking about everybody else,” Schnepel said. “And she was good at keeping name names straight … Her mind was sharp all the way up until she died. There are a lot of things I now wish we would have asked her about.
“You know, there definitely is a void in our lives now.”
Prior to the coronavirus taking off full steam in mid-March, Schnepel, her sister Patti Walter and others would frequently visit Vernelle at Risen Son. That all changed because of the virus, which took a stronghold on the long-term care facility.
No in-person visits were allowed from that point on; chatting on the phone was the only avenue for Schnepel and other loved ones to contact Vernelle.
Ironically, Vernelle contracting the virus actually allowed the family to see her before her Aug. 14 death. Her room prior to contracting the virus wasn’t positioned with any windows facing outside of the facility.
While residing in the COVID wing, Vernelle was able to see her loved ones, albeit through a pane of glass.
“We took our lawn chairs and would sit outside the window and just sit there and visit,” Schnepel said. “They would push her right up to the window … And she would say things (over the phone) like ‘oh, you guys look so good, or, ‘it’s so good to see you, ‘I miss you,’ ‘I love you guys.’
“She just repeated herself over and over because she was so happy to see us; she’d been in that room for so long.”
Though COVID-19 was listed as a symptom of death, the family feels like it was simply her time to go. For the most part, they said, she felt OK after contracting the virus, with the exception of spiking a fever.
“Yes, she had COVID, but COVID didn’t kill her, it was just time,” Patty Walter, another of Vernelle's nieces, told the Nonpareil. “Just the loneliness, the lack of church – she was really just ready. The COVID gave her the excuse to let go.”
And though sorrow remains and Vernelle’s loved ones miss her presence, there is joy in their belief that Bill was waiting to wrap Vernelle in his arms at the entrance of heaven.
“Bill was sitting at the gate, crying, saying ‘what took you so long,’ I just know it," Schnepel said. "I’m sure it was a great reunion with them and Jesus.
"And they are back with their card group too, just playing cards in heaven, which I’m sure is nice,” Schnepel added, with a laugh.
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