Hometown girl

After 32 years of fashion, parties, community service and laughs, The Wichita Eagle’s Bonnie Bing gets a well-deserved rest. (Not that she’s likely to take it.)

STORY BY Joe Stumpe

Bonnie Bing felt like a fish out of water. Or more precisely, a former P.E. teacher in a newsroom.

Hand-picked by then-editor Buzz Merritt to be The Wichita Eagle's social columnist in 1980, she arrived with no journalism experience.

It was stressful to be in a roomful of people who knew what they were doing  and were making noise and were smoking, Bing remembers. A lot of people were downright mean. That was upsetting. I wasn't used to that kind of treatment.

Of course, given her infectious personality, such treatment couldn't last. By the time she retired at the end of June, Bing was surely one of the most beloved employees in Eagle history  and for many readers, the face of the newspaper.

Bing brought things more important than journalism skills to the job: a love of Wichita, a genuine interest in its people and a desire to make it a better place.

Not that Bing would ever ascribe to herself such high-minded motives. Anybody who knows Bonnie knows that she doesn't take herself, or anybody else, too seriously. A polished public speaker, always impeccably dressed and coiffed, Bonnie can tell a salty story with the best of them or get a laugh with nothing more than the Bonnie look  head cocked, eyes rolled, a can-you-believe-this expression on her face.

I'd say she's a genius at interacting with people, said Pat Jones, Executive Director of Dress For Success, one of many charitable organizations that have benefited from Bing's involvement. She can say the most outrageous things to people, and they just think she's hilarious.

Some people think Oh, Bonnie Bing, she's so important, she wouldn't speak to somebody like me, said Fran Kentling, a longtime friend and former Eagle editor. That is so wrong.

Homecoming queen, jock

Bing, who turned 65 in April, grew up not far from the Riverside home where she lives now with her husband, Wichita lawyer Dick Honeyman. In fact, she remembers canoeing down the Arkansas River with a classmate from North High and saying, I want to live there.

She was a jock who loved kids so majoring in physical education at WSU made sense. She was also interested in fashion, making some of her own clothes and modeling in live commercials for a TV station. Students voted her WSU homecoming queen, although she says she can't imagine why.

I just did everything that all the P.E. majors did. I was not in a sorority. I had a couple of part-time jobs. I just kind of went to school, dated a little bit and that was it. I do remember that the football team came walking up the hill and voted for me because I was a jock.

Bing taught P.E. for six years at Pleasant Valley Junior High  she still regularly runs into former students  then moved to a job at WSU as assistant to the women's athletic director, where her primary task was raising money. Four years later, Merritt floated the idea of bringing her to the Eagle part-time to compile the social column.

Enormous energy

There were two things that made her particularly good for us at that point, Merritt said. She knew an awful lot of people in Wichita and she had this enormous energy and interest in people.

At the time, the column mostly consisted of events attended by the city's elite. Bing opened up the column to groups and individuals who otherwise would never have gotten their photographs in the paper.

She wasn't a snob, Kentling said. If it was your granny's 82nd birthday and you had a bunch of people over for a party and we'd never heard of your granny, (Bing would say) Fine, we'll put it in. She really opened it up beyond these little cliques of people who were in there repeatedly.

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