Bonnie Solomon has devoted decades to the elderly

2016 Unsung Hero Bonnie Solomon. Photo: Yana Hotter

By David Baugher, Special to the Jewish Light

In 1972, when the then-president of the Covenant House board told Bonnie Solomon that she ought to join the staff of the housing facility, she was a bit skeptical. But he convinced her by saying it was only a temporary job, perhaps four or five months.

“I was their only paid professional and became their executive director,” recalled the 73-year-old Elgin, Ill., native. The temporary position lasted 6½ years and led to decades of work in senior housing, both paid and as a volunteer.

“I love that career because of the impact it has on the people that we’re serving,” Solomon said. “I just know that there is a face and a person at the other end of that volunteer effort. It makes me feel good, and I know that it will make that other person feel good as well.”

Solomon’s accomplishments have made a lot of people feel good over the years. While at Covenant House (now called Covenant Place), she wrote a management plan for the operation, helping it to generate revenue to provide services and amenities for residents. With the help of B’nai B’rith Women, of which she was a chapter president, she also helped initiate a kosher dining program at the facility. Later, she transitioned to working with the Jewish Community Center, where she worked with older adults helping them to access Covenant’s services.

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Joan Denison, Covenant’s executive director, said Solomon had a huge early impact on the organization and said she thinks of her as a role model.

“She is so involved in so many organizations, you truly feel that Bonnie just cares about people and wants to do whatever she can to make life better for others,” she said.

Solomon’s spirit of volunteerism doesn’t just reveal her good heart but her professional experience as well.

“Bonnie is very smart, very detail oriented and very engaged,” Denison said. “By engaged, I mean she really gets into the depths of any issue and takes her volunteer role very seriously.”

Though she maintained her role as a volunteer and life member of the board with Covenant, by the late 1970s Solomon was working with Delmar Gardens. Over her 30 years with Delmar Gardens, she held titles such as executive director of Garden Villas Retirement Community and vice president of retirement living services. In 2004, she was named Administrator of the Year by the Activity Directors Association of Missouri-St. Louis. 

But that’s only the beginning. A reading of Solomon’s résumé can be exhausting. Locally, she served as a vice president of the area home builders association, but she earned accolades on the wider stage as well. For several terms, Solomon was chairwoman of the Seniors Housing Board at the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), where she was also part of the executive board and even taught classes in topics related to seniors housing. 

B’nai B’rith recognized her with an appointment to lead its national committee on senior housing, where she facilitated a resident leadership training camp. She was also president of both the Mid-East Area Agency on Aging and its associated foundation.

Since her retirement from Garden Villas in 2008, she has continued to stay busy serving as vice president of leadership for National Council of Jewish Women-St. Louis Section.

Despite all of the above, she somehow still found time to volunteer for numerous efforts, including a 40-year stint with Jewish Women International’s charity gift wrap effort to benefit JWI as well as Wings of Hope and Camp Rainbow. She also remained extremely active in her temple, Congregation Shaare Emeth, where she has served on the board of directors and various committees. 

As part of the board of Women’s Philanthropy at Jewish Federation of St. Louis, she was named vice president of community service. She initiated a special Mother’s Day collection for the Harvey Kornblum Jewish Food Pantry and collaborated with Jewish Family & Children’s Service’s Jewish Chaplaincy Program to pack holiday bags for Jews living in care facilities. At one point, she even spearheaded a painting project at the pantry simply because she thought that the white walls seemed too sterile.

“My son said to me, ‘Mom, can’t you just sit?’ ” Solomon recalled with a laugh. “I said ‘Why? There’ll be a time in my life when perhaps that will be the only thing I’ll be able to do.’ Why not participate, make an impact, feel good, make someone else feel good while I can? It’s the thought of making a difference every single day that gets me up each day.”

Sherry Shuman, who was involved in Women’s Philanthropy with Solomon, said her dedication is impressive with her career and volunteer work both displaying a deep commitment to the elderly.

“She is a tremendous talent because she has the ideas and then she also has the follow-through,” Shuman said. “She can take an idea and is able to inspire other people to follow what she suggests.”

Libbey Tucker agrees. 

What makes her special “is that she’s so connected, not only in the Jewish community but in the senior community,” said Tucker, community services and economic development director of Chesterfield, where Solomon serves as co-chair of the older adult task force. “It has really helped our group be able to gain new members and new perspectives on services that are needed for older adults.”

Oh, yes, and she also earned Businessperson of the Year honors while at the Town & Country Chamber of Commerce, where she served as president and initiated a scholarship program for local students.

“If there is a day when my calendar is clear, then I don’t have a lot to look forward to,” Solomon said.


BONNIE SOLOMON

Age: 73

Family: Husband, Norman; two sons, Gary and Danny; four grandchildren

Home: Chesterfield

Occupation:  Senior housing industry

Fun Fact: Solomon enjoys mahjong and shopping.