Memorial honors teacher, Essex resident

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Julie Benay, Malletts Bay principal, speaks to a crowd gathered last Sunday at a memorial for Kathy Bonfigli, an Essex resident and teacher at Malletts Bay School in Colchester. (Photo by Colin Flanders)

Malletts Bay is many wishes richer.

Each wish took slightly different trips to the lake’s bottom — some slid in from the dock at Bayside Park, while others plunked into the calm waters or skid across their surface — yet all carried the memory of Kathy Bonfigli, a Malletts Bay School teacher and Essex resident who died from unknown causes August 12. She was 56.

Dozens of former students, parents, colleagues and family members attended last Sunday’s memorial, walking or biking from the school to Bayside Park, where they decorated the rocks that would soon create a wishing well for a favorite teacher, friend and mother gone far too soon.

Malletts Bay principal Julie Benay helped organize the event with parents Molly MacArdle and Susan Bokelberg. Each said they wanted to provide students and the community at-large a chance to say goodbye.

Benay recalled Bonfigli as an “incredibly warm, talented, smart and funny” teacher who taught with precision and cared incredibly for each student.

She then read a poem by David Culiner found on a shirt of Bonfigli’s, titled, “LovethisLife,” a phrase described as a celebration of the moment and a recognition that “we’re not guaranteed or owed another day.”

“LovethisLife…
is about welcoming the blind turn
and the possibility that
there’s no such thing as coincidence.”

One mother recalled walking into Bonfigli’s classroom for the first time, carrying the backpack of her oldest daughter who started third grade the following day. Recognizing the scene, Bonfigli gently grabbed the backpack from the anxious parent.

Kathy Bonfigli

“We don’t wear backpacks anymore,” Bonfigli said, assuring the parent her daughter was in good hands.

Susan Bokelberg recalled Bonfigli’s calming presence for two of her three children.

“She was so skilled and had so much experience, when my kids needed something extra, she always did it,” Bokelberg said. “She made an impression for me and my kids, and we just wanted to say goodbye and thank you.”

Of the turnout, Bokelberg said, “It just shows what a special person she was.”

After her death, Bonfigli’s family asked donations be made to The Kathy Bonfigli Playground and Active Play Fund, which the Colchester School District will use to support kids in all manners of play. The fund has already raised $4,000, Benay said, some of which will go toward new bike racks at Malletts Bay School, a nod to Bonfigli, who set out each summer with a goal of biking 1,000 miles.

Her daughter, Gabby, said Bonfigli had a map of every Vermont road. She’d highlight the new ones each year and hoped to one day ride them all.

Movement became a large part of life for Bonfigli, who was also a talented tennis player, and this focus influenced her classroom as well. She understood the importance of taking a few minutes each day to ensure preparedness, Gabby said, adding her own job as a worksite wellness coordinator is a byproduct of how she was raised.

Bonfigli’s daughter, Gabby, left, throws a rock into Malletts Bay. (Photo by Colin Flanders)

Like the child of any beloved parent, Gabby is well versed in her mother’s legacy, and admitted she often heard stories about her mother’s impact on students. Still, it wasn’t until people showed up on Sunday that she realized just how important those years were.

“It really helps knowing that we’re all in this together,” Gabby said. “Just to continue hearing those stories is what I would like — keeping her spirit alive in every single way possible.”

Gabby trailed behind the group as it set out on the dock. Once the dock was clear, she walked out alongside her husband and cousin, rocks in hand, and skipped a few across the surface, laughter ringing above the distant ting of a boat somewhere in the bay.

“Remember that the lake has been there for a really long time, and the lake will be here a really long time,” Benay said to the group before heading down to the dock.

“And so will Mrs. Bonfigli.”

Donations to The Kathy Bonfigli Playground and Active Play Fund can be made out to Colchester School District, Attn: Kathy Bonfigli Playground Fund and mailed to George Trieb, business manager, Colchester School District, P.O Box 27, Colchester, VT 05446.