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Save Mount Diablo Mourns Founder Bonwell

Update: Art Bonwell of Concord passed away July 14.

Save Mount Diablo Mourns Founder Bonwell

Update, 6:25 p.m. July 20, more obituary information.

Save Mount Diablo is mourning the recent passing of a founder of the preservation organization, Art Bonwell of Concord.

Bonwell died on Saturday, July 14, according to a post on the Save Mount Diablo website.

He found himself appointed chairman of a Sierra Club subcommittee more than four decades ago and took on the task. "I didn't think Mount Diablo was getting enough attention," he said. The organization was founded Dec. 7, 1971.

His ally in the effort was the late Mary Bowerman, a researcher on the plants of the devil mountain. "I was the organizer and she was the inspiration," Bonwell says in a SMD video. Together they oversaw the preservation of open space and the development of a comprehensive series of trails.

SMD has scheduled a celebration of Bonwell's life at 3 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 19, in the Mitchell Canyon Staging Area of Mount Diablo State Park on the Clayton side.

Bonwell was born April 28, 1927 in Dana, Ind., a town of 700. When he returned to Dana in 1987 to care for his elderly mother, he was elected to the town council in 1988 and served as the town council’s President for several years before returning to California in 1993, according to a Save Mount Diablo news release.

Contributions in Mr. Bonwell's name can be made to:

Concord Historical Society, PO Box 404, Concord CA 94522


Save Mount Diablo, 1901 Olympic Blvd., Suite 320, Walnut Creek, CA 94596

More obituary information from the SMD news release:

Between his junior and senior years in high school Bonwell worked for Western Union. From April 1945 to 1948 he served in the U.S. Navy as an electronics technician. After graduating from Purdue University with a B.S.E.E. in 1951 he went to work for a Dupont ordinance works built at the start of World War II in Dana.  In 1956, he transferred to the Organic Chemicals Dept. and moved to California to help build and operate the Dupont-Antioch Works where he was a Process Control Engineer, while living in Concord.  He retired in 1982 at age 55 but had already begun the equivalent of a second career, in conservation.

Bonwell was active in both the Contra Costa Park Council and in the Sierra Club. In 1969 he became Chairman of the Central Contra Costa County Conservation Committee of the Sierra Club’s S.F. Bay Chapter. Botanist Mary Bowerman was also a member and repeatedly brought attention to increasing threats to Mount Diablo and that the State was doing little to protect it or to enlarge the small State Park there. Art suggested that they organize a group to work specifically on Mt. Diablo issues. In 1971 Art and Mary co-founded Save Mount Diablo, which he considered the most important work of his life. 

Save Mount Diablo has helped expand protected lands on Mount Diablo from just one park of 6,788 acres in 1971 to more than forty parks and preserves totaling 110,000 acres in 2012. Bowerman was recognized for providing Save Mount Diablo’s early vision but it was Bonwell’s organizational skills which created the organization and aided in its growth to more than 8,000 supporters today. Art served Save Mount Diablo in many roles over the last forty-one years including as its President, Vice-President, member of the Executive and Land Committees, as well as the first webmaster. At the time of his death he was a Board Member Emeritus and continued to serve on the organization’s Land Committee.  While serving Save Mount Diablo, such well known areas of Mount Diablo as Mitchell, Back and Donner Canyons were preserved, as well as North Peak, Pine Ridge and Canyon, and the Blackhills.

In 1971, Bonwell founded the Diablo Wheelman bicycle club, which organized rides and trips, many of them more than 500 miles, throughout northern California and Oregon.  It eventually grew to 450 members.

Art was closely associated with the Concord Historical Society, where he served as a member of the Board of Directors from 1996 until 2009.  He edited the Society’s newsletter, changing its name from Newsletter to Concord Historian in 1998. He updated and expanded the Society’s web site.  He also began the oral history interviews, recruited the interviewers, arranged the transcriptions and loaded them on to CHS computers for easy access. 

Bonwell was a taciturn mid-westerner, both gregarious and fiercely independent.  He was continuously doing whatever was needed from carpentry to lobbying elected officials in Sacramento.  He actively campaigned for legislators such as Senator John Nejedly, Assemblyman-Senator Dan Boatwright, County Supervisors-Assemblymen-Senators Tom Torlakson and Mark De Saulnier, and County Supervisor-Assemblyman Joe Canciamilla.

During Bonwell’s tenure on the Dana, Indiana town council from 1988 to 1993 and as council president, the town got a new well, sidewalks, and playground equipment.  He was always helping others to pursue their passion, and better their lives. He helped several bicyclists become accomplished racers, and mentored several other young adults and teenagers.  He never hesitated to offer his physical labor to make others’ pursuits a possibility.

During his life Art received many awards including a State of California Golden Bear Award, the 1996 Chevron Times-Mirror Magazine National Conservation Award, in 1999 Save Mount Diablo’s first Mountain Star Award, and in 2000 Diablo Magazine’s Threads of Hope Award for Lifetime Achievement.

Bonwell is survived by his sister Jane Bonwell of Indianapolis, Ind.

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