Jim Bonner, 90, a longtime milkman who became a Garden State Park teller after home delivery of dairy products became obsolete, died Tuesday, Jan. 21, of brain cancer at his home in the Oak Valley section of Deptford Township.
Born and raised in Grays Ferry, Mr. Bonner was one of 11 children. He grew up in poverty during the Great Depression. His father died when he was 9.
His mother, Maryellen, called him “Harp,” after Harpo Marx, the comedian and mime artist who wore a curly red wig. As a boy, Mr. Bonner, also had long, curly red hair.
He earned money by peddling holy water to his South Philadelphia neighbors and selling programs to fans attending sporting events at Franklin Field. Those early experiences as a salesman helped him land a job as an adult, his family said in a statement.
He attended Southeast Catholic High School, now Neumann-Goretti, but dropped out to join the Army and was deployed to Japan.
After serving in the military, Mr. Bonner met Peggy Masciulli at a dance in St. Aloysius Church at 26th and Tasker Streets.
“She asked him if he would accompany her to the Hallahan High School prom,” the family’s statement said. "He said yes.” Married in 1953, they were together for 66 years.
Mr. Bonner was a star baseball player in the competitive Philadelphia Industrial League. He had been recruited to do factory work at General Electric so he could play on the company baseball team. The teams competed in games throughout the Philadelphia area.
“He loved to tell the story of his best game at Graterford prison, where he hit two home runs for the visiting team,” his family said. A man of small stature, he wasn’t generally a home-run hitter.
He enjoyed the baseball at GE but not the fumes in the factory, he told family, so he switched careers. For 32 years starting in the early 1950s, he worked as a milkman for Martin Century Farms, Lehigh Valley Dairy Farms, Foremost Farms, and Abbott’s Dairies.
He left the house at 2:30 a.m. and went to work, delivering milk, cream, butter, ice cream, and eggs as a member of Teamsters Local 676.
“He never complained,” said son Dennis. “He never knew rush hour. He would go into people’s houses (the doors were unlocked) and put the milk in the refridge. The people would leave the money on the table for him.”
When milk home-delivery became a thing of the past, he landed a job as a teller at Garden State Park, where he worked for another decade. He told family he never missed a day of work in 40 years.
After living in Southwest Philadelphia during the early days of their marriage, the Bonners moved to Oak Valley, Deptford Township, in 1959. They had three sons.
A community volunteer, Mr. Bonner helped establish St. Margaret’s Parish in Woodbury Heights. He was a third-degree knight of the Knights of Columbus Council 1994, Woodbury, and a member of VFW Post 7679, Mantua.
He was a member of the Pitman Men’s Golf Association for more than 50 years and a founding father, baseball manager, and coach for the Oak Valley Athletic Association.
“Harp made friends wherever he went,” his family said. “No matter the occasion, Harp always had a crowd around him, as he regaled the group with his stories.”
He enjoyed bowling and playing the Pitman Golf Course two or three times a week for almost 60 years, rain or shine, walking and carrying his golf bag into his 80s. He played on courses as far away as Ireland.
More than anything else, Mr. Bonner doted on his grandchildren and great-grandchildren, following their games and activities throughout South Jersey.
Besides his wife, Margaret, and son, Dennis, he is survived by sons James and Michael Bonner; 10 grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren.
Services were Saturday, Jan. 25.