Today May 26, 1933 Frank Bonnema was born in Merrill, Iowa to Dora (Mohlmann) & Harry Bonnema, Sr. Frank had four brothers and one sister. By 1939 the Bonnema family had moved to Le Mars, Iowa at: 509 2nd Ave. S.E. Le Mars is 6 miles N.E. of Merrill. In Fall 1939 Frank began elementary school at Franklin School. On December 12, 1939 the "Le Mars Daily Sentinel" newspaper printed its first group of Santa Claus Letters. Among them, one from Frank:
"I am in the 1st grade in Franklin School. For Christmas I would like a Caterpillar snow plough and a war tank, if this isn't to much to ask for, would like some candy and nuts and don't forget little Dennis Frerichs.
Franklin Delano Bonnema
509 2nd Ave. S.E.
Le Mars, Iowa"
In 1948 Frank began at Le Mars High School where he had an interest in sports. On February 11, 1951 Frank's father Harry Bonnema, Sr. died at age 55, after a two year illness. By December 1951 Frank had a part time job at "Le Mars Fruit & Grocery." In 1952 Franklin Bonnema graduated from Le Mars High School. Frank wrote sports stories for the "Le Mars Daily Sentinel" newspaper. On January 8, 1954 Franklin D. Bonnema enlisted in the U.S. Army and later served in Korea. On January 7, 1957 Frank finished his service in the U.S. Army and was released.
By June 1957 Frank was back living in Le Mars where he dated Barbara Manley from Sioux City, Iowa. She followed Frank to San Diego State College in California. On October 12, 1957, 24 year old Franklin Delano Bonnema married 20 year old Barbara L. Manley in San Diego. (They would later divorce in the early 1970's). Frank later attended the Don Martin School of Radio and Television in Hollywood. Frank Bonnema began his broadcasting career most likely, as a part time job, when he started work at KFMB Radio in San Diego. For more broadcast experience and full time work, the Bonnema's moved North to Sunnyside, Washington and KREW Radio. Then by September 1961 the Bonnema's had moved to Tacoma, where Frank was News Director at KTAC.
In 1962 the Bonnema's moved to Portland and this was first mentioned in "Broadcasting" magazine months before "The Oregonian." Here is the official announcement from April 30, 1962: "Rollie Truitt for 33 years play-by-play announcer of Portland Beaver baseball games on KGW Portland, Ore., retires. He is succeeded by Bob Blackburn & Frank Bonnema." Frank would become KGW's evening D.J. as well, running his program on either end of each game. Frank couldn't be with Bob Blackburn at Beaver games, which leads me to believe, games out of town were recreations with Bob and Frank at KGW studios.
On June 14, 1962 Frank Bonnema began weeknights on Rock & Roll "K-62, Radio KGW" 6:00pm to midnight and Sundays Noon to 5:00pm. On September 17, 1962 KGW switched format back to MOR (Middle Of the Road) as "The Station with The Happy Difference." Frank's show moved to 7:00pm to 1:00am weeknights. On January 1, 1963 Frank did his last deejay show and changed position to a KGW newscaster. On October 15, 1963 KGW replaced Frank and he was let go.
In October 1964 Frank Bonnema landed a job as a staff announcer of KPTV. Channel 12 had a programming problem Bonnema was also able to solve by becoming the research/host of "Matinee 12" which had begun March 2, 1964 from 1:30 to 4:00pm. Frank gathered resources from KPTV which included dozens of real old movies Channel 12 had acquired, plus some excellent research material. Frank had a genuine interest in these kinds of movies from 20 or 30 years ago, in fact he had books of his own.
Back then you could find Frank at "The Multnomah County Library" at least once a week researching films he would present by scrolling through New York Times microfilms. He would read obituary columns which were gold mines of personal information about old actors, directors and writers. Bonnema said: "When I really get stuck I turn to Monte Ballou and John Salisbury. If anybody in town has the answers, they will. I'm not really an expert at this and I think I work harder doing research than do hosts of other programs of this type. But it's fun, I enjoy it."
On April 25, 1965 Frank Bonnema began hosting "Let's Go Golfing" on KPTV a filmed show which featured local golf pro's giving pointers, Monday's at 10:00pm (Color). On Friday January 28, 1966 over on KOIN-TV "Portland Wrestling" aired for the last time at 11:15pm to Midnight with Bob McAnulty as emcee in the Crows Nest. On January 30, 1966 Frank Bonnema & Jimmy Jones covered the Oregon Invitational Track Meet on Channel 12.
On April 27, 1966 Frank & Jimmy began years of Portland Beaver's baseball "bringing you all the Live action direct from Multnomah Stadium" Jones called the action with Bonnema color commentary on KPTV. On May 8, 1966 Frank began hosting "Race of The Week" Sunday's at 4:30pm from Portland Meadows, interviewing the winning jockey.
On January 14, 1967 it was announced Live Wrestling would return to Portland Television Feb 17th. Frank said "The first wrestling show I broadcast was the second one I saw, Gordie White [KPTV Program Manager], who brought the show to KPTV, called me over one day and said, "Frank, we're doing Portland Wrestling a week from Friday, so you better go down this Friday and see what it's like." Bonnema wasn't worried with years of sportscasting under his belt, although he knew nothing about wrestling in the beginning. Frank was rarely rattled by the wild ravings of beefy wrestlers, he was calm, easy going and soft spoken. "If you can be natural on the air," Frank said, "it's so much easier."
On February 17, 1967 "Portland Wrestling" made its debut on KPTV from "The Portland Armory" at 109 N.W. 10th Ave. Friday nights from 9:30pm to 10:30pm with Frank Bonnema as host and Pepper Martin as consulting analyst. These matches were on the card that first night: (Tough) Tony Borne vs. Bobby Nichols. Lonnie Mayne vs. Woody Farmer. Bulldog Cody vs. Paul Jones. Pepper Martin vs. Pepi Montez. Little Beaver & Irish Jackie vs. Brutus & Sky Low. The winners were: Tony Borne, Woody Farmer, Paul Jones, Pepper Martin, Little Beaver & Irish Jackie.
On August 10, 1967 Frank & Barbara welcomed their first child, Kurt Alan Bonnema. On September 14, 1968 "Portland Wrestling" moved from Fridays to Saturdays 9:30pm to 10:30pm. "Portland Wrestling" live action also moved from "The Portland Armory" to "Memorial Coliseum." On September 28, 1968 Frank began "bringing you the play-by-play" of "Lewis & Clark Football" Live from Griswold Stadium.
On October 12, 1968 "Portland Wrestling" moved to the new "Portland Sports Arena" at 8725 North Chautauqua St. (formerly "Sea Lanes Marine" & "Chautauqua Lanes" bowling). To kickoff the the new sports arena, Promoter, Don Owen booked a match for the Pacific Northwest Heavyweight Tag-Team Wrestling Championship title between defending champs (The Blond Bomber) Lonnie Mayne & Beauregarde vs. The Von Steiger Brothers. The Von Steiger's won.
On March 22, 1969 "Portland Wrestling" expanded to 90 minutes in response to viewer demand. On July 5, 1969 Frank & Barbara welcomed daughter Keli Kay Bonnema. On January 20, 1970 Jimmy Jones & Frank Bonnema were teamed again for Portland State Univ. Basketball. In June 1970 the Frank Bonnema family were featured in "TV Radio Mirror" magazine. On September 5, 1970 "Portland Wrestling" moved an hour earlier to 8:30pm to 10:00pm Saturdays.
On May 8, 1972 Franklin Delano Bonnema married Anita Louise Denbeau Wagner Goodrich in Vancouver. They were both on their second marriages. They would later divorce and then remarry. Denbeau, Wagner & Goodrich had been Anita's last names, at different points in her life. On March 30, 31, 1974 Frank emceed KPTV's local cut-ins for the Easter Seal Telethon. On September 15, 1979 KPTV began tape delaying "Portland Wrestling", broadcasting the program 11:00pm to 12:30am on Saturday night, Sunday mornings.
By this time Frank Bonnema was taping a second wrestling show that same night after the taping of "Portland Wrestling." This was a syndicated version and was called "Big Time Wrestling." That program could be viewed on KIMA-TV Yakima, KEPR-TV Pasco (Tri-Cities) & KLEW (TV) Lewiston, Idaho. In Portland there had been another syndicated program also called "Big Time Wrestling" which was on KGW-TV beginning in 1961 and later on KPTV. By this time Frank was doing a Sunday morning Wrestling radio program on KYXI. On May 22, 1980 Frank's mother Dora died at age 89.
On July 7, 1982 Franklin Delano Bonnema remarried Anita Louise Denbeau in Portland. On Friday September 24, 1982 Frank suffered a heart attack and was rushed to Emanuel Hospital were he was conscious and talked with family members. On Saturday September 25, 1982 "Portland Wrestling" aired with fill in emcees Chuck Grinell & Dutch Savage. On September 27, 1982 Frank was listed in stable condition. On October 2, 1982 "Portland Wrestling" fill in emcees were Don Coss & Dutch Savage.
Early in the morning, on Tuesday October 5, 1982 Frank Bonnema died of cardiac arrest at Emanuel Hospital. He was 49 years old. On October 7th & 8th visitation for viewing was held at Caldwell's Colonial Mortuary from 12 noon to 8:00pm. On Saturday October 9, 1982 at 2:00pm services were held at Caldwell's Colonial Mortuary with private services concluding at Willamette National Cemetery. October 29, 1982 was the Interment date.
"He did a remarkable job. He was calm and cool and followed the action through the matches." said Portland Wrestling promoter Don Owen. "He was one guy Owen didn't find a way to send out of town, as he does his wrestlers --- and didn't want to. Portland Wrestling has a high rating and Frank was the face and voice everyone recognized," said former "Oregon Journal" Sports Editor, George Pasero.
"He was low key, a comfortable fellow to be with. He was cool, as Owen said, in his work. A pro. Had to be when he interviewed wrestlers who might suddenly swing at each other. He would wear a wry smile that seemed to ask, "What gives with these guys?" As if he didn't know it was all for the show."
Special Thanks to Joel Miller who helped make this radio & television biography more complete.
References: Broadcasting Magazine, Broadcasting Yearbook, Le Mars Daily Sentinel, The Oregonian.