Bonnie Sarge was just out for a trip with her friends. On vacation from boarding school in Mount Vernon, Ohio, they headed to Tacoma Pool, where she met her husband.
And her life was never the same.
Bonnie moved to Kentucky, got married, began substitute teaching and eventually found her way to Northern Kentucky State College, where she began a love affair with learning, graduating in NKU’s first class in 1973 with a bachelor’s in elementary education and in 1981 with a master’s in education.
Now a retired elementary school teacher living in Newport with a spectacular view of Cincinnati, Sarge wants to help many more students discover a love of learning through her planned gift to NKU.
“I believe to whom much is given, much is expected,” Bonnie said. “If you haven’t gotten the idea, my life was improved beyond all my wildest expectations at NKU. I was given so much, and I want to give something in return.”
Bonnie and her husband had always given to NKU, generous gifts for a school teacher and a man who worked in the Baldwin Piano Factory. When she retired, she began giving more modestly, but she knew she could give more by including NKU in her estate.
She wants students to experience what she did. When Bonnie came to NKU, it was the first time she looked through a microscope.
“We looked at the cell from a plant, and my mind was blown away,” Bonnie said. “I had never seen anything so beautiful. I thought, ‘How can anyone look at this and not believe in God?’”
Had she known how exciting science was, Bonnie would have majored in it. However, it would have required a lot of math – not her best subject.
“Math was always a struggle for me, but Dr. Joe Smith had a way of introducing concepts and material on the chalkboard that I just got it. I understood it for the first time,” Sarge said. “Because of what he taught me, I was able to pass statistics with an A in my master’s program.”
Bonnie chose NKU, because it was convenient and the most affordable. However, she said the cost belied the true value of the education she received. Demanding teachers like Bill Byron taught her how to write so that she excelled in English, literature, sociology and history classes. Kent Curtis challenged her in her master’s program, but she emerged as a better, more disciplined teacher. Robert Knauf took her to her first opera, and she used the skills she learned in his music courses to teach her church congregation new songs.
“I don’t think I had one teacher that was below outstanding,” Bonnie said. “I was so thrilled to be getting an education and for practically nothing.
“They cared about the students,” Bonnie said. “They weren’t just there taking up space. They wanted to impart on me what they knew and what they wanted me to know, and I wanted to do the same for my students.”
Bonnie taught Campbell County District Court Judge Karen Thomas in the third grade at St. Vincent DePaul School in Newport. Formerly a substitute teacher, the principal moved Bonnie into the classroom permanently after seeing how effective she was.
“My most vivid memory of Mrs. Sarge is that she was an animated teacher,” Thomas said. “She didn’t lecture from a desk but moved around the room to keep her students involved and motivated. That’s not an easy task to accomplish with a bunch of third-graders anxious for the final bell, but accomplish it she did.”
Bonnie knew how exciting knowledge could be. Her education introduced her to new subjects and topics and she wanted to give her students the same experience.
“I felt like a sponge,” Bonnie said. “I absorbed everything I was learning like someone who was dying of thirst.”
Tricia Macke, now an anchor on FOX 19 news, remembers how Bonnie encouraged the class to make a difference. Together, the class constructed a model of a park they wanted to build on vacated property near their school.
“Unfortunately, to this day, that area in Newport has never been utilized,” Macke said. “I go past that land a couple of times a week and still think about what could have been. And I always think about the way Mrs. Sarge pushed all of us to make a difference.”
Like her students, Bonnie lived in the neighborhood where she taught. Her students got to know her in and out of the classroom. Macke’s parents still live near Bonnie, so she still sees her former teacher.
“For one, she has never changed,” Macke said of Mrs. Sarge. “As an adult, I have come to admire her quick wit and energy. She always has an opinion on something and is never shy about sharing it. I love that in people! She is always one to laugh loudly.”
Living in the area made Bonnie more knowledgeable about her students and the challenges they faced.
“I knew the parents didn’t have a lot of money, and some were hard pressed to pay the tuition,” Bonnie said. “By golly, I wanted to make sure they got their money’s worth.”
She was strict but fair and tried to incorporate everyday situations into the classroom to make the material more relatable to her young students.
“A teacher that can bring into the classroom experiences as well as an understanding of the local community is a very valuable thing,” Thomas said. “Mrs. Sarge was a big part of our community and her students were better for it. I have tried to emulate both of the above, as an adjunct professor at NKU and as a judge. If I do half as well as Mrs. Sarge, I will be very lucky.”