The Bonawitz family – Cole, Parker, Brynlee, Chad, Erin and Mason – react to friends sharing memories about them.Mason Bonawitz transfers a blue plastic egg to the plastic spoon in Ethan Stockton's mouth for a party game.

SCOUTING AROUND: Community bids farewell to Bonawitz family

    Several families and others gathered Saturday night to say goodbye to the family that brought them together over the years. The Bonawitz family – Chad, Erin and their kids Cole, Brynlee, Mason and Parker – are moving to Spokane, Wash., on March 1.
    “We wanted to have a farewell party for the Bonawitz family because they have been such a special part of our community,” said Andrea Lowrance, one of the organizers for the event.
    “They worked hard to make our community a better place.”
    Things they have done include forming Murphy Slackers, getting a slackline park installed at Konehete Park, creating the annual father and daughter dance in Andrews, starting the Easter chalk walk event in Murphy, planning community camping trips and play dates, and opening their home for gatherings and Christian study.
    Overall, many people said members of the family were leaders in many ways.
    “Anyone lucky enough to know this inspirational family knows that they are always the first to offer moral and practical support, from organizing events, to boosting friends in need, to opening their home and sharing meals with new acquaintances,” Megan Senger said.
    Chad Bonawitz said in their eight years here, they saw gaps in the community, and he wanted to seal those gaps. They worked to bring people together.
    “I think one of the impressive features of this family is their consistent emphasis on including and welcoming all people,” Lowrance said. “Although zealous Christians themselves, they always seemed to emphasize that they did not want to further separate the community by religion, but rather believed in bringing all types of people together.”
    Party-goers were encouraged to dress up in a costume or dressy clothing. Erin Bonawitz went with both ideas and wore Belle’s yellow ball gown from
Beauty and the Beast to symbolize the dance they started for fathers and daughters.
    The event featured a slideshow of memories, personal tributes, games and dancing. While introducing the slideshow, Karah Thompson spoke of the family’s influence.
    “You’ve challenged us to think more about what kind of friends we are,” she said, adding that everyone was grateful for what they’ve done and the relationships they helped form. “I don’t think we would have been connected if it wasn’t for these center spokes that took us in.”
    Emilie Gates, who purchased the Bonawitz’s house with her husband, Chad Erickson, said she planned to continue what the Bonawitz family started by opening the house to the community.
    In their new adventure, Chad Bonawitz will be taking a two-year residency with Soma Church to prepare for starting a congregation on the East Coast. He had been having conversations with people involved with the non-denominational church for about four years before making the decision.
    “They see everyday life as effective,” he said. “They don’t define church as a meeting on weekends.”
    For the residency, Bonawitz needs to raise $10,000 each year, which goes toward training and travel. He said God showed him they were making the right decision, as he was quickly offered a job in Spokane and quickly sold their house in Culberson to friends.
    Chad, Erin and the kids said they would miss all the people they’ve gotten to know here the most. Brynlee and her best friend, Austin Rose, planned to write letters to each other and connect via Facetime.
    Cole did some research about his new state, and learned he wouldn’t have to miss many of the outdoor activities he enjoys here.
    “I think I’m going to like it,” he said, adding that they would be living in a valley surrounded by mountains twice the size of the ones in Cherokee County. “There’s whitewater rafting up there, and climbing.”
    To learn more about residency and contribute, visit the website chadbonawitz.com/soma.
    Samantha Sinclair is the Scouting Around columnist for the Cherokee Scout. You can reach her by email, scoutingaround@cherokeescout.com; fax, 837-5832; or by leaving a message at 837-5122.