Update: The Sun learned after press time that a service will be held at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, Aug. 8 at the Orchard Gathering Place in Carbondale.
By Will Grandbois
Sopris Sun Staff
The passing of teacher Bonnie Fischer has left a hole Crystal River Elementary — and, indeed, in Carbondale — 47 years deep.
“It won’t be the same. It can’t be,” said CRES Principal Matt Koenigsknecht. “I know that her impact will be felt for a long time. Her legacy is one of love and dedication to kids.”
Fischer, neé Mortensen, 75, succumbed to a years-long battle with cancer on Aug. 1. She grew up in Utah but graduated from Glenwood Springs High School after her father was transferred to the Mid-Continent mine in Redstone. She married her high school sweetheart, the late Jack Fischer, who was a soldier, and they had three children. Her firstborn, Steve, came into this world while Jack was stationed in Vietnam. They adopted Van from the fall of Saigon, and JooHee from Korea.
“No matter where I was or what I was doing she was there,” Steve recalled. “You could always depend on her no matter the situation.”
The same went for her students.
“It was always just about the kids. They were her life,” Steve said. “It was never going through the motions. She enjoyed every season and looked forward to every occasion.”
“She fought as long and hard as she could,” he added. “I’d like to thank the teachers and the community for the support. It didn’t go unnoticed.”
Fischer got her degrees at Mesa State and the University of Northern Colorado, and already had some teaching experience under her belt when she came to Carbondale Elementary as a special-ed teacher in 1970. She later moved into a role as a second grade teacher, and took on technology in time to introduce the school to early computers. Even to students who never had her in class, she was well known as the force behind assemblies and the school’s section of the Potato Day parade.
“She loved putting on shows and was involved with the whole school,” said fellow teacher Jerry Pluger. “She’d do Cinco de Mayo, the patriotic program, the Olympics… you name it.”
She wanted the kids to be part of the town, and the town to come to the kids.
“I felt strongly about bringing the community into the classroom, so I had doctors, firemen, and ranchers interacting with students,” Fischer told The Sun in 2014 after the park at the old elementary building — now the Third Street Center — was named in her honor.
“What do I love about it?” she added. “Watching them grow and change, and getting their little notes of appreciation and love.”
That appreciation persists in many of her pupils. Annie Tempest, now 27, drew heavily on her experiences in second grade as a classroom assistant last school year. She credits Fischer with starting her down the path of literacy that lead to an English degree.
“The first day of second grade she figured out that I couldn’t read at all, so she worked with me in class and set me up with extra help,” she recalled. “I think I learned to love reading that year.”
Tempest also recalls how Fischer transformed her classroom into a “butcher paper jungle” for a unit on dinosaurs.
“I remember being a second grader and thinking it was the coolest thing ever, and now looking back I don’t know how she did it,” she said. “When you see a teacher willing to go that far into another world, you get to travel with them.”
Her fellow educators took notice, as well.
“Bonnie was absolutely a master teacher and just an incredible lady,” said Sharon Cain, who taught from 1968 to 2001. “She was very perceptive and in tune with the kids and her energy level was always way out of sight. If a new teacher came to the building, she was always the first to welcome them.”
“To be able to do what she loves to do until almost the very end — what a gift that was,” she added.
Indeed, Fischer taught summer school at Crystal River Elementary until weeks before her death.
“If something was happening at the school, she wanted to be involved,” Koenigsknecht observed. “For her to have the same joy and vigor after so many years teaching is a model for us all.”
The school plans to have some sort of recognition event at the start of the school year, and a public memorial is also being arranged for sometime this month.
“We want to honor Bonnie. I wish she could be part of the ceremony,” Koenigsknecht said. “We’re all going to miss her, especially the kids.”