Tag Archives: fiance

A Story of Love & Dedication

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On October 19th, we celebrate the Feast of St. Luke, the patron saint of my parish. In my research, I found the following article in the Tacoma newspaper dated January 20, 1936. It is regarding Ms. Emma M. Unthank, the fiance of the Rev. Henry S. Bonnell, the first priest who died in 1884 (age 31). Her story of love and dedication to him is both heart warming and inspiring. I have reprinted here:

A little white-haired lady put fresh flowers on a 52-year-old grave in Tacoma cemetery today, keeping a tryst with her fiance of half-a-century ago. Every day since 1884, seasonable flowers have nodded over the grave; and every day except in the stormiest weather, Ms. Emma Unthank has seen to it they were in place.

The grave was that of the Rev. Henry S. Bonnell, an Episcopalian clergyman. In 1882, Mr. Bonnell, a tall, eager-eyed young man with the square cut full beard of his day, came to the wilderness of Washington Territory. A native of St. Peter’s Episcopal Parish, Brooklyn, and protege of Bishop Paddock of that city, he had just graduated from General Theological Seminary in New York.

Here in the Northwest he assumed the rectorate of St. Luke’s Church, Tacoma, and in addition rode a circuit through the valleys of the Puget Sound country. One of his charges was Christ Church, Puyallup. He was instrumental in founding the first Tacoma Young Man’s Christian Association. In Tacoma, too, he met Miss Unthank, then studying to be a school teacher. Petite and dark-haired, she attracted him immediately. They were affianced and the wedding date tentatively set.

Constant rain in the Sound country, however, aggravated a lung ailment from which the minister suffered. He contracted tuberculosis, went to California to recuperate and died there in 1884. His body was returned to Tacoma on almost the exact day that been set for his wedding. Miss Unthank, remained here and become a teacher in the city schools. She continued in this position until a few years ago. Generations of children passed under her tutelage without guessing of her after-school pilgrimages to the cemetery five miles from her home.

She never married.

A few days ago a curious visitor to the cemetery noticed the flowers on the old grave. Investigating, he learned the whole story from the Rev. E.C. Schmeiser, present rector of the Puyallup church, who was one of the few persons cognizant of Ms. Unthank’s half century of devotion. Miss Unthank retired from active teaching some time ago. She and her sister, also unmarried, continued to live together in an old-fashioned house. Rain was threatening in Tacoma today and few visitors were expected to the cemetery. But attendants waited confidently for the arrival of a sprightly little old lady-she’s nearly 75 now-who would surely come with flowers for the lover of fifty-two years ago.

I hope you found that story heart-warming as I did. Ms. Unthank died, unmarried, on the 23rd of February 1941, age 82. She is also buried in the old Tacoma cemetery in the same grave as her sister, Minnie. The cross on our altar is in memoriam of the Rev. Henry Bonnell on which is inscribed “He was a bright and shining light.” May we also be remembered as such.