Kimonos & Courage

Would you leave your job, your house, your family, and your friends to live in a foreign country where you don’t know the culture or the language? What would it take for you to do this? For Bonnie Dennes and her husband, it was a calling to love others.

In 1997, Bonnie and her husband, Richard, volunteered at a youth camp in Japan for two weeks after hearing about the mission through their church. There, they helped missionaries – they cooked, cleaned, rebuilt roofs, and taught kids from elementary age to high school. This trip changed their lives.

“I didn’t like to travel,” Bonnie said. “I didn’t even like to go into Canada.”

Yet, over the next 10 years, she spent 13 hours in a plane flying from the United States to Japan, crossing 6000 miles, countless times.

In 1998, Bonnie and Richard decided to leave their jobs (Bonnie as the Vice President of Operations at an insurance company and Richard as a salesman), sell their house, and move to Japan as missionaries. Their kids were already grown and out of the house, so they didn’t see a reason to not go.

“We just wanted to come alongside and help,” Bonnie said. “If people know that you’re there to truly love and accept them, they are very loving and accepting back.”

After receiving training from SEND International, a nonprofit that trains and quips missionaries, Bonnie and her husband began helping at the missionary camp they had visited. Over the next few years, they taught English to 160 students, and they loved it. Bonnie also worked for the International Mission of Japan and Home Mission of Japan, while her husband was on staff at the Christian Academy of Japan and a preaching pastor.

While in Japan, they lived in a Japanese neighborhood and rode their bikes as transportation, so they could be a part of the community and truly get to know people. Learning a new language and a new culture doesn’t come without its hardships, but Bonnie and her husband saw it as an adventure —and they have a lot of funny stories.

“I remember ordering from Pizza Hut and asking for a meat lovers pizza,” Bonnie said laughing. “Well, what came back was a pizza covered with squid, fish, and other seafood.”

In 2008, Bonnie and her husband decided to move back to the United States after Richard experienced serious health issues that needed medical attention in the U.S. Though they had come home intermittently over the years to raise support, they were now coming back to America for good.

“The reverse-culture shock was difficult; Japanese life is much different from American life.” Bonnie said. “Everything in Japan is smaller: the homes, the stores – and you don’t have central heat. You also go everywhere on a bike, so you grocery shop three to four times a week.”

Bonnie and Richard came home to nothing – no jobs and no house. They had to start over. So, while Richard received the care he needed, Bonnie began working for the CEO of Arbor Hospice, where her mom had lived before she passed away. Bonnie then came to UMRC in 2009. Her mom, who had suffered from dementia, had also lived at Silver Maples of Chelsea, a UMRC community, while Bonnie was in Japan.

“I’ve seen what good care can do,” Bonnie said. “I saw what it did for my mom, and I knew that’s where I wanted to work.”

Juggling more than most, Bonnie can be seen going from one activity to the next, balancing a busy schedule. As the Senior Executive Assistant for UMRC’s CEO, John Thorhauer, and UMRC’s Senior Vice President and COO, Lori Potter, Bonnie is a multitasking extraordinaire.

“The leadership staff is why I work here,” Bonnie said. “They’re true blood; they are who they say they are, and they do what they say they will do. They’re honest and truly care for the residents.”

Bonnie and Richard have been married for 50 years. They enjoy spending time together, going on walks, and being with family. The couple has three children, seven grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren, with another one coming this fall.