DECORATED WW II VET, LYN BONIN, ABANDONS "OLD WORLD" TO BEGIN LIFE ANEW AT COAST
Thursday, December 15, 2005
By Jim Carnett
(Jim was an Orange Coast College student in the early 1960s. Now in his 35th year as Director of Community Relations, he is editor of Coast-to-Coast. This is a regular column that focuses on OCC’s history and distinctive characteristics and characters.)
She’s been an ambulance driver; a shoemaker; a medical assistant; a nurse; an addressograph operator; a secretary; a comptroller; a switchboard operator; an assistant buyer; a school bus driver; and, an Orange Coast College professor.
Dr. Adelyn Bonin
“You name it, I’ve done it,” she says with a laugh.
Dr. Adelyn I. Bonin has lived a life filled with adventure. It hasn’t always been comfortable, but neither has it been dull.
She came to OCC in the fall of 1959 to teach German language classes. That was more than a decade after she’d served on the front lines of North Africa, Italy and Austria, during World War II. As a member of the British military, she’d faced the best that Gen. Erwin Rommel’s vaunted Afrika Korps could throw at her.
“Lyn,” as her friends and colleagues knew her, remained a member of OCC’s faculty for 24 years until her retirement, at the age of 63, in 1983. Now 85, she lives contentedly and with gratitude in South Orange County.
Lyn’s life seems almost to have been one gigantic E-ticket ride. She let the public in on her story when she wrote her fascinating autobiography, “Allegiances,” published by Fithian Press in 1993. I had the enormous privilege of reading one of the advanced copies of her work, and was mesmerized.
Bonin was born in pre-fascist Berlin in the summer of 1920…an extraordinary time in European and world history. It was a period of enormous social upheaval between the World Wars. Youth was ruling everything…not unlike today’s state of affairs.
“Berlin, (of the early 1920s), aroused powerful emotions in everyone,” wrote author Peter Gay. “It delighted most, terrified some, but left no one indifferent.”
The product of Prussian-Jewish landowners, Lyn thoroughly enjoyed her childhood in the German capital. She had no idea that being Jewish differentiated her in any way from her fellow classmates at the school she attended at the local gymnasium. When she was 13, however, Adolph Hitler officially came to power and Lyn – and the rest of the world – discovered that things would never be the same again.
Though she’d not been raised Jewish, in 1933 – much to the surprise of her school chums and playmates – Adelyn, and the rest of the Bonin family, was labeled “Non-Aryan” by the Nazi government. Because there was Jewish blood in the family, Lyn was excluded from attending the public education system. She stayed home for a year before her mother could find a private school that would accept her.
Because of what her society forced upon her, Lyn began to develop a thirst to know more about her Jewish heritage. She convinced her parents to allow her to join a kibbutz in Palestine. That decision had long-term ramifications…and ended up saving her life. In 1936, at the age of 16, she left Germany for Palestine as part of the Youth Aliyah Movement.
Lyn’s parents remained in Germany. She never saw them again. They perished at Auschwitz.
Lyn’s introduction to Palestine was not a completely comfortable one. Though she found it highly instructive to live life as a Jew on a kibbutz, she discovered that life on the kibbutzim could be difficult…even harsh. The farms demanded physical labor far beyond anything that she had encountered as a somewhat pampered young German girl. She became a shoemaker by trade at the kibbutz, and learned how to hand-craft sandals and work boots.
She left the kibbutz after two years and lived in England for a time. In 1940, the petite young woman survived the Battle of Britain. She watched as the British people bravely and stoically stood alone against the Nazi onslaught from the air. She enlisted in the British army in 1942 and served as an ambulance driver on the front lines in North Africa and Italy. She was assigned to the only female unit on the front line.
A member of General Bernard Law Montgomery’s 8th Army, she participated in the second battle of El Alamein – a decisive turning point in the war and a huge victory for Montgomery over German Field-Marshal Rommel. She spent three years on the front lines and won six decorations. She received three battle stars, including: the Africa Star, the Italy Star and the Battle of England Star.
As a front-line field ambulance driver, she could deftly maneuver a “Meat Wagon” through harsh desert conditions – and chaotic field circumstances – like almost no ambulance driver you’ve ever seen.
Lyn later served in Austria as part of the occupation army. She’d risen to the rank of sergeant by the time she was discharged in 1946. At that time, the news that was filtering out of Germany and Poland was bad. It was, in fact, a stench that covered the entire continent of Europe. She came to the realization that her parents could not have possibly survived Auschwitz.
“I’ve never known when or exactly how they died,” she says. “I only know that they didn’t survive the war.”
She made a brief return to Palestine, and then immigrated to the United States in 1948.
Lyn’s extraordinary book, “Allegiances” – published in April of 1993 – is based upon her memories, the journals that she kept during the war, and the letters she wrote to – and received from – her parents. It’s a gripping tale.
She lived for a time with an uncle in Chicago after the war, but, without a high school diploma, worked in menial jobs. She moved to Southern California and was employed as a file clerk, sales clerk and medical assistant. She was also a hospital switchboard operator, an assistant buyer, and she drove a school bus.
But Lyn was just too darned bright to settle for a life without apparent direction. Her salvation came through the American higher education system.
After encouragement from friends who seemed well aware of her amazing potential, she enrolled at Riverside City College in 1953 and earned an A.A. degree at the age of 35. Two years later she completed a B.A. in German – with high honors – from UC Riverside. She minored in anthropology and sociology, and earned numerous scholarships. Two years after that, she finished an M.A. degree in German from UCLA. In 1979, at the age of 58, she completed her doctorate at Nova University.
Lyn did additional graduate study at UC Berkeley, the University of Wisconsin, and the Goethe Institute in Munich.
She was a teaching assistant at UCLA for two years before being hired in the fall of 1959 at Orange Coast College. She was 39. Lyn began as a German instructor and retired 24 years later as a full professor of German. She also taught non-credit courses for the foreign born in English and French.
During her second year on staff, she had an article published in the national community college publication, The JC Journal. The article was titled “A Language Lab For Teaching English to the Foreign Born.” The topic would become her area of expertise and her passion.
During her more than two decades at Coast she visited Europe every summer, and spent considerable time in Germany. As an Orange Coast College professor, she considered herself thoroughly American, and harbored no bitterness or hostility toward the German people for what had happened during the war. She expressed to her students on numerous occasions that it was wrong to continue to hate or to hold an entire nation responsible for the actions of a few.
Lyn was a proud United States citizen.
“Years ago,” she said during a 1979 interview with an OCC campus publication, “people used to describe the U.S. as a country whose streets were lined with gold. I believe the gold is still present. Only in the United States could an individual like myself, with no high school diploma, succeed in completing a doctorate and teach at a college.”
While at Coast, Lyn served as director of the college’s Foreign Languages Lab. She spent two terms on the Academic Senate, and was advisor for more than a decade to the campus international club, the Polyglots. She was involved with the Study Abroad Program, and also spent a year on the Curriculum Committee. She was a member of the American Association of Teachers of German, the Orange County Foreign Language Association, and the OCC Faculty Association.
During her many trips to Europe, Lyn enjoyed hiking and mountain climbing. She was also an avid golfer, swimmer and painter.
And, she never lost her delightful Berlin accent!
Lyn was a person who had a huge impact upon the lives of countless Orange Coast College students…and staff members! All who knew her loved her. Many of her former students remained her lifelong friends.
Dr. Adelyn I. Bonin is remembered at her beloved OCC…where campus boulevards, to this day, are lined with gold!
WE GET MAIL…
Enjoyed your newsletter as always. Regarding the note from Don Reuter about Peter Ellis Jones (Orange Slices, “The Brit Who Lived Amongst Us (And Actually Liked Us!),” Dec. 1, 2006), I'll bring you up-to-date.
The Peter Jones who was on an exchange in 1967-68 from Wales to OCC, is still alive and kicking. He exchanged with Jon Brand. He has been in the Wales higher education system since his return to Wales. He retired about three years ago. He never became involved with the oil industry. The second Peter Ellis Jones is simply a man by the same name but no connection to the Jones we knew.
OCC History Professor (1956-90)
As always, you've done a great job with Coast to Coast. I really appreciate having such a well-designed and executed paper to read every week to keep up with campus news and learn other interesting information.
My office is right across the hall from room 224, where Vanessa Parmelee worked. I had the pleasure of seeing her daily, and we often had conversations – most less than a couple of minutes long (we're always rushing around this place!), but others, thankfully, longer. She liked hearing about my new baby (or she was just humoring me!); and, every once in a while, when I would forget my office keys or lock them inside the office, she was the one I ran to. She was down-to-earth, cheerful and kind, and I will miss her.