Richard Bonner

Wasatch’s original champion

Born and raised in Midway, Richard is one of the many local residents who carries the Bonner surname. Unlike the rest of the Bonner clan, Richard can stake claim to one other title: Wasatch High School’s first state wrestling champion.

Today’s Heber Valley residents call the three red houses that don the corner of Main Street and 100 East in Midway “Racehorse Lane.” During Richard Bonner’s childhood, however, these buildings were simply “home.”

From his time helping out on his Uncle Floyd’s farm as a child, Richard was no stranger to hard work. That work ethic paid off when Richard started wrestling during the 1952 – 1953 school year. Weighing in at a whopping 98 pounds, he was the smallest member of the team. Coach Marion Tree had brought the wrestling program to the Heber Valley and, despite his size, it was quickly apparent that wrestling was something at which Richard excelled. His passion and talent were evident, and he went on to win the state championship his junior year — a first for Wasatch High School.

After high school Richard moved to California, only to return to the valley and marry his wife, Carol. Much akin to a classic love story, the pair kept in touch while he was away, sending hand-written letters back and forth. When asked how they met, Richard jokes that he walked out of Chicks Café one day, only to find Carol sitting in his car waiting for a ride home. Carol’s version — they met through family members — is a bit more believable, but not quite as entertaining.

As an adult, Richard’s passion for wrestling once again emerged when he and Ed Clyde started what is now known as Little Wasp Wrestling. After seeing how much the kids thrived in a two-week wrestling camp put on by Jack Bishop, Richard and Ed, they decided to create a weekend wrestling program in Wasatch County.

Richard poured his heart and soul into the program. He spent hours matching kids up — determined to find combinations that would guarantee each wrestler got at least one win — and helped cultivate their love and passion for the sport.

Hundreds of kids joined the program. As the program grew, it really began to formulate into something Wasatch County could rally behind and support. By the program’s third year, community sponsorship from local businesses was strong, the kids were making a name for themselves and some of the kids were invited to wrestle outside of Wasatch County.

At this point, Steve Sanderson, the father of Olympic gold medalist Cael Sanderson, was hired. Sanderson helped bring the program into the national spotlight and was influential in expanding the styles of wrestling taught in the program. Little Wasps Wrestling has grown over the past few decades and continues to give young wrestlers a place to develop their discipline, skills and love for the sport.

After almost 60 years of marriage, the stories Richard and Carol have to share about life, raising children and staying in love are full of wisdom, humor and a dash of sarcasm. Over the years, they raised nine children of their own, fostered two others and welcomed into their home too many neighborhood children to count. At times, Carol was feeding 15 children breakfast before school. As a family man raising his children to have a strong work ethic, Richard lead by example and often worked multiple jobs so his wife could stay home with their children.

He was a moonlight painter, a sheet-metal worker and insulation installer. He spent eight years on the Wasatch County School Board and 32 years as a volunteer fireman in Wasatch County. He and Carol also owned a local pizza place called Van Jo’s — a spot that also served Snelgrove Ice Cream and was located where June Pie and Vacuum Villa are today.

The legacy Richard has created in the Heber Valley is one built over time through deep community involvement, selfless service and love. Whether it be through the lives of his nine children, 33 grandchildren and soon-to-be 19 great-grandchildren, or through the lives of the parents, coaches and wrestlers who participate in Little Wasp Wrestling, our community will forever be blessed and strengthened by Richard Bonner’s lifetime of service.

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