Her own disability can't deter Bonnie's goal to help others

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Bonnie Abols is no stranger to adversity. She lost her hearing as a young mother and is a two-time cancer survivor.

It was during her battles with cancer that she learned there was no support group for deaf cancer patients. She decided to remedy that problem and started a group three years ago that meets regularly at Miriam Hospital. That went well, with the group averaging between 15 and 20 members. But then Bonnie found it difficult to always provide refreshments for the group. They needed money.

That’s when Bonnie conceived of using her 75th birthday as the reason to throw a party to raise the funds.

“It was all her idea,” said Jennifer Thran, Bonnie’s daughter and only child. Thran and her husband Matthew jumped on the plan that came together Saturday afternoon at the St. Benedict Church hall in Conimicut. They helped arrange for a buffet that had people coming back for seconds. Joseph Vono, who regularly plays and sings at the Pilgrim Senior Center, provided the music that had many people swinging on the dance floor. Funds were raised through donations and a raffle.

“I’m very proud to say she’s my mother,” Thran said in opening remarks. She told how Bonnie “pioneered” the support group when she realized there was nothing of its kind for the deaf battling cancer.

“We know it is very cold outside,” she said, “but not here where it’s very warm.”

Indeed, there was a warm and affectionate turnout of more than 50 for Bonnie. Many were from the support group, as well as the Pilgrim Senior Center, where Bonnie is a regular attendee. Mayor Scott Avedisian was among those to stop in and wish Bonnie happy birthday.

Warwick director of senior services Meg Underwood has known Bonnie since she started attending the Pilgrim Senior Center. Underwood called Abols “very active.”

“She loves music, she loves to dance. It’s a joy to watch her,” said Underwood.

Underwood also called Bonnie “very generous and positive…a fundraiser you don’t get more generous than that.”

Thran told the story of her father, Arnis Abols, who died in 2009. Arnis was born in Latvia and was a boy when the Nazis invaded. They grabbed his father, who was never seen again, and forced his mother to become an army cook. It was during this time that Arnis developed an ear infection. German doctors operated but the outcome was not good and he lost his hearing. Following the war his mother, through her connection with her brother who lived in Canada, was able to get to this country and arrange for Arnis to be treated in Boston. His hearing was never restored.

Thran believes her parents first met at a church retreat in New Jersey in the early ’70s. Bonnie grew up in New Jersey and was hearing impaired from birth. She lost all hearing in 1982.

As the story goes, Bonnie made an indelible impression and Arnis returned to the retreat the following year in hopes of seeing her again. Their courtship lasted about a year, with Arnis driving from Providence to Methuen, New Jersey every weekend. They were married in December 1974 and settled in Rhode Island, where Arnis became the head of the anatomy lab at Brown University. Bonnie, who earned degrees at Rhode Island College and URI, worked as a secretary in a manufacturing company.

Bonnie continues to live in Warwick. She doesn’t let her disability slow her down, even on the dance floor.

Thran said the party was a success, although, she added, “she [Bonnie] doesn’t know what she’s going to do with all that food.”

As for the money, that will go to the support group.

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