State of the Hogs: Charlie Bonner

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A few years back, Charlie Bonner was a reluctant player on the national stage. He had his brush with fame when Paris Hilton came to Franklin County to star in the television reality show, The Simple Life. Hilton worked on a farm near Altus, but found time to frequent Ozark.

Hilton hung out at the gas station on the east side of Ozark quite a few times, the place big Charlie Bonner worked. Charlie managed to snap a few pictures of Hilton wearing a Hog hat.

Eventually, he agreed to talk about the goings on with Chuck Barrett on his evening radio show. Finally, a few national talk shows found Bonner, too.

Too bad none of those TV cameras, radio folks — national or state — were around Ozark this past weekend. They could have done something with what happened at the Fair Grounds. The town held a benefit for Bonner to help in his fight against cancer. Over $21,000 was raised. They had a band, barbecue, events for children and a huge silent auction with over 300 items.

I know Charlie from a handful of fishing trips, including several to the White, Norfork and Mulberry rivers.

Here's what I can tell you about Charlie. He's got one of those really big, full figures. Most of it is heart. It didn't surprise me that over 1,000 folks turned out.

"I'm so thankful," he said. "People just did things that I could not imagine. Please, thank everyone. I tried to thank them in person, but I'm afraid I missed some."

Charlie, 29, is doing well. He'll have a scan at the end of the month to see what's happened to the more than 20 cancer tumors that were found three months ago. He's gone through five radical chemo treatments and doctors think those tumors have been dramatically reduced. More treatments may be needed and he might go to the famed MD Anderson Clinic in Houston.

"I think I'm doing good," Charlie said. "That's what my doctor tells me. I think I'm beating it. "The one thing I know, you have to fight. People see me and I can tell they think I'm dead. I'm not. I've got cancer, but not everyone dies."

Bonner is a bigger celebrity in Ozark than Hilton. He's also the star at the Department of Human Services where he's a social worker.

"Part of that is that I'm the only guy, out of about 20," he said. "I'm big brother to all of them. You should have seen them working at the benefit. Wow, from start to the end."

Charlie is big brother with the emphasis on big. Even when he's ill from chemo, he's still well over 300 pounds.

"It's funny, but all my life doctors have wanted me to lose weight," he said. "I need to. But this doctor, and I love him for it, Dr. (David) Mackey in Fort Smith, tells me to hold my weight.

"If I see something that looks good, he said, eat it. I've been doing that. I've lost about 10 pounds each time right after chemo, but I've gained it back."

That's supposed to be funny. If you are around Charlie Bonner, he wants you to laugh.

"This cancer thing," he said, "I've got nothing else to do right now, so I'll fight. I can do it."

He tried to do almost too much Saturday. Per his nature, he got up early, went to the deer woods, killed a deer with his muzzle loader. Then, he went to his son's football game, then to the benefit. The football game ran long so he was almost late to the fairgrounds.

Charlie is amazed at the way the community reached out. Both the high school and junior high coaches worried that he shouldn't sit in the stands at games because of a reduced immune system.

"So they made room for me in the press box where the coaches sit," he said. "I've learned more football in the last three months than I thought existed. They've been great. Can you stick this in the story? Go Hillbillies!"

The benefit went off without a hitch.

"My mom, my aunts and counsins and all the people from all over town did a great job," Charlie said. "I got pretty tired. I hadn't stood up that much since I got sick three months ago. We had some people there who had been to Ducks Unlimited fund raisers all over the state and they said nothing they'd seen was any better run.

"So many things were donated. One of my cousins — second cousin by marriage — donated an AR-15 Bushmaster semi automatic rifle. That sold for $1,900. The band, Willie Stradlin, played for about three hours. They were from Cecil and Caulksville.

"A lot of people from high school I hadn't seen in years were there. There were also a lot of people who graduated with my mom and dad. A lot drove in from other states."

There are some interesting stories on his dad, a wildlife officer for the state, Charlie Bonner Sr. He had given hunting or fishing violations to some who donated items.

"There was one man dad said he'd written a ticket on about 20 years ago and he brought a big donation check," young Charlie said.

Charlie Bonner Sr. laughed about that.

"That's all true," he said. "There are no words to describe what Debbie and I feel as parents. You can't express it. I teared up and so did she. God has blessed us. What we know with this is that God isn't through with Charlie here. We have people praying for him in Germany, India and other places all over the world."

Charlie Bonner Sr. was stunned when one of his good friends just removed from life threatening heart surgery showed up with a donation.

"He's 82, just had a surgery that the doctors told him he might not live through," he said. "Doctors told him to stay inside for at least one month. Rest. Don't go out. It's two weeks later and there he is. I was sitting in front of a power point show of Charlie as a young boy and there he is standing over me. He raises honey bees. He had a quart of honey to sell and a $50 check. That's all it took for me. I lost it.

"This all just depicts how a community pulls together. You hear about it, but when it happens it just overwhelms you."

Charlie had his fifth chemo treatment Wednesday. He was in good spirits for an interview just an hour after completing the session.

"They last five or six hours and you are OK for a few days," he said. "I got some steroids so I'm feeling pretty good now. It may hit me about Sunday. But I'm going to be OK. One more to go. Tell everyone that."

The Simple Life wouldn't be the right title for this TV show. This one would be The Good Life. It's what the town of Ozark and Franklin County are all about.

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