Bonnie Brown, Kansas’ oldest working journalist, dies at 102

The news in downtown Protection this weekend was Bonnie Brown.

Mrs. Brown — who many believe was Kansas’ oldest newspaper columnist — was found dead Saturday morning in her apartment in a senior living complex. She had been suffering from a cold that turned into pneumonia, said her son, Rodney Brown. She was 11 days shy of turning 103.

In her eight years of writing for the Protection Press, she had missed two deadlines — once last year, in March, when Protection was evacuated for massive wildfires sweeping southwest Kansas and again a few weeks ago when she caught a virus.

A graveside service is planned at 2 p.m. Wednesday at the Protection Cemetery.

She was born Bonnie McGee on Feb. 21, 1915, in Dilworth, Minn. A few years later, her mother died; she was raised by grandparents on their farm near Buffalo, Okla.

She married Rufus Brown on Nov. 30, 1933. They were married 52 years until his death in 1986. The majority of her adult life, the couple lived near or in Protection.

Mrs. Brown, with her distinctive upbeat personality, worked as a waitress in area cafes. Located in southwestern Kansas near the Oklahoma border, Protection — with its 500 residents — is about 150 miles west of Wichita.

In 2009, she was offered a job writing a weekly column for the local paper.

She took the job seriously.

Mrs. Brown listened, asked questions and wrote news down in her own handwriting, often offering her own analysis and perspective about the town’s events. A story on Mrs. Brown was featured in The Eagle in August.

She often walked to places in downtown Protection to gather news. “We visit. We yackadoodle,” she said last summer. “I look for things I know people might be interested in.”

At Don’s Cafe on Saturday, most people talked about her, said Dave Webb, a Protection resident who helps each week with the production of the Protection Press and contributes his own column to the paper.

“At Don’s, the word went around very quickly,” Webb said. “Everyone reacted the same way. Bonnie had been around so long you imagined she would always be here. On Thursday, she had been in the cafe. She was all ready to meet and greet everyone.”

In her last column, published this past week, Mrs. Brown wrote that she wasn’t feeling “up to par yet but hope I am on the last mile … If all goes well, I may make it for my next birthday. One never knows what’s in store for any of us.”

The newspaper’s editor, Susan Edmonston, said the passing of Mrs. Brown leaves a tremendous void not just in Protection but across the state for subscribers and other writers who followed Mrs. Brown’s activities. Edmonston said she always counted on receiving Mrs. Brown’s column late Sunday night or early Monday morning. They were written on Sundays.

“We were cheering her on so she could live forever,” Edmonston said Sunday.

During the United Methodist church service in Protection on Sunday, people celebrated their town’s oldest resident, Edmonston said.

“It came during good news. ‘We were celebrating that the team had won the league tournament and then one lady spoke up and said that the joy is that Bonnie is in heaven. That got smiles on faces,” Edmonston said. “People are going to miss her but she was such a positive, upbeat person, we think she is up there, walking around, talking to everybody and still getting the news.”

Mrs. Brown is survived by her three children, Dennis Brown of Texas, Vi Trummel of Wichita, and Rodney Brown of Protection; and by numerous grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great grandchildren.

Memorial donations may be sent to each donor’s favorite church, Rodney Brown said.

But don’t send flowers.

“She just wanted people to donate to the church of their choice,” Brown said, adding that she didn’t like flowers. “She couldn’t stand the smell of flowers. She said, ‘You can’t eat them, they only die after awhile.’ So, she always donated to a church.”

Beccy Tanner: 316-268-6336, @beccytanner