Mary Bonner lost a loved one to cancer and turned the tragedy into a personal mission to help not only those with the deadly disease but also non-profits that aid adults and children in Martin and Saint Lucie counties.
When she is not standing behind the chair cutting hair, she is sitting behind a desk cutting checks. Lots of them. The full-time employee at Vivid Hair Design Studio & Spa in Port St. Lucie has donated a total of $150,000 to charitable organizations on the Treasure Coast since starting the Roseann Gregory Cancer Foundation in 2009. The non-profit promotes cancer education and research, and aids patients going through the treatment process.
“I love to help people,” Fort Pierce resident Mary Bonner says. “That’s where I get my most joy.”
Bonner named the foundation in honor of her sister, who died of pancreatic cancer at age 51. On what unknowingly would be the day of Roseann Gregory’s death, Bonner sponsored a cut-a-thon in her salon, with $10 haircuts and all tips going to the American Cancer Society.
“My mom called after the cut-a-thon and said Roseann died,” Bonner says. “It was strange, and it was sad. From there, I just kept doing it, and it grew, and all my friends said, ‘I’ll help you.’”
Bonner established the foundation so that its funds weren’t limited to helping those with pancreatic cancer.
“We can give to everybody who has cancer, and we won’t turn them away,” she says.
Among the beneficiaries is Indian River State College, where two $500 scholarships are awarded to students pursuing medical degrees. Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute also receives money for its Cancer Cell Biology lab, part of the school’s Marine Biomedical & Biotechnology Research Program.
Windsor Community Angels, which ensures women without insurance have access to free mammograms, no longer has a waiting list of more than 70 women in need of a screening.
“I cut a check for $5,000 that day,” Bonner says. “I didn’t even think about it.”
She additionally has donated $40,000 to noncancer-related groups through the multiple side businesses she owns with her husband, Jimmy Freitas. Big Bone BBQ, Bonner Mobile Bar and Paella King—all professional catering companies—donate their services at events for the Boys & Girls Clubs of St. Lucie County, Make-A-Wish Southern Florida, Southeast Florida Honor Flight and the Stuart Sailfish Club Foundation’s Saltwater Sisters Lady Angler Tournament. In the past, they have worked with CASTLE, whose goal is to prevent child abuse by teaching safe parenting skills.
“Jimmy and I can’t say ‘no,’” Bonner says. “We’re both terrible. We both say, ‘We can’t keep doing this, we can’t keep doing this,’ and then we do.”
The self-described workaholic is in the salon Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays and caters two to three events each week, but she still finds time to pursue her passion.
“Every once in a blue moon, I have to take care of myself, and that’s where fishing comes in,” says Bonner, who grew up on the bay in East Quogue, New York, with a rod and reel in her hands. “That’s my solitude. I get on that water, it’s peaceful and nobody can contact me. It’s just the ocean and the boat, and that’s how I regenerate.”