A Passion for Polk

A Passion for Polk

BONNIE PARKER

BY MARIA IANNUCCI

When you love the community you live in, it shows. Enter Bonnie Parker, a lifelong resident of Polk County described by her peers, friends and colleagues as an enthusiastic, vibrant, tenacious, loyal, energetic go-getter and doer. Bonnie has recently taken a position with Citizens Bank and Trust as Senior Vice President and Private Banking Manager; and somehow also dedicates endless hours a week to a number of local organizations and non-profits in their endeavors to help those that need it most. Ask her how she manages to fit it all in and Bonnie has a simple answer: “It’s my passion.”

Born and raised on the east side of the county in Lake Wales, Bonnie has always been one to be true to herself. She played softball, was a cheerleader, and loved music. Graduating as a Highlander in the 1970s, she was the first female drum major at Lake Wales High School. She didn’t see it as breaking a barrier at the time.

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“If I wanted to do something, I’d just do it,” Bonnie recently shared. “I’ve always had lots of energy and drive, and just set out to do what I loved.” Bonnie’s love for music drove her to learn to play the piano and the flute, which she still enjoys today. Her eagerness to learn and her love for education began early, and she entered college with a plan for a degree in music. What’s not commonly known, however, is that her change of major to finance came as a result of her superb social skills.

“As a music major (at Florida State University), I was required to practice for many hours a week,” Bonnie said. “I’d go to one of the practice rooms with the intention of working, but would often end up standing in the hallway talking to people instead of playing. After one semester, my flute professor suggested I select a major that might involve my ‘talent’ for socializing.” I took an accounting class and discovered that I liked it. After taking some classes on investment management, I found that finance was for me and changed my major. My high school friends would have never figured me for a finance major or banker,” Bonnie chuckled.

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Having a dependable job in the finance industry has afforded her the opportunity to do many things, including traveling with her husband of 26 years, Jim. Together they have travelled extensively, and to places that many of us have on our bucket lists. They feel blessed to have had the chance to stand on the equator, visiting six of the seven continents, and set foot in all 50 states.

“As a banker, my days are very structured,” Bonnie said, “but I think I’m pretty adventurous, as well. It’s all for my love of learning and the gift of being able to experience new things and cultures.”

Coming back to Polk County, however, is always a joy for Bonnie. With decades spent in banking and a burning desire to make a difference in the community she calls home, this professional has had to make a list of priorities. “I get involved in so much,” Bonnie admits. “I have been known to be guilty of spreading myself too thin.”

 

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It’s easy to understand why; her greatest passion is education, followed closely by the arts – which she feels are intertwined. Bonnie also tries to get involved with community organizations that cover a broad umbrella of services. Here is a taste of the agencies with which she is currently involved or for which she serves on the Board of Directors: Women’s Leadership Council of United Way of Central Florida, Community Foundation of Winter Haven, Polk State College Foundation, Polk Arts Alliance, Rotary Club of Winter Haven, Girls Inc. of Winter Haven, Greater Winter Haven Ch
amber of Commerce, Aspire, and Public Education Partnership. The list goes on; each has a different agenda with the common purpose of enriching the lives of Polk Countians in some way.

Her affiliation with Girls Inc. allows Bonnie a chance to impact the lives of young ladies while demonstrating the importance of the arts in education.

“I’ll play the flute and explain to the girls why it’s important to play an instrument or appreciate music,” Bonnie said. “Music enriches your life. As a young person, I played sports and was involved with clubs and my high school band. I can’t do the splits that I used to as a cheerleader, but the joy music brings will be something I can experience no matter how old I get. Music enriches your soul.”

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“If I had one big wish, every child would show up well prepared for school, be it kindergarten or high school. Kids would also be well-rounded, with exposure to the arts, academics and athletics. Together, we (the community) can make that happen.”

“Everyone knows that we don’t all have the same opportunities; it’s up to those that do to help others, and there are so many that need help. I love the Reading Pals program; if we could help those kids learn through a mentor, how much better would our school system be? It feels good to help somebody.”

Her consistent efforts to promote education and the arts are passions she is driven to pursue. “Both play such an important role,” Bonnie said. “I’m involved with projects to help develop funding as well as promoting specific community events. I work with the Polk Foundation Education to review scholarship applications of graduating seniors; I get to see the need and also see how well the schools are educating our young people. There are some awesome kids that come out of our schools, but so many of them need financial assistance to attend college. I believe education is the key to so many ailments in our society; including being healthier, having the chance to be employed and reducing crime.”

Bonnie is notorious for not just talking up her passion, but living it. Her husband, Jim, is a retired high school band director, who shares her passion for music. “We try to attend as many student events as we can, like student plays and concerts,” said Bonnie. “We’ll go to one at Harrison or Jewett Academy and, if it’s great, we’ve been known to go twice to the same production of a play. It’s the best value for entertainment in the county, but most people do not know about these student performances. Those who go and support these kids will be impressed with what they experience.”

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Of course, we must be reminded that Bonnie also has a fulltime job, having recently joined Citizens Bank & Trust. Perhaps because Citizens is a local bank, Bonnie’s new company seems to embrace her community involvement. “Citizens aligns with my desire to be more focused on the community. The bank is completely based in Polk County, having been here since the 1920s. Citizens’ commitment to the local community works well with me, and my goals and aspirations. I’ve had the chance to take promotions out of state when I worked for larger banks, but don’t want to move; I just love it here.”

When asked about her hopes for the future, Bonnie dreams of our county standing strong together. “People think of me as an East Polk person, but I am really an advocate for all of Polk County,” Bonnie said. “We all need to be supportive of everything in the county, but I do realize each individual community and person is unique. I am only one person; if every single person could do a little, it would so greatly impact the county. Giving time and knowledge is as important as writing a check. It’s finding solutions to our challenges because, together, we can achieve more than we can as individuals.”

 

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