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Living the dream

Roger Bonnema, 78, of Willmar, is pictured Thursday in a stock car that belongs to a friend from Assembly of God in Willmar, prior to taking a few laps around the KRA Speedway at the Kandiyohi County Fairgrounds. Tribune photo by Ron Adams1 / 2
Roger Bonnema poses Thursday just moments before taking to the track at the county fairgrounds. Tribune photo by Ron Adams2 / 2

WILLMAR - Shortly after his marriage 60 years ago, a friend asked Roger Bonnema to drive his car in a race. Bonnema declined explaining to his buddy that he was a newly wed. But the idea always stayed with him and eventually became a dream.

It was a dream fulfilled Thursday for Bonnema, 78, as he raced one of his church's pastors around the KRA Speedway at the Kandiyohi County Fairgrounds in Willmar during the regular Thursday night races. Bonnema drove a car that belongs to Jeff Bleess, a local business owner and friend from Assembly of God in Willmar.

"He was absolutely thrilled," Bonnema's wife, Marcy, said Friday.

"It was something he never thought he'd be able to do."

And that's what makes this story special: Bonnema was recently diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease. The disease, which has no cure, attacks the nerves of the brain and spine. It slowly paralyzes and ultimately kills the person.

Roger gets around with a walker or scooter, but had to be helped into the stock car.

"Two of us had to pick him up," Bleess said.

But it didn't take long for Bonnema to get in the swing of things and he was quickly racing Bruce Schoeman around the track. Shoeman is the adult ministries pastor at Assembly of God.

"It was something he never thought he'd be able to do," Marcy said. "It's absolutely amazing how people have surrounded him with support."

Enjoying such times is how Bonnema says he wants to spend the time he has left. He said: "I do not wish to miss the joys of today by dwelling on my prognosis."

Gary Miller

Born and attended public schools in Willmar, Minn. Served 20 years in U.S. Navy as a photojournalist. Worked at West Central Tribune since retiring from the Navy in 1994.

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