Meet our friend, Robert Boni

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 20/04/2022 (292 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Let me introduce another tenant at Dakota House, Robert Boni. His legs don’t co-operate or match his smile and affable nature as he joins other guests at the dinner table. I found myself sitting beside him once and was amazed at his social graces – conversing, cracking jokes, having fun, and making other guests feel comfortable.

I have also been impressed watching him assist in running our movies. He has even written instructions on how to fix things during breakdowns.

“He is so kind and helpful, especially to one visually impaired viewer, Mary Jane Smith. He has a good heart,” noted fellow tenant Irene Young.

Robert Boni, a well-liked member of the Dakota House community.

Robert also runs our Wii bowling program and participates in our weekly art classes. Friend Bernice (Bunny) Vanderelst emphasizes that “his handicap doesn’t stop him from doing things.”

Robert’s legs refused to straighten out since his birth in Montreal on Oct. 21, 1959. He was a seven-month “preemie” weighing just 3.5 lbs., and was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. It affected him from the waist down so that he can’t bend.

“You have to deal with it,” he said. “I don’t like it, but I put on a brave face to hide my feelings. “

Robert’s father died when he was nine and, since Quebec province did not offer home care and Manitoba – where the family had many relatives – was known for its help for various disabilities, the family of four moved to Winnipeg, then St. Anne, and back to Winnipeg. Later, they chose Dakota House because of its assisted living services. Robert’s mother worked as a teacher’s aide to support them and advocated on Robert’s behalf prior to her recent move into a nursing home.

“Mom was my rock,” he said.

His schooling took many turns — from Ellen Douglass School to Churchill High, then Tec-Voc and Red River College. In 1974, Robert and three other students were pioneer subjects in the development of Handi Transit, now Winnipeg Transit Plus. Aptitude tests revealed he was mechanically inclined and electronics courses at RRC in the 1970s and ’80s earned him television repair man credentials.

Robert’s work experiences included six-month job placements as a teacher’s aide; camera work at CBC; typesetting at newspapers; cooking at RRC; even training as a clown. He worked at MTS for three years, and 14 years at Manitoba Hydro, retiring at age 58.

Dakota House tenants Peter and Venice Fairclough rendered this summation:

“Robert knows everyone by name. He is very knowledgeable in all subjects, political and non-political.”

I say he is a gentle man and a gentleman – our counterpart to poet Tennyson’s Ulysses: “… made weak by time and fate, but strong in will / To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”

Anne Yanchyshyn

Anne Yanchyshyn
St. Vital community correspondent

Anne Yanchyshyn is a community correspondent for St. Vital.

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