In movies and comic books, heroes typically employ super-powers to combat such villains as Lex Luthor or The Joker. 

Real-life hero Beth Bonk, not possessing super strength or an array of high-technology gadgets, saves the day through her work as a volunteer art teacher at L.E. Starke Primary School in Pekin. Her arch-enemies appear to be Lack of Creativity and Boredom.

“She inspires kids to do art and create what they want to create,” said Ady Walls, 8, a third-grade student at L.E. Starke. “She’s a really good person. She creates from her heart, and she helps students do that.”

When the St. Louis District Dairy Council (SLDDC) asked classrooms throughout Missouri and Illinois to nominate 2019 Homegrown Heroes as a way to honor people who strive to improve the lives of others, the second and third grade classes at L.E. Starke nominated Bonk. The nonprofit nutrition organization began the campaign in 2018 as a way to recognize heroes in Missouri and Illinois. Nominating schools submitted photos, video clips, essays and letters telling the stories of individuals who give freely of their time and talents to the SLDDC.

In all, the SLDDC received 35 Homegrown Hero nominations from schools in Illinois and Missouri. Bonk, one of 17 Illinois nominees, was named the state’s overall winner of the Homegrown Hero award.

“(Bonk) affects students and their learning,” said Monica Nyman, senior nutrition educator for the SLDDC. “She’s creative, and she uses our Adopt-a-Cow program as part of her curriculum. Those are reasons she sort of rose to the top.”

According to Marj Oesch, a L.E. Starke second-grade teacher, Bonk, whose daughter, Grace Bonk, is an L.E. Starke alumnus, volunteered frequently to help at Parent Teacher Association events and with class parties. When it emerged that she had an elementary education degree, Bonk found her services in great demand. She began her work as a volunteer art teacher with her daughter’s class and was soon approached to work with several other classrooms.

“Fast-forward to several years later, her daughter has grown and moved on to other schools,” said Oesch in a nomination letter to the SLDDC. “But Beth’s gentle nature and encouraging words continue to help our Starke students become artists. Without her knowledge and efforts, our students would not receive these important opportunities. Being self-taught in art technique, Beth Bonk has grown into an amazing art educator.”

Largely as a result of Bonk’s influence, Oesch added, L.E. Starke School annually participates in the SLDDC’s Adopt-a-Cow program, which allows classes to “adopt” a calf from an SLDDC-affiliated farmer, name it, and receive monthly pictures and updates. A favorite art project each year, said Oesch, it gives students the opportunity to make water color renderings of the school’s adopted cow.

Nyman presented Bonk with a certificate honoring her achievement during a ceremony at L.E. Starke School Tuesday. Second- and third-grade students showed both their appreciation of Bonk’s teaching and their own budding artistic talents by presenting her with a collection of hand-made congratulatory cards. Because it is a traditional part of a hero’s attire, the students also presented Bonk with a hand-made cape.

“This is such an honor for me,” Bonk told her students. “I just want you to know that it wouldn’t happen without all of you. I’m so thankful to be able to come in, be with you, do art together and see what amazing artists you are.”

Bonk will be recognized as Illinois’ Homegrown Hero Friday during the annual ALDDC meeting in St. Louis.