Principal's challenge lands him in bat-free belfry -- for a cause


Sharpstein Elementary School Principal Matthew "Matt" Bona, wife Angela and sons Luke, 8, and Eli, 4, probably heaved a sigh of relief. Whew, no bats in this belfry.

They spent the night of Oct. 18 in Sharpstein's bell tower, the result of a promise Matt made to students if they earned more than $6,000 with the school's Fund Run. The kids far surpassed that goal, bringing in almost $8,000, so it was up three flights of stairs and through the attic for the Bona clan.

The screened windows kept the bats away, but not the wind, which howled in about 1:30 a.m. and made Matt's shaved head quite cold. "I should have worn a hat! (The wind) lasted for about a half hour then it got warm again," Matt said.

The noise awakened one of the boys, who needed to use the restroom. So he and Matt descended the three flights of stairs to the facilities, then trekked back up and through the attic at about 2 a.m.

There is no bell in the tower, Matt added, "just four crazy people from the same family. My wife and I and our two boys."

"The bell is down by the front entrance of the school. I am assuming they took that bell out years ago."

Their vantage point gave them clear insight into the neighborhood, too. "I was surprised how many cars are still driving around at 2 a.m. on a Thursday night. We were also had the pleasure to listen to a dog bark from about 4 a.m. to 5 a.m.," Matt said.

Son Luke documented their unusual overnight via "the magic of an iPhone ... you could film your whole life on an iPhone," Matt said.

He forwarded Luke's video to all the teachers "to show the kids their crazy principal and his family in the bell tower."

The next morning, he addressed student with a megaphone from the bell tower and "then came down in my PJ's to meet the whole school ... I looked stunning."

Proceeds from the Fund Run will go to schoolwide technology; basketball uniforms and teacher supplies.

The whole school participated in the Fund Run. "It is great to see everyone out there and it encourages physical activity," Matt said.

"I am so proud of our kids that they raised that much money for our school," Matt said. He will absolutely do it again.

"But money aside, I and my family wanted to show the kids two important things: that if you come to an agreement with someone that you follow through with it and that families stick together, even if it means sleeping in a bell tower in a wind storm. I would have done the same thing for my wife, however, I don't think she is crazy enough to agree to sleep in a bell tower like I am. I defiantly married out of my league!"

Twenty-seven volunteers pitched in during Walla Walla Basin Watershed Council's cleanup along the Walla Walla River adjacent to Marie Dorian Park, said Graham Banks, WWBWC science educator and outreach coordinator, in a release.

In total, they put in 60-plus hours on Oct. 6 while weeding out invasive plants and cleaning up a "very littered" riparian zone along the river's edge.

"Himalayan blackberries had made the area between Marie Dorian Park and the river virtually impassable," Graham said. "Repressing the non-native, invasive blackberries was necessary in order to remove the litter that had collected along the Walla Walla River and will also benefit the natural riparian environment."

Witnessing such a great turnout of volunteers was inspirational, Graham said. The group included a number of youths, including representatives from McLoughlin High School's honors and Key clubs and 17 adults who wanted to improve natural areas in the community.

Many of them said it was a fun, rewarding activity that they would like to do again.

"While the volunteers were inspiring, the volume of litter was disheartening, greatly over-exceeding the capacity of five 90-gallon recycling and garbage containers. WWBWC plans to sponsor another activity to continue riparian improvement in this location, in hopes that enabling citizens to utilize this natural area will lead to greater appreciation for this natural resource," Graham said.

Graham's wife Jill Banks, owner of Sub Shop 38 in Milton-Freewater, donated lunch for the volunteers.

Those interested in future activities may contact him at 541-938-2170 or

Diane Camara of Athena came out the winner of a vintage trunk offered by the Athena Library Friends Association. The raffle was first offered during ALFA's Fabric Faere in the spring and ticket sales continued through the summer. Upon learning of her win in a phone call, Diane said, "I am so excited. I love old trunks. What happy news!"

She and husband Rick Camara settled in Athena in February after selling their ranch near Juntura, Ore., last year.

They were delighted with the trunk's condition and have selected a place for it in their home.

International Municipal Signal Association chose John-Paul Wolpert as the recipient of a $1,000 scholarship.

John-Paul attends Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan., on an academic and running scholarship. The civil engineering major graduated in 2012 from Walla Walla High School and is the son of Catherine and Kevin Wolpert of Walla Walla. A member of the IMSA, Kevin works for the city of College Place.

Green Park Elementary fifth-grader Julian SaldaƱa received a one-year membership to the YMCA courtesy of businesswoman and community volunteer Tera Davis of Academy Mortgage.

She said her company will provide annual scholarships to the YMCA to a different student each quarter.

"I have four children at home and understand the importance of getting kids involved in positive activities," she said in the Walla Walla Public Schools Week in Review online.

"It feels great to help students and I hope one day they will give back to their community."

Green Park Intervention Specialist Ian Gregoire said Julian is a perfect fit for the award.

"Julian has made tremendous academic, social and emotional growth in his six years at Green Park," Ian said. "His effort and attitude are commendable and this award allows Julian to continue to pursue one of his greatest interests and abilities, sports."

Etcetera appears in daily and Sunday editions. Contact Annie Charnley Eveland at or 526-8313.


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