Bonnie has been an integral part of the Vail Theatre of Arts. Here, she has blended her passion for music and theatre with the community, coordinating special events for all ages. Her work has enriched the Vail community for the past six years and in June, she’s retiring. Get to know more about Bonnie before we say farewell as she embarks on the next chapter of her life in Costa Rica (anyone else jealous?)

1. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

My parents moved from Chicago to Tucson when I was three, and we later moved to Kearny, Arizona, the summer before I started 8th grade. I soon discovered that I was a small town girl at heart, so Kearny was the perfect place for me to grow into adulthood. Midway through my senior year in high school, I got an amazing opportunity through American Field Service to travel to Australia to attend school and live on a dairy farm for a year with a wonderful family who treated me like I was their own daughter. When I returned from Australia, I enrolled at NAU. After changing majors a few times and taking a year off to live and work in Germany, I eventually graduated with a degree in Accounting in 1979. I worked for a CPA firm in Prescott for two years, obtained my CPA certificate, and then moved to Tucson where I enjoyed a long career with IBM, primarily as a software engineer, for over 20 years. My son Justin was born in 1990 and attended school in the Vail School District from preschool through graduation from Cienega.

IBM sold our group to another company in 2002. Shortly afterwards, during an interview for a management position, I was advised not to smile so much. In that instant, I knew that I wanted to work in a place where a smile would be an asset rather than a liability. That something turned out to be opening my own specialty coffee shop, Javalina’s Coffee & Friends, in Rita Ranch. Owning and operating the shop further strengthened my ties to the community, and I soon discovered a passion for connecting musicians with appreciative audiences. Javalina’s quickly evolved into one of the top music venues in Tucson. People would travel from Oro Valley, Green Valley, Sierra Vista, and even Phoenix and beyond to attend our shows. Shows featuring artists like Mr. Boogie Woogie and Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s John McEuen drew as many as 150 people who brought their lawn chairs and paid a “suggested donation” to enjoy the music under the stars.

When the economy took a nose dive in 2008, it became clear that I would not be able to renew my lease in the shopping center, so I sold the assets to Java Edge and started writing the next chapter of my life. Musicians were feeling the loss of Javalina’s as well as numerous other restaurants that had closed that year, so I felt compelled to keep the music alive. I formed a non-profit organization called Live Acoustic Venue Association (LAVA) and continued presenting concerts. I enjoyed that very much, but despite a lot of hard work, it became obvious that it wasn’t going to pay the bills. About the time I came to that conclusion, an opportunity to manage the Vail Theatre of the Arts presented itself, and it was such a perfect fit for me. I’m now in my sixth year of managing the theatre, and I’m looking forward to retiring at the end of June.

2. What attracted you to the Vail area?

My ex-husband and I were invited to a house-warming party at the home of a fellow IBM’er who had just moved to Rocking K Ranch in the mid-80’s. We loved the natural beauty of the area and the proximity to work so much that we decided to build a home for ourselves in Rocking K.

3. What have you most enjoyed about working with the school district?

I love the positive vibe and the shared sense of community. Most of all though, I’d have to say that I’ve really enjoyed the opportunity to continue connecting musicians with appreciative audiences. We get captive audience for over 100 school shows each year, but trying to substantially fill the 593-seat venue for professional concerts brought on a whole new set of challenges. To most Tucsonans, the Vail Theatre of the Arts might as well be on the moon. We’ve met those challenges though and have steadily built audiences for our shows.

4. When people come to visit, where do you take them?

Sabino Canyon, Mt. Lemmon, and Ramsey Canyon

5. What are your plans for the next chapter in your life?

I’ll be here through the end of June to complete my work contract and sell two houses and my car. As soon as possible after the end of June, I’m looking forward to joining my husband Joe and our dog Marley who have already moved to Costa Rica. We plan to enjoy hiking, bicycling, gardening, cooking and eating healthy meals, going to the beach, learning Spanish, reading, catching up on movies, and exploring Costa Rica. It’s hard to imagine ourselves getting bored doing the things we love, but if we do, I’m sure our hearts will lead us down another passionate path.

6. Anything else you’d like to share?

The Vail community is very special, and I’m looking forward to visiting this area and the people who live here when we come back for visits. I’ve set up a website as a resource for others who might be considering retiring in Costa Rica. It’s still in its infancy, and I plan to blog about our experiences and provide additional information after we get settled.

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Lucretia Free