Bonnie-Jean Kimball’s amazing life
By DIANA GILBERT / Windsor Correspondent
Bonnie-Jean Kimball may be small in stature, but she has lived a large life. She has packed a lot into 86 years, including time as an opera singer, a university professor, an actress and the administrator of two well-known substance abuse facilities.
And she hasn’t slowed down yet. These days you will find her doing anything from studying Spanish to teaching meditation in her Windsor home.
Kimball was born in 1925 in Minot, N.D., to wonderful parents, she said. “They were very adventurous. But they were also both perfectionists, which is very, very annoying.”
Their perfectionism rubbed off, propelling Kimball to study voice, elocution and dance on her way to becoming the Minot High School valedictorian.
“Minot is the cultural Sahara of the world,” she said. “My whole plan in life was to get out of there.”
And she did. Kimball talked herself into a spot in Northwestern University’s music program, where she was one of the top 15 women academically and as a sophomore secured a place in the Chicago Lyric Opera. She performed for the next four years while finishing bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music.
Performance didn’t always come easily.
“In solo class, everyone had to perform for the whole class and the faculty during the first week. I shook when I went out to sing and continued to shake the whole way through my performance. Someone suggested that I drink some gin before I performed, so the next time I did. Since then I haven’t performed without a crutch.”
Kimball loved life in Chicago until she fell in love with the dean of students from the University of North Carolina, who was visiting from Chapel Hill.
“When I fall in love, my brain goes to Rio de Janeiro for Mardi Gras and my hormones take over,” she joked. “We went off to North Carolina together.”
While there, Kimball taught voice classes at the university, but after her marriage deteriorated in the 1950s, she decided to pursue a Ph.D. in psychology at Colombia University.
“I think any of us who feel we might have something wrong in the upper story become very interested in psychology,” Kimball said of the career change. She continued to perform while in New York and met her second husband while working for Summer Stock theater.
“My husband was an excellent musician and arranged all the songs for the ‘Sing Along with Mitch’ show. I didn’t know that a young woman from Minot, N.D., should not marry a Sicilian. By that time my use of alcohol and other drugs had escalated, and his family got rid of me.
“My mother came to get me, and I went into the hospital for alcoholism.”
While Kimball worked on regaining her sobriety, she taught music at the University of Southwest Texas and University of Minnesota. Eventually she became the director of a women’s halfway house in Minneapolis, then in 1973 began working in administration at Hazelden, a large rehab facility endowed by the Kroc Foundation.
During those years Kimball also began to write and publish self-help books like “The Alcoholic Woman’s Mad, Mad World of Denial and Mind Games,” published by Hazelden.
“I worked there until I got my right mind and came to California in the end of 1978. I was hired to open a rehab facility at St. Joseph’s hospital in San Francisco.
“The nuns from St. Joseph’s charmed me, as only Irish Catholic sisters can do. They were opening St. Rose Alcohol and Drug Center in Santa Rosa, so I moved up here in 1980.” She left in 1984 and it closed in 1986.
Kimball continued to perform in the Bay Area, playing the lead role in a stage production of “Driving Miss Daisy” and acting in a few commercials. Then her agent got her a spot playing victims on the TV show “America’s Most Wanted.”
“I got killed a lot and robbed a lot,” she said. “I enjoyed it.”
During that time she attended high school reunions and in 1994 bumped into a junior high school boyfriend, Curt Kimball, and in 1995 they were married and moved to Windsor. He passed away two years later, and she still lives in their home.
“I learned that differences of opinion, quarrels, they’re not worth a hill of beans,” she said. “The thing that matters when all is said and done is love. I learned that because of the loss of my husband.”
Kimball rebounded from the loss, in 1997 answering a newspaper ad for seniors who wanted to do stand-up comedy. She started writing and performing with a group called “Whoops!” and was tapped by the Station Casino company to perform in Las Vegas once a month until 2003.
Life may be a little quieter than it once was, but Kimball is still as busy as ever.
“My mantra is now is, ‘How can I help?’ I’m very involved in counseling people who are recovering from substance abuse. I also teach meditation in my home for anyone who is sincerely interested.”
She attributes her remarkable physical and mental health to yoga, which she practices daily.
Kimball keeps her mind active by studying languages and writing about spirituality and its role in overcome addictions.
“Fellowship with others who are struggling with addictive behaviors is essential, as is the idea that there’s a lot in the world that I can’t control,” she said. “One of my failings is that I want to always be in charge of the outcome, but the idea is to surrender to a higher power.”
As far as aging is concerned, Kimball likes to quote Bette Davis. “She said ‘Old age isn’t for sissies.’ She got that right.”