Bonnie Ethel Cone, or Miss Bonnie, as she was popularly known, was a dedicated educator, motivator, and community leader who played an instrumental role in the vision and history of UNC Charlotte.
As a young woman Bonnie attended Coker, a women’s college at Hartsville, where she was one of 275 students. She majored in math and graduated magna cum laude in 1928. She accepted a job teaching math and science at a high school in Lake View, SC. and then at Central High School in Charlotte, NC. Later she earned a Masters in Mathematics from Duke University. In 1946, Dr. Cone became director of the Charlotte Center serving returning World War II Veterans.
In 1949, with the support of Dr. Elmer Garinger and a cadre of community leaders, she sparked the Charlotte Center's conversion into Charlotte College, a two-year institution financed by city taxpayers and supervised by the Charlotte Board of Education. It was a pioneering move that later resulted in athletic teams at UNC Charlotte being named the '49ers.
In 1964 Bonnie Cone beamed as Charlotte College was expanded into a four-year, state-supported college. On July 1, 1965, Charlotte College was elevated to become UNC Charlotte, the fourth branch of Consolidated University of North Carolina that then included only UNC Chapel Hill, N.C. State and UNC Greensboro. Bonnie Cone served as acting chancellor until Dr. Colvard, UNC Charlotte's first chancellor, could move to Charlotte in April 1966.
Miss Cone served as vice chancellor for student affairs and community relations for several years until her retirement in 1973. The student union building was named the Bonnie E. Cone University Center in her honor, as were numerous scholarship and fellowship programs in subsequent years. She continued to work for the university as a liaison with the UNC Charlotte Foundation, helping to raise money and build alumni support, even into her 90s. She rarely missed convocation, never a commencement and seldom a basketball game.
In addition to her work for Charlotte College and UNC Charlotte, she served other educational institutions, including Coker College and Belmont Abbey College. She was a member of the Board of Visitors at Davidson College and Johnson C. Smith University. In 1959 she was president of the Southern Association of Junior Colleges, the first woman to hold that position. Beyond education, she served many civic and cultural organizations, including the Charlotte Symphony, the Charlotte Opera, the Boy Scouts of America, the YWCA, the Children’s Nature Museum, Habitat for Humanity, the United Arts Council, and the Charlotte Central Lions Club. She was the recipient of ten honorary degrees, including two from Davidson College and Coker College. Others came from Belmont Abbey, Queens, Wake Forest, Pfeiffer, UNC Charlotte, Duke, Mt. Holyoke and Lander.
Dr. Bonnie was a leader in the Altrusa Club of Charlotte for many years. The Bonnie Cone Altrusa Club Scholarship was established in 1983 by the Altrusa Club of Charlotte to honor Bonnie Ethel Cone as a Patron of Excellence of the Foundation of UNC Charlotte.