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Linda Bonner set to retire this week

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NORTH BEND - Last week, an older man came into the lobby of Sterling Savings Bank in North Bend and took a seat.

The bank's branch manager, Linda Bonner, guessed he wouldn't want to talk about banking, though. He may just simply want to talk, and she was happy to oblige.

"I never thought of this as the North Bend branch of Sterling Savings," Bonner said. "I always thought of it as the Valley branch."

Bonner has spoken with many Valley residents at her desk near the back of the bank's location in downtown North Bend, but she will start doing more of it from home following this week. After nearly 30 years in banking, 13 of which were at Sterling Savings, Bonner will be retiring from the business. While Bonner has gotten to know many of her Valley neighbors through her banking job, her volunteer activities have made her face all the more familiar in the close-knit community.

Bonner was born and raised in Wyoming, getting her first job at the age of 7 in her father's store. In 1974, she and her husband moved to the Valley, where she would raise her three daughters, all of whom graduated from Mount Si High School.

Once her youngest daughter turned 9, Bonner went to work as a teller at the Metropolitan Savings Bank in North Bend. Three years later, she was made manager of a branch in Redmond and later, Lake Stevens. In 1986, she went to work at First Mutual Bank in Bellevue, where she stayed until 1991.

In 1992, she came back to work in the Valley, getting on board at Sterling Savings, a Spokane-based bank with 155 branches in Washington, Oregon, Montana and Idaho, Bonner said.

"I love my bank," she said. "I love my customers and I love my staff."

Through the years, banks have grown to offer more services and are now much more than just places to store and borrow money. They move, save and make money and guiding people through all those decisions is customer service, Bonner said. That is what she likes about her job. She said small banks in the Valley know that customer service is the most vital part of their business and will even refer customers to another bank if they know that bank can offer those customers a better deal.

"You have to develop relationships [in this business]," Bonner said.

Helping people outside the bank has been a major part of Bonner's involvement with the community as well. She sat on the board that monitored flooding in her North Bend neighborhood, served on the board for the Mount Si Senior Center and served two terms as president of the Snoqualmie Valley Chamber of Commerce. She has lent a hand in the Mount Si High School DECA program and the Relay for Life fund raiser for the American Cancer Society. For all of her work volunteering and encouraging others to volunteer in the community, Sterling awarded Bonner its Leadership Award in 2000.

"She was just one of the faces you see around all the time," said Sue Hankins, who worked with Bonner organizing the chamber's first Bite of the Valley in 1990.

Bonner said one of the most satisfying events she has been a part of has been the Snoqualmie Valley Kiwanis' Giving Tree, which gathers presents every holiday season for families in need. She first got involved with the gift drive eight years ago and has watched it grow to include 10 locations throughout the Valley that served 189 families last year. Even though she is retiring, Bonner said she will continue to be involved with that program.

Now, at 62, Bonner is ready to slow things down a bit, but it won't be a complete retirement. She will be working part time from her home for an Issaquah-based mortgage company, but most of time will be spent relaxing. She and her husband Robert, who is also retired, moved last fall to a property in Easton where there is a log house to finish and a yard to manage.

Her daughters and their children remain close. Daughter Stephanie Huber co-owns Cascade Office Supply in North Bend, Patti Collins is a medical lab assistant in Cle Elum and Robin Stone is a dental assistant in Gold Bar.

But there will always be a place for her in the Valley. As word of her retirement has circulated, customers who have counted on her over the years have taken the time say a kind word and a thoughtful good bye. They know she would have done the same for them.

"There are people who, without knowing, give you the kind of attention you need when you see them to make your day," Hankins said. "Linda is that kind of person."

* Sterling Savings Bank will be hosting a party for Bonner all day on Friday, March 11, at its North Bend branch at 146 W. Second St.

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