Truly Valley proud: Maryland native leaves mark on local organization, kids

HARLINGEN — Most people would suggest playing with puppets is for children.

But La Feria’s Bonnie Waller would disagree.

She has spent countless hours as a puppeteer, believing it is a great way to educate children.

In her case, through the Valley Proud organization, the effort during the past more than 10 years has been to teach children about the environment and being an advocate for keeping it as clean as possible.

“Valley Proud to me is the hub of environmental consciousness,” Bonnie said. “It does so much more than the puppet show, all with the goal of making those in the Valley understand the importance of keeping the environment clean.”

Over the years, the puppet show, including Captain Crab and the Beach Patrol, has been one of the flagship projects and most successful programs within Valley Proud.

And Bonnie has been a key component, if not driving force, for the project.

Focusing on ideas such as the 3 Rs of reduce, recycle and reuse and the concept of “Put it in the trash, man,” Bonnie hopes the skits over the years have struck a chord with kids of all ages across the Valley.

Based on the feedback, she believes Valley Proud’s puppet show made a difference.

Bonnie said when she and her fellow puppeteers, including Ken and Sandy Jaeger, would go to events, kids would come up to them and recite the 3 Rs and say they remembered the show.

“Hopefully, they remember when they go to the beach or the park,” Bonnie said of the lessons taught.

But, Bonnie recently retired from her work with Valley Proud.

She will now work with her husband on their new business of selling Aloe Vera skin products.

While she’s looking forward to her new life, which will also include traveling to see family and expanding the business, there are many aspects to her Valley Proud life she will miss.

“The kids, I love the kids,” she said. “They are hilarious, especially the little ones.”

She also thanked the teachers, who over the years were very good sports and helped promote the message of Valley Proud.

She also will miss her puppeteer team, including Sandy and Ken, who she worked with from the start.

She was quick to point out stories of the three of them going out to the schools and having problems with the stage, equipment as well as having to be Captain Crab one moment and a puppeteer the next.

While those may have been difficult at the time, Bonnie said looking back, it was fun.

She also has been able to meet people she said she wouldn’t have if not for the puppet show and Valley Proud.

“I have enjoyed working with the people and have been exposed to a lot of people I wouldn’t have gotten to meet,” she said. “I have met city and county officials at events. You just meet a lot of people and go to a lot of different functions.”

Originally from Maryland, Bonnie came to the Valley more than 30 years ago.

She made one visit to the area and fell in love. Soon after, she requested a transfer from her position in television production to move here.

She later met her husband and had children here.

“We are ‘Valleyites’ now,” she said with a smile and a laugh.