Bonnie Burns

Bonnie Burns

Bonnie Chatfield sitting at the NFWA Service Center, Delano, 1967. Photo by Emmon Clarke.

Bonnie Burns, the daughter of a San Francisco defense attorney, Ned Burns, was born and raised in San Francisco. She graduated from Dominican University in San Rafael and received her teaching credential from San Francisco State University. She was teaching English at St. Paul’s High School in San Francisco when, at age 23, she went to Bakersfield to teach at a summer school project for farmworkers’ children living in the area.

There she met Brother Gilbert, who at the time was the vice principal of the local Christian Brothers’ Garces High School and was organizing the summer school project. Through him, Burns learned that Cesar Chavez was also interested in having a summer project for the kids of the National Farm Workers Association and started volunteering with Chavez’s Farmworker Movement.

At the end of the summer of 1965, Bonnie Burns went back to San Francisco while Brother Gilbert resigned from the Catholic religious order, went back to his family name, LeRoy Chatfield, and joined Chavez’s efforts in organizing the Delano Grape Strike that had just begun. Bonnie Burns married LeRoy Chatfield in June of 1966 at St. Cecilia’s Church in San Francisco.

Bonnie Chatfield, Gilbert Padilla, Helen Chavez, and Jessica Govea working at the Farm Worker Service Center, Delano, 1966. Photo by Emmon Clarke.

West coast editor of People's World Sam Kushner is interviewing Bonnie Chatfield. Chatfield is sitting at at the NFWA's Service Center office. El editor de la costa oeste de People's World, Sam Kushner, entrevista a Bonnie Chatfield. Chatfield está sentada en en la oficina del Centro de Servicio de NFWA.

Sam Kushner interviewing Bonnie Chatfield, Delano, 1967

West Coast editor of People’s World Sam Kushner is interviewing Bonnie Chatfield. Chatfield is sitting at the NFWA’s Service Center office. The Service Center’s services included: notary, credit union, interpreters, tax services, welfare issues, documents drafting, foreigners registration, insurance claims, social security, driving licenses, citizenship, and naturalization documents.

The Service Center was initially funded with a grant provided by the Stern Family Fund in Washington and the A.F.L.-C.I.O. Industrial Union Department and was set up in the fall of 1966 by Marshall Ganz to help people with welfare, disability, and income tax problems. It was directed by LeRoy Chatfield and the small team working in the office included his wife, Bonnie Chatfield, and Jessica Govea. The health clinic, the credit union, and social services were operating under its structure and all its services were only offered to union members. “I think the Service Center in a certain way has always been in existence,” said Chatfield in an interview with The Movement in 1967. “Especially in the early days of the union when César, Gil (Padilla) Dolores (Huerta), and Julio (Hernández) were the Service Center. Any problem a member had with an employer, any welfare or income tax problems, any services that they needed, then they came to the union. And the union at that time, as I said, was César, Dolores, and Gil.” In time, the Service Center would be staffed by thirty volunteers and operate eighteen hours a day, seven days a week.

 The couple moved to Los Angeles, on South Harvard Street, in a house owned by the American Friends Service Committee, where they lived until November 1966. “Cesar and Dolores, and several others from Delano, were among our first overnight guests,” Burns writes in an essay for the Farmworker Movement Documentation Project. “We had a piano in the house. Dolores played. Cesar taught me how to make nopales with chili sauce. During that year on South Harvard, I would cook many, many meals for our boycotters (…) In addition to leafleting and talking to people at Ralph’s, I spent time meeting with church groups and other potential supporters in our continual quest for assistance, volunteers, and of course, money.”

Bonnie Chatfield and Jessica Govea being interviewed by Sam Kushner, Delano, 1967. Photo by Emmon Clarke.

Together, Bonnie Burns Chatfield and LeRoy Chatfield opened the first UFW office in Los Angeles, West of the San Diego Freeway on Olympic Blvd.


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