Mrs. Evelyn Aranda, 65, died Monday, August 6, 2018, at the SECU Hospice House in Smithfield after a long struggle with cancer. A devoted wife and mother as well as a devout believer and follower of Christ, she was Methodist by faith.
Mrs. Aranda was born Evelyn Benson Bonner on July 24, 1953, in Harnett County to the late Richard Foster Bonner and Louettie Massengill; she was raised in Benson. From her earliest memories she loved the circus, especially clowns because they brought smiles to everyone. By age nine, Evelyn began valuing her educational experiences and desired to share those experiences with others who could benefit from them. It was at this ripe young age that she made her decision to become a public educator because she found it a perfect blend of learning while bringing smiles and laughter to others.
As a young adult who was always told she could not go to college due to her family’s poverty, Evelyn persevered and earned three scholarships upon high school graduation and attended Methodist College in Fayetteville where she excelled in leadership roles (and quite a bit of mischief). In December 1974, she matriculated as the first Art Education graduate from Methodist College and began teaching art at Anne Chesnutt Junior High School in Fayetteville in the Fall of 1975. At Chesnutt she served in a variety of capacities where she coached cheerleaders, taught journalism and served as the school’s yearbook advisor.
With a deep appreciation for the world around her, Evelyn was one of 14 teachers that received a Fulbright-Hayes Scholarship from Duke University to study art in Japan during the summer of 1977. During this summer, she met some of Japan’s most renowned craftsmen and artists and visited the Hiroshima Memorial. This opportunity was quickly followed by a tour of Italy, where she visited Rome, Milan, Florence, and Capri. These early experiences fostered a profound respect for world cultures in which she instilled in her two sons from their early childhoods.
In 1982, she earned an M.A. in School Administration from Campbell University and continued her teaching career at Anne Chesnutt until 1984 when she moved to Cape Fear High School. It was between teaching at Cape Fear and teaching at the North Carolina Governor’s School East in Laurinburg during summers that she met and fell in love with her husband of nearly 32 years, Carlos. An immigrant to the U.S. from Honduras, Carlos did not speak English, nor she, Spanish. The two began dating using pocket dictionaries and married in 1986, thus proving love transcends all languages.
In 1988, she returned to Benson to teach at Benson Middle School and remained there until the end of her 33 year teaching career in 2008. She devoted herself to activism in both her church and the community. This activism manifested itself in many forms, including numerous mission trips to South Carolina and Guatemala, coordinating drives for back to school supplies, teaching Sunday School, singing in the church choir, coordinating Bible School, working in the food pantry and teaching ESL classes to Spanish-speaking adults through the Harnett Literacy Program. After Hurricane Matthew, she coordinated efforts in Benson to relocate and bring relief to many Hispanic families that lost their homes in the destruction. Evelyn knew that the best method of reaching people required stepping out of her comfort zone; her fearless reliance on God and her faith allowed her to accomplish such tasks with ease.
Her final two projects were very dear to her heart. The first, serving as assistant director of the Benson Chamber of Commerce, gave her great pleasure as she shared her passion for her hometown with business owners and visitors. Evelyn’s upbringing led to her involvement in a second project, the Benson Community Center under the Partnership for Children, where she tutored many disadvantaged students from elementary to high school. Despite retiring from teaching, she never stopped educating.
Throughout the years, it is estimated that Evelyn taught at least 10,000 students during her career, many of whom kept in constant contact for decades, some of which even referred to her as “mama.” Throughout her life it was apparent to her husband and children that Evelyn knew no strangers. In the late 1970s, a close friend of Evelyn’s gifted her a small plaque which read, “Those who give sunshine to others cannot keep it from themselves.” To Evelyn, one’s race, gender, or socioeconomic status was never an issue; what mattered was how much happiness one gave to others. Evelyn understood true happiness came from selfless behavior and giving back to the community. Her happiness was always the brightest light in the room and people constantly gravitated towards her. The fervent impact and legacy she leaves will be felt for decades to come; she will be so deeply missed.
Evelyn was predeceased by both parents and her brother, Randall Bonner. She is survived by her husband Carlos Aranda; two sons, Josh Aranda and Caleb Aranda; one sister, Dale Hinman of Benson; her mother-in-law Juana Jordán-Duarte of Honduras; numerous nieces, nephews, and cousins both throughout the United States and in Honduras.
A bilingual memorial service (English and Spanish) celebrating the life of Evelyn will be held at Benson United Methodist Church on Friday, August 10th, 2018 at 2:00 PM. A time for sharing eulogies will occur shortly after in the church fellowship hall. The family suggests that in lieu of flowers all donations be made to either the Benson United Methodist Church Youth Ministries Fund, 205 East Church Street, Benson, NC 27504, the Partnership for Children Johnston County, 1406 South Pollock Street, Selma, NC 27576 or the Benson Foundation for the Arts, P.O. Box 335, Benson, NC 27504.