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Remembering Rist Bonnefond

It is with a heavy heart and deep reverence that we share the news that Rist Bonnefond, Headmaster Emeritus, passed away on April 27, 2024, surrounded by his family. The Bonnefond and Smucker families would like to extend an invitation to the Kents Hill School community to attend a celebration of life on Monday, May 20, at 11 a.m. ET at the Bodman Performing Arts Center to remember Rist’s rich life and enduring legacy. It is his vision, care, commitment, and unwavering courage that led Kents Hill to its 200th anniversary and beyond. 

To view the full obituary, please click here. Over the next few weeks, we will be sharing the many cherished stories, memories, tributes, and photos of Rist on our school social media pages. This will include an article in the upcoming Kents Hill Today magazine that was read to Rist before his passing. We invite you to submit your story below, which may be featured on these pages and will be shared with Rist’s family and friends. 

“I would ask as you depart campus to take a final look at the gold dome sitting atop Bearce Hall. It was renovated in 1999. Not an easy task as the top had to be sawed off the cupola, lifted by a crane, and moved to behind the dining hall for repairs. It may appear that it was simply repainted with gold paint when, in fact, the color is achieved by tiny tiles. Each tile was hand sanded and imprinted with gold leaf then carefully attached to the dome. When you look at the dome, you see its overwhelming beauty, yet perhaps now you can appreciate what each tile brings to the overall appearance.
It is much like Kents Hill School. Each tile represents one of the many students who have passed through this school. One is that girl who was a top scholar and athlete who is now a doctor in a small town in Maine after rejecting higher paying jobs from out of state. Another is for that boy who struggled mightily to write a paper but is now on his way to becoming a great chef. Yet another is for that kid who could never finish his homework because he would rather play video games, who just graduated from college with a degree in computer game design. And then there is a tile for the boy who was a refugee from war torn Sudan who, because of his time at Kents Hill, was able to attend a highly competitive university and is now a lawyer focusing on immigration issues.
These few are representative of the wide range of students who for nearly two hundred years have made the school the wonderfully diverse and caring place that it is. May it always be so.”
- Headmaster Emeritus Rist Bonnefond
2018 Kents Hill School Commencement Address

Celebration of Life

The Bonnefond and Smucker families would like to extend an invitation to the Kents Hill School community to attend a celebration of life on Monday, May 20, at 11 a.m. ET at the Bodman Performing Arts Center to remember Rist’s rich life and enduring legacy. This event is open to the public and no RSVP is needed. 

We welcome you to share your memories of Rist Bonnefond


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Memories from Kents Hill community members

One of the most fond memories I have of my 2 years at KHS was playing catch with Mr Bonnefond during an early spring baseball practice. We were indoors due to the fields being snow covered still. Mr Bonnefond walked in and asked if he could toss around for few minutes. Obviously I said yes, and it took me aback that a Headmaster would just pop in and play catch. Never as a student had I heard of a principal or headmaster engaging with students like this. It’s a memory that I will never forget. PS - he had a knuckleball that was absolutely nasty.Matt Ferguson '99
I remember my father first introducing me to Rist, on the path between Masterman Union and Ricker Hall, when I was about three years old. I had zero understanding of his role and what it entailed. Despite this, I instinctively understood that Rist was a man of principle, commitment, leadership, and duty. I felt a sense of respect towards him from the moment I met him. These qualities of his being were self-evident, so much so that a three-year old whose sole priority that day was getting a cinnamon roll from the Apple Shed can vividly recall that feeling some eighteen years later.William Stinson '22
What I remember most about him – aside from him tearing around campus in his golf cart with the labradors lolling beside him – is his warmth. The quiet joy he displayed just listening to his students talk about things that lit them up, whether he understood what they were on about or not, was a hallmark. He told us he was proud of us and he meant it. He was the kind of gentle, understanding role model every educator should aspire to be. His door was always open, his ears always on loan. The fact that I can’t remember a single teenager who knew him not liking and respecting him is frankly impressive, and a testament to who he was as a headmaster and as a man.Cait Merrill '05
Rist Bonnefond taught that which is most difficult to learn: character. Rist became Head of School when Kents Hill’s very survival was in doubt. Only by his intelligence, diligence and inspirational example of commitment did today and tomorrow become possible. I well recall the requests for a little help here and a little more there, and Rist was an equal opportunity sharer of ways to help The Hill. Hundreds pitched in, loyal to all Kents Hill first gave to us. That purity of heart shone through Rist all his life. We are grateful to have shared in the glow. Tony Buxton '64
My first memory of Mr. Bonnefond was right outside of the cafeteria. I was 14 years old and with my dad, he met me and spent the time to great me and welcome my dad to KHS. He was so welcoming and eager to get to know me. With my time at The Hill, I always remember he would get in front of all students/staff and would give his daily speeches. He always spoke so well and would connect with everyone. Thank you sir! You have been an inspiration to generations to come. Rest In Peace.Wasim Qadri '98
When I was getting ready to graduate from Kents Hill, I reached out to Mr. Bonnefond to see if he would be willing to attend and hand me my diploma. My family had been on The Hill for ten years and both my brothers had been given their diplomas from him, so it meant a lot to me to have him there. He and Mrs. Bonnefond, among many others, had done so much for my family and I. It made my day, and I can't imagine receiving my diploma from anyone else. He is the embodiment of Kents Hill's mission statement: One person of principle can always make a difference. Mr. Bonnefond profoundly changed the lives of the three McAleer siblings, and I know he did the same for many others. Our sincerest condolences go out to the Bonnefond and Kents Hill families at this time.Molly McAleer '14
My wife Verissa '04 and myself '03 both attended Kents Hill School. Mr. Bonnefond had such a powerful presence when he walked the campus, he was always a feeling of security to me. Being away from my parents at age 14 was hard but he made us feel safe. During my 3 years at KHS I got to know Mr. Bonneford and we had some great conversations. He always asked me How's things? How's school going?, or Are you gearing up for baseball season? I never felt left out. I had broken my hand senior year, and he was one of the first people to check in with me after my surgery. He knew how to talk to everyone and make them feel at ease. 20 years later I finally brought my wife and three children up to KHS this past year. I feel very fortunate I got to see Mr. Bonneford last fall. I let him know how I looked up to him and how much he meant to me at my time at KHS. He remembered everything about me and that just shows you how much he cared about his students. An amazing man who will be missed.Joe Klucevsek '03
Rist was an amazing person and leader. He became headmaster at a time when enrollment was low, endowment practically nonexistent, and facilities badly in need of maintenance and modernizing. He addressed and corrected all three. With such a full plate of problems facing him he did however find time to enjoy and play the game of golf. Often when missing a putt he would get frustrated (angry) and utter "ah shucks". Always a gentleman. His lasting comment/advice to me on the finer points of the game was "Gifford, you need to swing those hips".Donn Gifford '67, Former Board of Trustees
It was January 2011, my first trimester at KHS. My flight from China to Boston got delayed, so that I missed the winter orientation. I didn’t know anyone and my English is not very fluent. I felt really lonely and also this was the first time all by myself in a new country. It was pretty late that day when I unpacked my luggage at my dorm. I walked alone from my dorm to the dining hall. Then I met Mr. Bonnefond, he start to talk to me, he said "it’s really cold today, isn’t it? Want to race me to the dining hall?” I know he is the headmaster of KHS, I really didn’t expect he could be this approachable and kind. Of course we didn’t really run together, but I did talk with him on our one minute walk to the dining hall. But just because of this one minute, I felt so welcomed. This one minute talk with Mr. Bonnefond gives me the courage to start talking to others and potentially changed my life. Thank you Mr. Bonnefond. Rest in Peace.Jifeng Liu '13
Long story short: The family had just moved to Readfield from Japan in 2000. My wife (Rev. Dr. Karen Munson) started as Chaplain, and Joel '02 and Elin '04 had just started high school at KHS. I had been trying to get a teaching or administrative position at the school, but was informed many, many times by Rist that there were not any openings. Still, I persisted in asking. One day in late winter 2001, I was Nordic skiing with David Pearson (Rist was a huge fan of the Nordic trails). I got a little out of control heading down hill and did a magnificent face plant right in front of Rist as he was coming around a blind corner. And, yes, he laughed. But he must have felt sorry for me because the next day, Amy Wing called and asked me for my resume which led to 22 great years on The Hill. Today I find myself both grateful for the memories, and saddened at Rist's passing. He will be deeply missed.Jeff Munson P'02, P'04, P'07, Former Faculty
I first met Rist in my senior year of college, when I traveled to Kents Hill School to interview for a position as French teacher. I was intimidated by his impressive title and his stately office, terrified to try to impress the head of school who was already a legend in Kents Hill history. But Rist put me at ease immediately, slipping into French during our interview to tell me a funny story about abroad. He had made his way to the tiny town of Bonnefond, France, excited to meet the locals and introduce himself. He thought they would be thrilled to meet a Bonnefond – but quickly discovered that they couldn't care less. His impression of the contrast between his own enthusiasm and the stone-cold stoicism of the unimpressed French was so uproariously funny. And the effervescent warmth he demonstrated during our first interaction has stayed with me for the 18 years since.Jennifer Watson Wester, Former Faculty
Rist was so good to me when I was very wet behind the ears young headmaster. His patience with my youth, his quiet wisdom and leadership when running committees and his wonderful sense of humor are all things I try to emulate as I navigate my career in education. He will be missed by us all.

Bar Clarke
Rist touched the lives of many, many individuals. His kind demeanor; his dry sense of humor; his love of Kents Hill; and his love of people will be sorely missed. I had the wonderful pleasure of working with Rist and Kents Hill as President of the Parents' Association while my daughter Trisha attended Kents Hill. I continued our friendship for many years beyond those early days. My deepest condolences to his family and friends.Richard Abramson P'95
I arrived at The Hill two years after Rist retired, but I feel fortunate enough to have had many conversations with Rist during my seven years at the school. He made an effort to know me and my family, always asking me about them, as well as the classes I taught, and the teams I coached. Even in retirement, he cared so deeply for the happiness of those who worked on The Hill. His legacy and impact is immeasurable.Steve Shukie, Former Faculty
Rist helped keep me safe at a time when the world was not safe for queer children. I'm forever in his debt, and continue to serve KHS because of what Rist helped give me.  Shannon Morrison '96, Board of Trustees
Mr. Bonnefond was always someone I looked up to and respected during my time at Kents Hill. As a student at Kents Hill for four years - he was our headmaster up until my junior year. During his time as headmaster he always maintained the respect of students through his humble, kind and caring demeanor. Some of the memories I remember are the small details - such as how you would be playing in a game on a Saturday on one of the fields and you would notice Mr. Bonnefond sitting on the sidelines quietly enjoying the game. Another small detail would be when we would be doing our evening check-ins on Sampson 4th floor I would walk by a window that faced Mr. Bonnefond's office in Bearce - and there were many nights I could see him working. I always respected that, as you could tell he cared deeply about the success the school and its students. Thank you Mr. Bonnefond for your time as headmaster and for your leadership you provided during my time there.Brandon Bourgeois '12
When visiting KHS as a nervous sophomore for my campus tour and interview, Mr. Bonnefond made me feel welcome and made my decision easy. He represented the community that I wanted to be a part of. He carried himself with respect and dignity, and might possibly be one of the smartest men I have ever met. Rist Bonnefond will always be synonymous with Kents Hill for me.Tyler King '95
Mr. Bonnefond was certainly a pillar of my three years at Kents Hill. He was so profoundly involved in all of our day to day activities and he genuinely cared about every single one of us. I recall so fondly getting to walk across campus with him to morning meeting or even one time barging right into his office because I was frustrated by a situation on campus. He did not shoo me away. He immediately stopped what he was doing and calmly offered solutions to my overly emotional teenage angst. His calm leadership made all of us strive to make him proud and mirror him in our own lives. In my senior year, he even offered me the possibility of finishing up college and coming back to Kents Hill to be part of staff there. While I chose a different path, it still absolutely meant the world to me that HE of all people believed in me so much. That’s just who he was. He made us all better and we were all so lucky to have him in our circle.  Heather Vanhoose '95
JB and I had the pleasure of traveling to Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Thailand on Rist's first trip to Asia in 2004. Steve Yee's parents had arranged an interview for Rist with a prestigious newspaper. When the reporter arrived, the Red Sox were innings away from their first World Series Championship since 1918. The interview, Rist announced, would have to be delayed. I feared that this amazing opportunity had been lost, but the reporter hung on, watched the Red Sox win, and published a favorable article about Rist's remarkable international boarding school on the front page the following day.Loren and JB Wright P'06, P'08, P'11, Former Faculty, Former Board of Trustees
When I was the Athletic Trainer at KHS, an athlete suffered a bad concussion just before finals week. I was working to ensure that the necessary accommodations were in place. Rist came to see me and ask how things were going. He told me, “there is no doubt in my mind he has a concussion”. When I asked how he was so sure, he told me that on his way to my office in the Alfond, he had stopped by the boy’s dorm room to check on him. The boy answered his door “and the whole conversation, he stood there stark naked. He even invited me in!” Rist was so in touch with all of us and he could make you laugh out loud when you least expected it.Colleen Norgang, Former Faculty
Kents Hill teaches its students to be men and women of principle and demonstrate leadership to improve the lives of others. I can think of no one else who embodied this more perfectly inside or outside the Kents Hill community than Mr. Bonnefond. Mr. Bonnefond's leadership was a beacon of inspiration for the Kents Hill community. His unique and rare form of leadership, 'Quiet Leadership', was a testament to his character. He led not with words but with actions and principles, uplifting others along the way. During my four years at Kents Hill, his influence was palpable. He was never the loudest in the room, yet his words carried weight, and everyone listened. He led by empowering others to discover their potential and share it with the community, leaving an indelible mark on all of us.   Brennan Bok '12