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Walter Bonafice dies

February 26, 2006

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Veteran harness racing official Walter R. Bonafice, 74, died at his home on Friday, Feb. 24, following a lengthy illness.

A prominent representative of the Vernon Downs racing department for more than three decades, Bonafice retired in 1995 as the central New York track's director of racing. He returned as the company's racing secretary on various occasions in recent years, and more recently the Pittsburgh native represented the State of New York as a presiding judge at upstate fair tracks.

Bonafice began working with horses at the age of 12 in his home state, at Harry Serene's Riding Academy. Following his honorary discharge from the U.S. Air Force, Bonafice became employed by several well known harness racing stables, including the one operated by Hall of Famer Delvin Miller Stable, before Boniface joined the Vernon Downs racing department in 1961 as an assistant to C. Stuart McLean.

In addition to his Vernon Downs employment, Bonafice also served as the race secretary at harness tracks in Florida (Seminole Raceway and Pompano Park), Massachusetts (Suffolk Downs), Illinois (Aurora Downs), West Virginia (Wheeling Downs), and Canada (Rideau Carleton Raceway).

Bonafice was a charter member and officer of the North America Harness Racing Secretaries' Association, and he held licenses with the New York State Racing and Wagering Board, the U.S. Trotting Association, and the then Canadian Trotting Association. He was also a member of the American Legion William Russell Post 404 in Vernon.

Bonafice is survived by his wife of 43 years, Marguerite (Peggy) Bonafice; a son, Alex Bonafice of Vernon; a daughter, Julie Bonafice of Syracuse, N.Y.; two sisters, Joan Wages, and Doris (Jack) Lauritzen; and a brother, Robert Bonafice, all of Pittsburgh, Pa.; a brother-in-law, Robert Keller of Edmeston, N.Y.; two sisters-in-law, Mrs. Michael (Hilda) McLean of Charleston, S.C. and Mrs. James (Suzanne) Moran of Vernon; and many nieces and nephews. Bonafice was pre-deceased by four sisters, Ruth, Irene, Lois, Anna Mae, and one brother, Alex.

Calling hours will be from 1:30 p.m. until 3:30 p.m. (EST) on Tuesday, Feb. 28, at the United Methodist Church in Vernon, followed by a memorial funeral service with the Rev. Frank Loan officiating. He will be laid to rest in the Vernon Center Cemetery.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the United Methodist Church, 5230 Seneca Turnpike, in Vernon; the Vernon Fire and Rescue Department; or Hospice and Palliative Care. Funeral arrangements are being made by the Malecki Funeral Home, 23 Front St., in Vernon.
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