Controversy and Contribution: The Bonfils

Real Estate Agent with Rocky Mountain Homescapes, Keller Williams, Denver Colorado

As you were lying on the table making a contribution for life in the form of donating blood, you probably were working with professionals from the Bonfils Blood Center. I've heard the name over the years and was aware the Bonfils1Bonfils family were philanthropists that made a huge difference in Denver. So, just like Bonnie Brae, I decided to do a little more research and find out more about them.

Frederick Bonfils - (1860-1933)

Frederick has a bit of a checkered past. He and Harry Heye Tammen bought the Denver Post in the late 1800's. The competition between the Post and what was the more popular Rocky Mountain News newspaper got heated. In 1900, the Post was working to get convicted cannibal Alfred Packer out of prison and attorney, William Anderson, was assigned the job. After an intense argument, Bonfils and Tammen were shot by William Anderson but quickly recovered. Anderson was acquitted of assault.

Several years later, Bonfils assaulted United States Senator and Rocky Mountain News editor Thomas Patterson at the corner of 13th Avenue and Logan Street. Bonfils was convicted of assault and paid a small fine.

He made the first of the community contributions by donating seventeen acres at 9th Avenue and Colorado Boulevard to the University of Colorado for a Denver medical school campus.

Frederick Bonfils died in 1933.

Helen Bonfils -

After her father's death in 1933, Helen Bonfils took over management of the Denver Post. In 1946, Helen brought in E. Palmer Hoyt as the editor. Hoyt improved the quality of the paper and it became one of the most influential regional newspapers across the country.

It was Helen who established the Belle Bonfils Blood Bank and Bonfils Tumor Clinic. She also supported the Denver Zoo, Denver Dumb Friends League and the Denver Center for the Performing Arts.  

After Helen's first husband died, Helen (69) married her 28 year old chauffeur "Tiger" Mike Davis. They divorced several years later with Davis receiving a substantial settlement.

Helen died in 1972.

May Bonfils-

May was Helen's older sister. May was estranged from the family after she eloped with a salesman at age 21. She was actually cut out of Frederick's will. After suing, May received a substantial portion of the estate, including property in Lakewood where she built Belmar, a home modelled after a Versailles palace.

May was an active supporter of the Central City Opera and Denver Botanic Gardens. She died in 1962 at the age of 78.

With no heirs, most of the estate went for charitable purposes including the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, University of Colorado Health Science Center and many other charities across the state.

Bonfils 2The family is buried at Fairmount Cemetery, but not together. May, still estranged in death, is buried a few hundred feet from the rest of the family that is buried in Bonfils Room of the Fairmount Mausoleum Building.  

While the family faced some controversy over the years, they made incredible contributions that have changed the face of not only Denver, but Colorado as well.

To read more about the history of amazing people of Colorado, don't miss Richard E. Wood's Here Lies Colorado: Fascinating Figures in Colorado History.

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Comments (8)

Dena Stevens
Rocky Mountain Realty - Canon City, CO
Putting The Real Into Realtor Since 2004
Wow! Thanks for sharing. I lived in Denver for 20 + years and didn't know any of that. I knew Bonfils was a big name in town, in the arts and in blood. Quite the colorful group!
May 18, 2007 05:49 AM
Jennifer Steck
Rocky Mountain Homescapes, Keller Williams, Denver Colorado - Denver, CO
Denver Real Estate
Dena- I was surprised with the history as well. I really enjoyed researching this one because of the great information. Despite the difficulties, they were an amazing family.
May 19, 2007 12:14 AM
George Souto
George Souto NMLS #65149 FHA, CHFA, VA Mortgages - Middletown, CT
Your Connecticut Mortgage Expert

Jennifer, you did a great job with the research on this.  I like the spunk of Helen Bonfils, marring her 28 year old chauffeur when she was 69 years of age.  You go girl......LOL

May 20, 2007 12:59 PM
Jennifer Steck
Rocky Mountain Homescapes, Keller Williams, Denver Colorado - Denver, CO
Denver Real Estate
George- Thanks. I enjoyed working on it. I appreciated the "spunk" as well. Helen managed the newspaper during a tough time and left it better than it started.
May 20, 2007 02:08 PM
Bonnie Marie DeWolfe
Eagle Ridge Signatures Inc. - Pueblo West, CO


This is great! I always wondered where they came up with the name Bonfils- I never thought of it being a family surname! I agree with George! This little lady had lots of spunk!

May 21, 2007 05:31 AM

I believe one of these sisters married my grandfather.  Her father had the marriage annulled, but a son was born.  Any information about that?

Jun 17, 2008 08:35 AM
Jennifer Steck
Rocky Mountain Homescapes, Keller Williams, Denver Colorado - Denver, CO
Denver Real Estate


I hadn't heard about that situation, but the family history is facinating. So you may be a Bonfils relative. That would be a great history and good motivation to do some geneology.


Jul 30, 2008 01:09 AM
gary witherspoon

How interesting that my dad worked for Tiger Oil and Mike Davis as exploration geologist.  Tiger Mike Davis is an enigma.  He never looked like he any money at all!   Big baggy pants and day beard is what I remember when meeting him one time and one time only in Oklahoma City.  I think the motto in general consensus then was:  "Non Illegitmi Tatum Carborundum"..Don't let the bastards wear you down.

Jun 03, 2009 03:17 AM