Willis Braxton Bonner, a former high school dropout who rose to be a captain in the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department, died July 15 of vascular dementia, his family said. He was 79.
Mr. Bonner spent 33 years with the Sheriff's Department, which began modernizing with professional training and specialized units during the 1970s.
He started as a deputy in 1957 and climbed the ranks while attending the FBI Academy and studying at American River College and Sacramento City College. Promoted to captain, he served as jail commander under Sheriff Duane Lowe.
A former football lineman at Grant High School, he represented the department in the first Pig Bowl game against the Sacramento Police Department.
He later served on the executive committee that organized the annual event, which drew almost 30,000 fans to Hughes Stadium during the early years.
"He was a big guy with a great sense of humor," said Terry Dyer, a retired sheriff's lieutenant.
Born May 7, 1933, in Exeter, Mr. Bonner left high school to join the Air Force from 1951 to 1955.
He earned a general equivalency diploma and worked briefly in a bakery in Sacramento before entering law enforcement.
Retired since 1990, he was a lifetime member of the California Peace Officers Association and the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
He was married since 1985 to the former Joyce Barnett and lived the last 13 years in Citrus Heights. He enjoyed camping and watching football, which he also played in the Air Force.
Mr. Bonner is survived by three children from an earlier marriage that ended in divorce: sons Mark Bonner and Matt Bonner and daughter Gina Bonner, all of the Sacramento area.
Other survivors include a stepdaughter, Rona Hullen of Discovery Bay; stepsons, Ron Vesci Jr. of Roseville, and Robert Barnett of Rio Linda; sister, Judy Brown of Visalia; and several grandchildren.
A memorial service is set for 2 p.m. Aug. 19 at VFW Post 67, 2784 Stockton Blvd., Sacramento.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Bruce Verhoeven Foundation, P.O. Box 160923, Sacramento, CA 95816-0923; or Personalized Home Care, 4600 Northgate Blvd., Sacramento, CA 95834.