Robert "Bob" Bonaventure
Robert “Bob” Bonaventure was a well-known businessman that thrived in the El Paso area and pushed the LGBTQ+ spaces forward with his discreet, but firm support of the gay bar scene. He was born on March 24, 1939, in Central Falls, Rhode Island. He came to El Paso after his military service at Fort Bliss. In his years here, he sponsored multiple events and organizations that benefitted families all over El Paso. On August 5, the El Paso City Council recognized Bob with the Star of the Mountain Award. On August 8, 2014, El Pasoans were able to see the Star on the Mountain lit in his honor.
Bob was also known as the owner of the Old Plantation and the New Old Plantation, gay bars that created a space for self-expression for the border’s gay community. Bob, along with Frank Cavin, a fellow businessman, fought a Texan law that forbids same-sex dancing and continued to open other gay bars in El Paso to help the community, such as the San Antonio Mining Company, and the U-Got-It. He also was a silent partner in the Whatever Lounge. Bob quietly took a stand on important issues, such as ensuring the public was aware of how to prevent HIV early on in the fight against AIDS. In 1992, The Old Plantation was the only bar in the area that allowed HIV prevention information to be circulated on its premises. Even though Bob was not overtly open about his support for the LGBTQ+ community, he still showed tremendous generosity through his donations and sponsorship of different charities and organizations, including several regional orphanages and children’s organizations, water projects in Ysleta and Socorro, Texas, as well as the El Paso Zoo. In fact, without his support, many believe the El Paso Zoo’s creation would not have been possible! The GLBT Community Center, a division of LAMBDA GLBT Community Services, thanked Bob for sponsoring the then newly opened facility; countless other small projects such as LGBTQ fundraising events, newsletters, and health outreach projects also thrived due to Bob’s contributions.
People describe Bob as a “very tough guy”, but still hold a profound love for his personality and work. Bob definitely represented a very masculine and successful example of being gay in a time when many gay men were perceived through the lens of negative stereotypes. Robert W. Bonaventure, 75, passed away on Sunday, August 10, 2014.