‘Purple house’ family flooded with Lawrence community support after anonymous letters

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In recent weeks, Kimberlee Bonura and her family had dreaded checking the mail, anxious they’d receive yet another letter criticizing their purple home at 1140 West Hills Parkway. 

The anonymous letters advised the family to start a GoFundMe to finance a new paint job, calling the house “inharmonious,” “garish,” “objectionable” and “tacky.” 

“I don’t think you will enjoy being the talk of the town!” one letter warned. 

Bonura and her family indeed became the talk of the town — but not in the way the letter writer had intended. 

As news about the angry neighbors’ letters spread, people started to reach out to the owners of the English Hyacinth-painted house with Charmed Violet trim, colors Bonura’s 13-year-old child had selected.

More than 50 people stopped by the house personally to tell Bonura and her mother they disagreed with the letters, they said, and a dozen more hand-delivered bouquets of flowers.

Chansi Long/Lawrence Times Eric Bloom, left, dropped by on Wednesday afternoon to tell Kimberlee Bonura, right, and her family not to listen to letters critiquing the color of their house.

Postal and delivery drivers stopped by to holler, “We love it!” and offer thumbs up. Many neighbors have walked over to declare that they weren’t the ones who sent the letters. 

Local businesses and organizations such as The Toy Store, Lawrence Public Library, The Bump and Rainbow Strings Lawrence sent gifts. 

And nearly 100 people mailed personal letters or sent cards. 

At first, Bonura and her mother sifted through the letters cautiously, fearful of more harassment. But when letter after encouraging letter arrived, their hearts eased. 

Chansi Long/Lawrence Times Kimberlee Bonura, left, and her mother, Sandra Bethany, have a countertop covered in flowers from Lawrence community members who wanted to show their family support.

Now the house is fragrant with the scent of the flowers adorning the kitchen counter. And Bonura and her mother, Sandra Bethany, smile gratefully as they admire the bounty. 

“And we were told that they would be upset,” Bethany said on Wednesday afternoon, laughing. 

This week, Chanda Rojas and her daughter brought 17 pots of purple flowers to the house.

Rojas had a purple door before.

Contributed photo Chanda Rojas and Bonura

“It truly was on my heart to bring this family flowers in the biggest gesture I could,” she said. “No one shamed me for my door. I didn’t want them to feel any shame for the color of the house.”

She drove up to the purple house, nervous the family would be annoyed or suspicious, considering the unkind letters they’d recently received. 

“I pulled into the driveway and asked if I could give the family flowers, and Kimberlee was overjoyed,” she said. “We unloaded them all and gave each other hugs. I am absolutely so glad they moved here. Kimberlee might be the kindest, most joyful person I have ever met. When all of this calms down, I truly hope the Bonura family and grandmother have a lot of fun here and enjoy our sweet town.” 

Bethany and Bonura have begun to experience the sweet side of Lawrence — the town the military family had selected to be their long-term home partly because of its reputation as an accepting community.

A few days ago as Bethany was leaving the Merc, she said, her cashier remarked, “I saw the article in the Times about your purple house.”

“All of a sudden it was a movie scene,” Bethany recalled. 

People whipped their heads around, grinning, pointing, and flashing their thumbs in support. “Purple house!” some shouted in camaraderie. 

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Among the crowd was a woman who had bought a book called “The Big Orange Splot” after reading about the house, planning to bring it in person. The next day, she and her husband brought the book, which is about a man whose house is inadvertently splashed with orange paint.

At first, the man hates the color because it’s different, but in time he finds it interesting, and decides to add more and different colors. Eventually, his neighbors who despised the color become entranced as well, changing their houses, too.

The book’s central lesson is be yourself; ignore the haters, and other people will draw strength from your conviction. This is a lesson Bonura and her family had already learned. 

And they’ve learned a new lesson, Bonura said: Even adults can be bullies, and though you might want to keep it a secret, it’s important to speak out, to let others know of your torment. And you never know who will come to your aid.

“I really hope if young people read (about) this with their parents that they will feel like if someone bullies them, they can say, ‘Hey, that’s not OK,’” Bonura said. “Because instead if you feel like you have to hide, like there’s something wrong with you, then those people win, they get to keep being mean, you know, and that’s not OK.”

Chansi Long/Lawrence Times Kimberlee Bonura’s countertop is covered in flowers from Lawrence community members who wanted to show her family support. One woman brought them a copy of a book called “The Big Orange Splot,” by Daniel Pinkwater.

Though the purple house has been flooded with love from neighbors near and far, the effect from the original batch of letters lingers. Receiving the letters was psychologically traumatic for Bethany, who was a military investigator for 30 years. 

“There were a couple of times where because of those cases, there were credible threats made against her and me as her child because she was the only female officer posted in those positions,” Bonura said. “And so there’s a lot of PTSD, you know, embedded in her nervous system.”

The letters evoked memories of truly grisly threats Bethany had received in the past, sending her body into hyperarousal and triggering panic attacks. 

“You don’t know what other people are carrying, you know? … For my mom, (the letters were) a trigger of past trauma,” Bonura said. 

Bethany has reengaged with a therapist through Veterans Affairs. And she is comforted by the cluster of veterans who have volunteered to sit with her while she gardens, as the letters had made her feel anxious and vulnerable to be outside.

With help from the community, Bonura and her family are leveraging the ordeal into something positive. 

From 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday, May 20, they are holding a food drive in collaboration with Just Food. People who haven’t seen the house or who want to come again can bring a pantry item to donate. 

From the 8-year-old girl who brought a handwritten note saying “Don’t (listen) to the meanies,” to the retired dentist who came over to assure the Bonuras it wasn’t him; from the KU football staff member who stopped by, to the mayor of St. Louis Park, Minnesota, who sent a card, people of all ages have emerged to mitigate the harm the original letters had caused. 

Bonura is touched by well-wishers and the effort they have channeled into making her and her family feel welcome, seen and accepted. And she wants everyone who has reached out with a letter, card or gift to know that she is writing thank-you cards as we speak.

It’s just taking a while, because, fortunately, she has a lot to send.

Chansi Long/Lawrence Times Kimberlee Bonura holds a framed card that reads “Lavender, purple, whatever … Lavender? Pretty? Purple? Quirky vibes? Whatever! All of the above … Absolutely!! The real Lawrence!”

Note: This post was edited to update the time of the planned food drive.

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Chansi Long (she/her) reported for The Lawrence Times from July 2022 through August 2023. Read more of her work for the Times here.

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