We have received word that Jonathan Peter Bahnks, 63, an alumnus who attended Highlands in the mid-1960s, died September 10, 2010, in Desert Hot Springs, Calif., after a lengthy illness. While at Highlands, Jon was active in music, drama, art, and journalism organizations.
Some of his on-campus activities included creating ink illustrations as art director for the 1968 edition of the Highlands yearbook, The Southwest Wind, and writing a satirical column, “Shrubbery,” for the Highlands weekly newspaper, The Candle, under the pseudonym “Big Daddy B”. Jon also played Hector in the drama department’s production of Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida and starred in Edward Albee’s Zoo Story at “714” an off-campus coffee house serving Highlands students and community youth. He was a member of the Omniphysical Society, a student organization devoted to literary and artistic interests.
Off campus, Jon often took off into the mountains alone or with a friend to hike and camp in the Pecos Wilderness and surrounding areas, regardless of the season. He was an accomplished carpenter and frequently paid for his board by making improvements to the apartments and houses he lived in around town.
Jon cut an imposing figure, standing at 6-foot-5, with broad shoulders, blond hair, and a rugged countenance. He was proud of his Germanic ancestry, imposing stature, and Wagnerian voice. Before coming to Highlands from his parents’ home in Hillsdale, Ill., he had worked some filling out the cards of professional wrestling matches as a local “villain” under the name Baron von Bahnks.
Jon had a strong personality and a sixties-era disrespect for authority, which frequently rankled family members, professors, landlords, directors, editors, and employers. At the end of his junior year, he joined a theater company based in Raton for the summer. At the end of the season he went on tour with the company and never came back to Highlands.
He returned to New Mexico, buying and gradually restoring an old house in the Santa Fe area. He indulged his passion for the outdoors by gathering, hauling, splitting, and stacking chords of firewood as the only source of heat.
Jon earned his living as a carpenter, sometimes working on crews building custom homes in the area. More often, he found his own work, making home improvements for local landowners. During this period, Jon also served as a paid choir member and soloist in various Santa Fe churches. He also appeared in films shot in New Mexico, including Convoy (1978), Wild Times (1980,) and Timerider (1983).
Later, Jon began spending the colder months either in Arkansas or California, finally settling year-round in Desert Hot Springs. While in California, he entered a new relationship and found a niche, working largely alone and using his hands to improve scores, if not hundreds of homes along the way.