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Las Vegas jail chaplain was ‘shining light amongst the darkness’

Bonnie Polley spent decades in Sin City doing the Lord’s work.

A longtime Las Vegas police chaplain, she worked with police officers, murderers, and anybody in between. Right up until the end, she was widely known in the city for offering empathy and humanity to those who hadn’t given, or gotten, much of it themselves.

“She saw people as human beings first,” said her eldest son, Seth Polley, 60, in his homily for his mother at Thursday’s funeral. “Anything they did was secondary.”

So when Polley, 83, who died Aug. 5 of natural causes, was memorialized Thursday, hundreds of people turned out for the service at Christ Church Episcopal, 2000 S. Maryland Parkway.

Family and friends said they were happy and grateful for the large turnout, but not surprised because they knew she had made such a large impact in the community.

“We anticipated it and we knew that she was loved,” Seth Polley said.

Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman was one of the speakers. She said a tree in front of City Hall would be dedicated to Polley’s memory.

“We know she’s in the best place she can be, but she’s been so much to our community, and we will miss her,” Goodman said before the funeral.

Polley grew up in Lake Charles, Louisiana. As an homage to her Louisiana roots, a jazz band played at the funeral, doing “When the Saints Go Marching In” to close out the service.

She went to the University of Colorado, where she met her husband, David, moving with him in 1960 to Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he attended law school.

In 1964, she and David moved to Las Vegas after their first child, Seth, was born. She had two other children, Zachary and Matthew, was a dental hygienist and had volunteered with the Metropolitan Police Department for two decades before she was hired in 2005 as religious coordinator and chaplain at the Clark County Detention Center.

She and David, a lawyer who died in 2016, were together almost 60 years. Now they share the same final resting place in the church’s columbarium.

Las Vegas police Capt. Nita Schmidt also spoke, saying that police were blessed to have Polley on their team for over 40 years.

“Fueled by faith and Diet Coke, she personally met with thousands of inmates over the years, where she offered prayer, guidance and hope.” Schmidt said. “She was the shining light amongst the darkness to those who had given up by talking about forgiveness and redemption.”

One memorable incident, Schmidt told the funeral crowd, was when officers had to tell a man who was going to be released from jail the next day that his child had died. When the man collapsed in sobs, Polley got down on her knees with him and “with her words provided comfort and peace.”

“We stood there and watched as his sobs quieted, as he joined her on his knees in prayer,” Schmidt said.

Reenie Rosado, a friend of Polley’s, remarked that another one of their friends had said they didn’t know of anyone who wanted to meet Jesus more than Bonnie.

“All I could think is, oh, what a conversation they’re having,” Rosado said. “I love you and I miss you, sweet friend.”

Contact Brett Clarkson at bclarkson@reviewjournal.com or 561-324-6421. Follow @BrettClarkson_ on Twitter.

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