Roscoe Osmond Bonisteel was born November 23, 1888 at Sidney Cross, Ontario. In 1891 he moved with his family to the United States. Following the retirement in 1913 of his father Milton F. Bonisteel from International Harvester the family moved to Ann Arbor, where Milton became active in both the real estate and the insurance business.
Roscoe Bonisteel received most of his early education in Pennsylvania, graduating from Harrisburg high school and receiving most of his undergraduate education at Dickinson College, Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Bonisteel received his college diploma, however, from the University of Michigan, which conferred upon him a bachelor of laws degree in 1912.
For the next half century Bonisteel practiced law in Ann Arbor. In addition to his practice, he was active in numerous professional organizations. He was president of the State Bar of Michigan (1936-1937), an organization he helped to create. He also served as a member of the American Bar Association House of Delegates (1936-1940).
Bonisteel's scope of activities, however, was far broader than his legal interests. He actively involved himself in politics, education, business, religion and community betterment.
Politically, Bonisteel was a conservative Republican. He served as an active party worker throughout his life. He was elected chairman of the Washtenaw County Republican organization and was appointed to numerous state boards and commissions. In both 1928 and 1944 he was selected as a delegate to the Republican National Convention. Bonisteel remained politically active throughout the 1950s. In 1961 he was elected as a Republican delegate to the state constitutional convention. At the convention he served on several committees, but was most influential in his posts as chairman of the education committee's sub-committee on higher education, and as vice-chairman of the committee on emerging problems. Education was a continuing concern of Bonisteel. He was a trustee of Dickinson College, a member of the Board of Trustees, Cleary College, the Board of Governors, Wayne State University (1956-1959) and the Board of Regents, the University of Michigan (1946-1959). In addition he served on the Board of Directors and was chairman of the executive committee of the National Music Camp at Interlochen.
In the business community, Bonisteel served as legal counsel for numerous corporate clients. Personally, he was a member of several Michigan firms' board of directors, including Ann Arbor Bank, Information Industry Associates, Michigan Life Insurance, and the State Bank of Frankfort.
Bonisteel worshipped at First Presbyterian Church of Ann Arbor. He was an active member of the congregation. He served both as an elder and a trustee of the church. In addition to all his other activities, Bonisteel was involved in a host of community organizations. He was a Mason, an active 33rd degree member, and a Michigan grand master (1929-1930). He was a Rotarian, serving that organization as president of the Ann Arbor chapter (1932-1933) and as International District governor (1934-1935). He was a member of the American Legion, having been a captain in the U.S. Air Service (area intelligence) during World War I. He was elected commander of Legion post 46 (1925) and served as judge advocate for Michigan (1934-1935). He was also active in historical organizations, most prominently as president of the Historical Society of Michigan (1961-1962).
Roscoe Bonisteel died on February 25, 1972.