For Tonya Qualk, family has always been important. From the time spent on her grandfather’s farm near Atwater, to raising her two daughters on her own, she has always been determined in life and possessed a lot of strength. At a very young age, she married her high school sweetheart and had her two children at 19 and 23. Shortly after this, her husband began to have trouble at work and became abusive towards her. It was then that she decided to make plans to escape the life she was living in order to create a better future for herself and her daughters. After two and a half years, she finally got a job at General Electric and, after saving up some money, was able to divorce her husband. Unfortunately, this new job was not all that she hoped it would be. During her first years working in the warehouse, she was faced with lots of discrimination from the male workers. She was spit on, had her number given out to truck drivers who were told she would do them “favors”, and looked down upon for changing her last name back to her maiden name and “leaving her children” by joining the workforce. This was a new experience for her as she had never really seen the inequality between men and women or had her intelligence questioned just for being a woman. Fortunately, Tonya stayed positive through it all saying “they were not going to take that money from me.” Now she is the first, and only, female Chief Steward of the union at the warehouse, where she still works.
Later in life, Tonya began college after being inspired by her long-time neighbor, Thelma Rinker, who taught her the importance of having an education. She has always been interested in archaeology ever since her father would take her fossil hunting as a child. She decided to major in Anthropology and Archaeology and hopes to eventually work with museums teaching children the importance of archaeology and museums in general. She also hopes to be involved in archaeological digs, whether local or in other places of the world. Tonya also has taken advantage of the study abroad programs offered here at Kent State. She went to Germany with Professor Mark Cassell and will remember the experience for the rest of her life. The enthusiasm of Professor Cassell is what truly made the trip for her. She believes that “if you can find a way to do it, [you should] study abroad as much as possible.” She hopes to travel a lot in life and loves travelling with her grandchildren as much as she can. Another large influence and role model for Tonya is Professor Ann Heiss. Tonya took a class with her when she was going through some tough times, including her mother being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Tonya says it is “difficult watching her disappear”, but Professor Heiss was there for her and supported her by helping Tonya keep up with class work and being a shoulder to lean on.
What she will remember most about Kent State is the warmth of the students and staff; she has always felt welcomed here. She continues to be inspired by her family and feels very fortunate with the family she grew up with as “lots of people don’t have that, and that’s the foundation for everything.” In ten years she hopes to be enjoying retirement, living out the cold months in Arizona spending lots of time with her growing family.