Tonya Gunn was known for managing three grills at a time at large family parties, cooking up steaks and her signature Southern-style smothered potatoes. She loved making sure that everyone left satisfied.
Her co-workers said Gunn carried that same generous spirit each day to her job at the University of Chicago, where she worked for 21 years, the last 13 as a customer service representative with Facilities Services.
“Tonya loved what she did; she loved helping people,” said Meachie Holman, Gunn’s supervisor and friend. “She always had a joke or a kind word, always had a smile on her face.”
Gunn, 44, was shot and killed early Monday, July 7, in the Morgan Park neighborhood where she grew up, during a get-together where she was cooking for relatives. A memorial service in her honor will be held at 11:30 a.m. Thursday, July 17 at Rockefeller Memorial Chapel, 5850 S. Woodlawn Ave.
“We are all grief-stricken,” Steven Wiesenthal, senior associate vice president for facilities and University architect, wrote in an email to employees last week. “Tonya has been an important, respected and beloved member of the University of Chicago community. Her work ethic and good-humored manner were appreciated by clients and co-workers alike, and her contributions supported the University of Chicago campus community.”
Gunn attended Morgan Park High School and studied at Robert Morris University before joining the University of Chicago in 1993. Her work ethic began early: Her mother, Sandra Gunn, recalled that at age 10, Tonya secured a job as a cashier in her neighborhood grocery store and saved enough money to buy herself a new bike.
“She was very reliable, very dependable,” Sandra Gunn said. “She went to work every day, and always aimed to please.”
Tonya Gunn also was a lifelong musician who played drums, piano and guitar. “She was an all-around musician,” her mother said, noting that Tonya picked up the guitar at 2 years old and learned from her father how to play. “She loved all genres of music.”
Gunn was devoted to her 11-year-old daughter, Destiny Fields, an honors student and gifted basketball player. “Her mother always told her, ‘You can do anything you put your mind to,’” Holman said.
Gunn’s presence will be greatly missed in the Facilities Services office she has occupied for more than 13 years. “We all were like sisters,” Holman said. “We never argued. It was good spirit all of the time.”
Gunn is survived by her mother; her daughter; her brother, Loren Crump; and a large extended family.
In addition to the UChicago memorial service, a public viewing will be held on Tuesday, July 15, from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Angelus Memorial Chapel, 8243 S. Ashland Ave. A wake will be held at 11 a.m. on Wednesday, July 16 at Beth Eden Baptist Church, 11121 S. Loomis St., followed by a funeral service at noon.