Black History Month: Celebrate Tonia Marie Schnyder

Published 9:42 am Saturday, February 18, 2023

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Full Name: Tonia Marie Schnyder

Where are you from?  I was born and reared in Reserve, LA. I currently reside in LaPlace. I’ve been living there for 20 years now. 

Tell us a little about yourself.  I’m a divorced mom of three children. My two daughters are college graduates from Southern University and Southeastern Louisiana University. I have a 12-year-old future engineer at home.  Following in the footsteps of my mother, a Shell refinery retiree, I worked as a process operator for 22 years, until the plant closure at the Shell refinery, Convent site. Although I have worked in the refinery for many years, my true passion is working with numbers. Prior to working in operations, the majority of my work experience was working in accounting. My very first job was at Kaiser Aluminum, working in accounts payable as a co-op student. As early as high school, I would compete in the accounting division at FBLA conventions and won the competition a few times. I worked in accounting at the majority of the plants in the River Parishes, through temporary agencies.  It was then that I met other females in the industry that encouraged me to pursue a career as a process technician. I immediately enrolled at Louisiana Technical College. Shortly after graduation, I received two job offers. I accepted the offer of Dupont Dow Elastomers. While there I joined the emergency response team and became an industrial firefighter. It wasn’t until I was hired with Shell Refinery that I received true firefighting training. I fell in love with it. I later received my Pro Board certification at TEEX Industrial Fire training Academy in College Station TX. 

Helping others is in my nature. I feel it’s what I was born to do. From a child, I watched my parents, grandparents, relatives, etc. work and give back to the community.  That same trait has trickled down to my children. My oldest daughter works in the mental health field, and my youngest works in criminal justice.   

Who are some Black role models you look up to and why?  My biggest role model is my mother, Mary Hampton. At the age of 80+, she’s the president of an environmental organization that’s fighting for clean air in our community for quite some time. She’s traveled all over, seeking resources, participated in numerous interviews, documentaries, etc.  She’s very passionate about her community and doesn’t mind fighting for what she believes in.  She’s my mentor, my “shero,” and I pray I’m just as active when I’m her age.  She always encourages me to never give up and never be afraid to stand up for what I believe in.  Even if that requires standing alone. 

Another local role model/mentor is Attorney Sylvia Taylor.  As the first female attorney in St. John, she’s always been a trailblazer. When I was a young girl, she had a law office at the head of the street that I grew up on.  I’ve always admired her strength, intelligence, her wisdom and her love for her community.  She’s always willing to give advice and words of encouragement when needed. 

What does Black History month mean to me? Black History month is a time to celebrate the positive impact and the many contributions and successes of African Americans.  It makes me proud to know we have a month dedicated to focusing on the history of our predecessors and also those living today. It’s an opportunity to showcase where we came from, to where we are today.

Why is it important to encourage diversity?

Diversity brings creativity.  Different backgrounds and experiences among others can lead to more productive ideas and solutions. Everyone can learn from each other.

What changes would you like to see in the local community? I’ve always promoted “Unity in the Community.”  That hasn’t changed.  We still have some work to do.  For years, our community has been divided — divided by titles, districts, the Mississippi River and divided by race. I would like to see all areas receive the same treatment when it comes to improvements. The morale is down in our Parish.  I want our residents to be proud to call St. John Parish home. They need to know we care.  I would also like to see more businesses that cater to the needs of our community.