Centennial Reflections

How Bradley set the stage for this 100-year-old’s spectacular life.

By Jenevieve Rowley-Davis

Legacy means a lot to Antionette “Toni” Tejeda ’46. One of seven children, she was born in Streator, Ill., to immigrants from Mexico. Her father, a rail worker, brought his family to Streator in search of stability—something they found in the unlikely form of a boxcar.

Toni’s mother made the most of their new boxcar home. “She made curtains and she had my dad knock out a hole so she could have a window,” she recalled. “She even crocheted little carpets.”

Toni learned to speak English at age six when she entered the Catholic school system. From there, she developed a love for the English language she would carry with her for the rest of her life.

When Toni’s sister Louise started applying for colleges, Toni paid close attention. As children of immigrants, it was hard to find institutions that would accept them, according to Louise’s daughter, Margo Brestan. “For a year after she graduated from Streator High, [Louise] was actively trying to find a school that would take her,” Brestan explained. “Eventually it was Bradley. They showed compassion.”

As Louise graduated from Bradley in 1937, followed by Esther in 1941, Toni prepared to follow suit. “We used to go around boasting, ‘I’m going to college! I’m going to college!’” Toni remembered. “Of course, we had remarks from other Mexicans who were not going to school.”

Pushed to pursue the depths of their potential, marriage was never a priority in the eyes of the Tejeda parents. For Toni, who never married, their encouragement meant the world. “Our parents kept telling us that the more we learned, the better we would become,” she said.

And so Toni set out on her Bradley journey. Over the course of her four years, she participated in several student organizations, including the Y.W.C.A., Spanish Club, French Club, Philosophy Club and more.

“My roommate was a sorority girl, but I didn’t know what sororities were, so I went on with my studying. Then, finally, one day, she said, ‘Toni, if we invite you to join the sorority, would you do it?’ I thought that was such a scary thing.” Eventually, she overcame her fears and joined her roommate, Betty Bailey ’45, as a Delta Kappa. The two remained close friends until Bailey’s death in 2015.

Braving the Real World

Following her graduation in 1946, Toni dabbled in business and the film industry before deciding to pursue something she was more passionate about—teaching. She found a job at Notre Dame High School in Chicago, and she flourished. After a few years and a switch to Peotone High School, Toni was accepted into Texas Tech’s graduate school in Lubbock, Texas.

Frequently connecting with underserved students as a mentor and guide, Toni would go on to become a tenured professor at Wichita State University. But, when WSU would face off against Bradley’s sports teams, Toni would proudly wear her Bradley pin above her WSU pin. She always made time to share her stories of acceptance and excitement at Bradley.

As the years passed, the Tejeda sisters reflected on their parents’ encouragement and the compassion they found on the Bradley campus. As a way of giving back and honoring the legacy their parents left behind, they established a scholarship program in their parents’ names— The Gerardo & Loreto Tejeda Endowed Scholarship. The scholarship has received $32,000, of which
Toni has contributed $14,000. “I felt very proud of our parents for encouraging us to go to school,” she said. “They made a big sacrifice … and for everything, we give credit to them.”

Nowadays, Toni stays busy with needlepoint and cross-stitch projects, frequently gifting them to her nieces and nephews. She recently celebrated her 100th birthday with a party themed after her parents’ home country of Mexico. 

“I didn’t think I would want to live to 100, but I’m still walking.”

Even now, Toni and her sisters’ love of Bradley shines through. The legacy of Bradley and the Tejeda line has become intertwined, so much so that even Toni’s nephew can speak to the impact Bradley left on his family.

“Our mom and our aunts were very supported at Bradley,” Len Vigil, Louise’s son, said. “They were supported not only by the institution but also by the extraordinary kindness and sympathy of the people there. There were so many wonderful individuals that protected them in a social sense and had their interests at heart.”

Bradley broadened and expanded the world for the Tejeda sisters. He added, “They’re very proud of what they’ve achieved and the opportunities Bradley gave them.”

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