Tonya Murray: Making a Difference in the Fairchild Community

by Amy McGarry

As a Huckleberry Press reporter, my greatest pleasure is meeting amazing people who are making a positive impact in their communities. Tonya Murray is one of those incredible people whose life calling is to help.

One of the first things Tonya told me about herself was, “I’m the kind of person who loves. I want to help everyone.”

And yet Tonya is humble. She calls herself a jack of all trades, but claims she’s only mastered some.

When it comes to helping, Tonya is a master indeed.

The humble Tonya has humble beginnings in her journey in making a difference in the Fairchild community. She originally sought employment on Fairchild Air Force Base because of the convenient location.

Tonya Murray with her animals
Tonya Murray, photo by Val Mohney

“We live out in the fields,” she explains with a laugh.

The air force base was the closest place to work. In 2009, she became employed as a housekeeper on the base.

As if it was meant to be, a job came open in food service.

“I’ve been in food my whole life. I love to feed people. Food is so communal. Food is survival. Food makes us happy. When I feed people, I feel like I’m helping.”

Tonya eventually became the manager of the three restaurants and catering business and co-managed the dining facilities on Fairchild. In this role, Tonya had a hand in everything food related.

“If there was food, I was in it.”

She laughs again as she explains that she is so associated with feeding people on base that she’s known as the “Food Mom,” “Lunch Lady,” and other monikers that describe her role.

As much as she loves feeding people, her job was incredibly demanding, requiring long hours and hard work.

“I got tired,” she explains. “I started to pray.” Her hope was to be led to a less rigorous role.

Her prayers were answered. A job at Global Credit Union on the base “presented itself.” But it took her awhile to recognize this “gift” she’d been offered.

“I’d never done this kind of work before. It was out of my comfort zone. I wasn’t sure at first if this was what I was supposed to do.”

She let months go by, until a spiritual awakening led her to know the new job was indeed meant to be. She accepted the job at Global Credit Union in September of 2019. Her greatest concern—that she wouldn’t be able to serve, that she wouldn’t be able to “take care of people” — was soon put to rest.

“Global lets me integrate what I love to do in my job.”

This integration includes serving the community by helping with Fairchild events, and yes, feeding people. Tonya was responsible for rallying West Plains businesses to procure the food for her to cater for over 1000 attendees at Sky Fest last month, including the Distinguished Visitors, the Thunderbirds, and performers.

An avid runner with the extraordinary record of completing 93 half-marathons, Tonya also assists in coaching airmen towards passing their physical fitness assessments at Fairchild’s running clinics.

She explains that her job with Global puts her in a position to take care of the base community in “mom form.”

“I’m still considered the Base Mom. I see myself as the mama hen. The members of the base community are my chicks. I love this base so much. I’m so thankful. Taking care of them fills my heart. I’m blessed with cool things I get to do.”

Speaking of blessings, Tonya is also involved with Blessings Under the Bridge, an organization whose mission is, in part, to “restore purpose and dignity to the hearts of the homeless in our community.” Of course, Tonya is quick to stress that this service includes “feeding the homeless.”

If all of this wasn’t enough, Tonya also serves the West Plains communities as a member of the Chamber of Commerce.

Tonya’s service on the base has not gone unrecognized. Fairchild has shown their appreciation by awarding her the first ever title of Wing Commander Chief: Honorary Commander. Not bad at all for the woman who started her career on the base as a housekeeper.

Tonya’s love is not limited to the two-legged community. When she’s not serving on the base, Tonya’s tending to her animal sanctuary, Murray Meadows. The story of her animal sanctuary is just as fascinating as her Fairchild story. It all started because she “just wanted two potbellied pigs.’

Five years ago, Tonya went outside to discover a brand-new Harley-Davidson in her driveway. That was the sign she needed. She thought to herself, “I’m gonna go out and get my own hogs.”

So, she did. Once she started caring for new babies, Harley and Fergie, she began to follow pot-bellied pig internet groups.

One day, a post on a Facebook group shared the story of a piglet that had been left on a doorstep in a plastic bin. Surprised and saddened that someone would abandon a baby pig, Tonya commented on the post. She was soon contacted with a big question: Would she be willing to take in the piglet?

The rest is history. Tonya describes the adopted Omar as the “kindest, sweetest, guy ever.”

“He has my heart.”

Part of Murray Meadows became “Omar Estates,” where Omar is joined by other pigs needing sanctuary. Sometimes pig owners find themselves in an emergency situation where they can no longer care for their pet. This is as heartbreaking for the pig as it is for the owner who must leave their pet behind. One such house pig cried real tears of sadness after being dropped off by its owner.

“Pigs are attached to their people, just like dogs.”

One pig was even found on a riverbank by a fisherman who rescued the emaciated Louie by boat. Louie was fortunate enough to find himself on Omar Estates where he was nursed back to health.

Tonya’s love for all living things is palpable and touching.

“I just want to help everyone and everything, from a 4-Star General to an injured rooster on the side of the road.”

On behalf of the whole team at the Huckleberry Press, Tonya, we salute you!