“As a teacher I’m impacting more people than just myself. It’s a great responsibility.”
Tony Pena, ’98 (pictured at left with his father), a math teacher at Stagg High School, works hard for his students. And he realizes that his work matters. His commitment has earned him a Golden Apple Award nomination and several wins during senior class polls. He has coached both baseball and track during his 17 years with the school.
His father taught him this mindset of working hard for others. “My dad came to the U.S. from Mexico at the age of 17 on a work visa. He was the oldest of nine kids and came here to help support his family back home. He spoke no English and had no money to his name. He often worked two jobs and sometimes three in order to give my two sisters and me a better life than he had. He wanted nothing more than for us to go to college and have an easier life.”
Tony made his father proud and became the first in his family to graduate college. “I was recruited to Lewis by former baseball coach Irish O'Reilly. I had a handful of other offers but I felt comfortable with Coach O'Reilly and the success of the baseball program. I also felt confident the Lewis Education Department would help to prepare me to become a teacher.”
Tony studied Mathematics and History with an Education minor. His father offered to pay for his education. “In fact, he gave me a credit card and told me to put whatever I needed on the card - tuition, books, whatever - fully understanding the financial strain this would have on him due to the cost of college and the extraordinary interest rate credit cards carry.” Fortunately, Tony received a baseball scholarship and an academic scholarship to help cover the cost of his tuition. “I never needed to use my dad’s credit card during my time at Lewis University.”
That is how he learned about the generosity of others and giving back. “At a time when I needed financial assistance in my life, Lewis provided it to me.” Tony explained he benefitted from donors to Lewis not just financially, but by university improvements. “New dorms, the field house, the fitness center. These were an enhancement to the quality of campus life and athlete performance.” Thanks to this personal experience, Tony consistently gives to Lewis to help students achieve their goals. “It is only right to repay others what I was paid.”
Tony and his wife, who is also a teacher, will pass these life lessons of generosity and working hard for others to their own children who are certain to multiply the kindness.
If you would like to make a gift to Lewis University, please visit alumni.lewisu.edu/Give.
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