BY MARCY SHORTUSE – There are few things in Tonya Bramlage’s world that interest her that she hasn’t dove into wholeheartedly. From cooking to nature studies to healthy living, she isn’t one to wait for a class to take or a mentor to follow. Her own words say it best: “I was DIY-ing before it was a thing.”
That “do-it-yourself” attitude has brought Tonya from one side of the country to the other, and a good part of the reason she was hired to work the front desk at the Boca Beacon a few months ago. It takes a sturdy personality to work with characters like us, after all.
Tonya was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her parents grew up in San Rafael, Calif. together, eventually married and moved to Silicon Valley.
“My grandparents on both sides remained in Marin County, California.” she said.” I spent many memorable times up in the country hillside of Novato. My parents owned and ran a financial planning and investment business.”
As a young girl, Tonya attended school in Silicon Valley, and it was there she realized a passion for learning. She was always an avid reader, and was enrolled in California’s GATE (Gifted and Talented Education) program by the time she reached first grade.
“I am an avid and lifelong learner; I try to learn something new every day,” she said. “My favorite thing about school was my time in the library. I used to devour encyclopedia volumes. I taught myself how to cook, the names of rocks and plants, various art forms, and read multiple autobiographies. That may be why I skipped from fifth to seventh grade.”
Growing up, Tonya spent a significant amount of time with her family in the great outdoors. They enjoyed boating, camping, skiing, fishing, and traveling.
”I became a naturalist at a young age,” she said. “I used to collect rocks, bugs, flowers, feathers, bones, shells, and leaves from everywhere we would go. I became a junior ranger through the Smokey the Bear program, and one of the many participants in the, “Give a Hoot and don’t pollute” campaign that encouraged trash collection. I became environmentally aware at a very young age. As an adult, I became involved with the Girl Scouts of America, serving as a leader and alumni.”
Tonya has always been drawn to the water, particularly the ocean. The water in the Pacific is not warm by any means, but that never stopped her from getting in up to her chin. She began swimming on an Amateur Athletic Union swim team when she was about 9 years old.
“My favorite event was ‘Individual medley,’ where you swim all four swimming styles, beginning with butterfly, then backstroke, breaststroke, and freestyle,” she said. “I learned how to surf in 2016 while living in Puerto Rico. In high school they called me ‘Pescado,’ because I always came into Spanish class from swim practice with wet hair.”
It was with her father that Tonya had her first job, working for him in his office.
“He charged me with the basic administrative duties such as answering the phones, filing, generating direct mail, scheduling appointments, and general office upkeep,” she explained. “I spent long hours listening to my father advise his clients, and thanks to him I learned how to become an excellent listener. I also learned to take notes. Those are two things I still continue to do. The best lesson I learned from him was, ‘Two ears to listen … twice as much as one mouth that speaks.’
“That is a very valuable lesson.”
Tonya attended Montessori Teaching College and earned her BA in childhood education. She was drawn to the Montessori method of learning, as a direct result of her own experience.
“The didactic approach to learning came naturally to me,” she said. “My own love of learning found expression through alternative learning modalities. How and why we learn has always fascinated me. I find it very rewarding when I am able to assist another person toward discovery and an ‘aha’ moment for themselves. I have been teaching in some capacity since my early 20s.”
It is no surprise that a person from California is also very interested in natural living and alternative health studies. From breathing techniques to nature’s remedies, Tonya has soaked up as much knowledge about healthy, “crunchy granola” living (her words) as she has the The Golden State’s sun.
After living for a time in Nashville, Tenn. and operating a yoga studio, she started to seriously think about moving to Puerto Rico. She sold the studio in 2016 and made the move, but as life often does, it threw her a curve.
“I intended to teach and enjoy island life to the fullest there,” she said, “but Hurricane Maria’s impact on the island in 2017 changed all that. Luckily, my husband and I were visiting family and friends back in Nashville when the hurricane struck. We were unable to fly into Puerto Rico until months later. In the interim, my mother-in-law called to ask for some assistance with her home in Punta Gorda. Hurricane Irma had left a bit of mark on her home just before Maria arrived. She was away visiting with her out-of-town children at the time, so we agreed to come and offer our help.”
As Tonya and her husband were contracting repairs for her mother-in-law’s home, they would go exploring Southwest Florida along the way.
“We would take day trips to different area beaches, keys, and islands in south Florida,” she recalled. “Those day trips brought into clear view just how beautiful and special Gasparilla Island really is. We decided to relocate here permanently in 2018.”
After many years of raising four children – one son and three daughters – Tonya is now able to take a breath and focus on her hobbies and passions with more zeal than ever before. She became a grandmother this past May, with the birth of two grandsons.
Now, in her free time, Tonya is involved with nature conservation, the Boca Grande Sea Turtle Association, learning Florida-specific flora and fauna with the goal of leading eco tours at local points of environmental interest, practicing yoga, beach combing, creating art, writing, and enjoying an energizing game of pickle ball or a challenging game of mallets. And, of course, she works part-time for the Boca Beacon. It’s not a bad quasi-retirement gig for someone who is so in love with the beach … not to mention the water is considerably warmer.