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Our hearts broke Sunday, September 11th, 2022, when the most amazing mom, wife, daughter, aunt, niece, cousin, friend, and person, Tonya Buhrman Pike, passed away.
Tonya was born on September 1st, 1973. She was the shining light and only child of Erika Schubert and Arthur Buhrman. She grew up and finished high school in Roswell, Georgia. As a young girl she would often wake up before 4am to help her parents at the family’s donut shop. As a student and athlete, she was amazing, going to the University of Illinois to study engineering after graduation. At Illinois her name is on the wall today as a recipient of the Thiokol award for being an exemplary engineering student. After college, she had her choice of jobs and chose to come to General Electric to be on their engineering leadership program. She was a great leader and continued to be successful in all areas, completing her MBA at the University of Louisville while holding important jobs. It was at GE that Tonya and I met and fell in love.
Tonya fought like crazy to adopt our beautiful daughter, Lily Bay Pike, from an orphanage in Yekaterinburg Russia. Tonya loved her so much and they have a very special and deep bond. She was so proud of her and delighted in seeing Lily bloom as a student at the College of Charleston. This summer, Tonya loved watching Lily’s big heart at work with kids at her job at the Anne Springs Greenway. She would tell Lily as a child, that while Lily didn’t come out of Tonya’s belly, she did come out of Tonya’s heart. At Lily’s toughest moments, you would find her with a tear in her eye, at our bedroom door, waiting to talk with Tonya for hours.
In 2005, Tonya gave birth to Riley Nolan Pike. Riley is a Tonya clone in every way. Tonya enjoyed going to watch him play sports more than any activity in life. His friends and their mothers formed a pack call the Mamaqua tribe, named after a place where they would go for annual mother son weekends. Her pride in Riley knew no limit and she found it so hard to be mad at him, because he (like her) is so hard on himself. They went on 1/1 vacations which were so special, as they just enjoyed each other so much. Rare is the friendship and natural back and forth they shared.
As a mom, she was always a room mom, PTO president, boaster club member, team mom, and in everything our kids cared about. She wanted a home where their friends came to be with our kids, and she knocked that one out of the park. The amount of our kids’ friends that considered her a second mom is amazing. If our kids struggled in a class, Tonya stepped in. If our kids had issues she listened and helped. They were her life and she considered them her greatest accomplishment.
As a wife, Tonya changed my life. When we met, we knew immediately that we were to be together forever. Two people that loved space, immediately became inseparable. In 25 years, there was never an insult and rarely an argument, just true support. She carried this family on her back and was always there for me. Moving, rearranging her life at a moment, and believing in me always. We moved from Louisville, Barrington IL, Fort Mill SC, and Stockholm Sweden – sometimes with a week’s notice. She planned trips all over and took us all over the world. The compliment I am must proud of and agree with the most, is that there is no Nolan without Tonya. In every area that I have improved since our marriage, I owe it to her.
As a daughter, niece, and cousin she was so loved. Her mom Erika and her talked every day and enjoyed each other very much. She was so very proud of helping her mom get a house nearby and could not wait to spend even more time with Erika. Erika rightfully says she had the perfect daughter. Her Uncle Wally, Aunt Toni, Aunt LaNita, Uncle Carl, Cousins Kurt, Andrea, Chris, and their kids were so close. She cherished them, and they cherished her. My family adopted Tonya as a daughter, sister, aunt, and cousin and she loved them so much. Our family grief is massive and a sign of the force she is in our lives.
As a friend, Tonya was the best. So many people have posted that she was their best friend, because Tonya loved them so much. She welcomed people in, helped them into her friend group, and kept up. She was always reaching out, taking walks, listening, participating, and putting so much energy in their success. Her capacity for true friendship is real and meaningful. As I read tributes, there are people all over the world grieving with us and validating just how special she is to others.
Tonya was a tireless servant. If Tonya saw any kid around Fort Mill struggle, she quietly stepped in. New shoes, field trip payments, athletics fees were quietly paid and with no publicity accepted by Tonya. She worked to set up a warehouse system for a charity that provided kids school supplies, she worked in food kitchens in every city we lived, and she donated her time to so many other causes. People came to Tonya, because Tonya listened and cared. She dropped anything and everything for her friends and family.
Cancer is cruel and merciless. Tonya got triple negative breast cancer in 2020. She fought it, having two lumpectomies, chemotherapy, radiation and did not complain. When she was pronounced cancer free, we cheered. It was so special, because in her life she was a strong and passionate advocate for cancer research. She watched her father, uncle, aunt, and close friend die from cancer. BUT she watched and supported while even more beat cancer. We know cancer research is working. She ran, walked, prayed, and donated to great organizations in this fight. Just this year we were at the V Foundation in Sonoma, and we celebrated advancements in research, cheered her and other’s victories, and cried with people affected. This was our cause.
Last month we found tumors in her lungs, and she got to work. Two days later she had to have emergency spinal surgery and she dedicated herself to be the best physical therapy patient in order to walk again. Her diagnosis was bad, but she kept composed and worried about others rather than herself. Every day had little victories, but big setbacks and she did not complain. She worried about us and was at peace with her death. We fought her to keep fighting, but she was too tired and in pain. She had faith in God, thus has inspired us to strengthen our faith. She died surrounded by those she loved.
Please consider donating to charities such as the V Foundation. We could not save Tonya, Wally, Tony, Art, Nancy, Mrs, Papaw, Bob or many other people that we loved lives, but lives are being saved. In her memory, we will dedicate our lives to being better Christians and fighting cancer. Tonya would want us to end this no other way but to express her love for you and to proclaim #VictoryOverCancer.