Tonia Baney – A True Star
Tributes to Tonia Baney
Tonia Baney sadly passed away on February 13, 2023, after a battle with Alzheimer’s. She was one of those “giants” of the revelation who had a tremendous impact on many in the Urantia movement. She was an amazing leader with a magnetic charisma that endeared her to almost everyone she encountered. After serving on the ACT committee (Advisory Committee to the Trustees) for several years in the early 1990’s, she became the Executive Director of Urantia Foundation and spear-headed many new ideas and activities that assisted the Foundation with getting “back on its feet” after a difficult few years; she also played a major role in the development of a new social organization now known as Urantia Association International.
The best way to describe just how loved and admired she was in the Urantia Book reader community, is to read a few testimonials from those who knew her well.
From Chris Wood, USA
Tonia Baney was my first role model in the Urantia community. I first reached out to Urantia Foundation at age 19 while Tonia was the Executive Director. She immediately put me to work. I put address labels and stamps on envelopes, helped Steve Baney stack books in the basement, pulled weeds from the gardens and ran errands around town. I learned from her and the staff so many lessons on leadership that I carried forward, including to trust that people will show up to do the work of the revelation and to trust the people who do show up and are willing to volunteer themselves. She also showed the importance of embracing and supporting a wide array of young readers because, inevitably, a number of them will become teachers and leaders in the decades to come.
Tonia said something amazing once that I often contemplate and share with others. She was an accomplished artist, but I had only ever known her as the director of the Foundation. I asked her if she ever missed painting. “Of course!” she said, “but the time away doesn’t bother me. At some point I intend to spend several thousands of years really exploring the subject.” Her life perspective was truly universal.
I hope to be able to model for others what Tonia showed to me.
From Mike MacIsaac, USA and Sweden
In my early teens, my mom took me to study groups at the beautiful Maui home of Steve and Tonia Baney. Tonia’s wisdom and warmth helped draw me from the TV to the readings, and she soon became like a godmother, inviting me to lunch to discuss my future goals. When I was twenty, Tonia invited me to my first conference, connecting me with the movement.
The Baneys extended an open invitation to stay with them at the Foundation, which I did on many occasions, often helping Steve with shipping. The team at Urantia Foundation felt like an extended family, with Tonia in the role of matriarch. Tonia was a vital champion of my efforts to inspire and bring young readers together. Her support also helped many other young readers, such as by inviting us to have many summer events at 533 Diversey Parkway. After the Baneys moved to Wisconsin, my wife and I brought our new daughter to visit them, and I wish we’d managed more such visits and cherished times. Thank you, Tonia, for your love, support, and invaluable impact on my life. You’re missed by many. …Till we meet again.
From Lee Armstrong, USA
Tonia Baney came into my life during an era of great misunderstanding within the Urantia readership. It was a difficult time. For those of us who supported Urantia Foundation in its mission to publish and take these teachings to the world, we were steadfast in our support. Tonia met the challenges, not one to shy from hard work or to do what she thought must be done. In that era, I served for a time as president of what was then United States Urantia Association. Tonia was helpful in my work.
Tonia had an exceptional organizational ability. Her leadership skills were breathtaking. While she was always cordial and professional, she did not suffer fools gladly. While she was tactful, she also was direct and crystal clear. I liked knowing where she stood and that she respected others and listened. When I heard the news of her passing, I grieved. Tonia touched my heart and inspired my mind.
Perhaps my greatest personal appreciation of Tonia was for her talent as a portrait artist. After the passing of my wife Roselyn in 2007, I commissioned Tonia to paint Roselyn’s portrait. It was one of the first artworks I knew to display The Urantia Book on canvas. She captured Roselyn’s spirit and faith. The painting was unveiled at a Urantia reader conference. I look at it each day.
From Kathleen Swadling, Sydney, Australia
Tonia was, at different times, my boss, mentor, colleague, and kindred spirit, but most of all, she was my friend. I first met her at Urantia Foundation in 1992 when my husband, Trevor, and I visited 533. We were invited to attend an ACT (Advisory Committee to the Trustees) meeting that she was chairing. We later connected with her at the annual international conferences that were held in Nashville in ’94, ’95, and ’96 and were asked to join the Coordinating Committee which assisted in the development of the Charter & Bylaws for the newly formed Urantia Brotherhood Association, which eventually was called International Urantia Association (commonly known as IUA and later UAI, and now Urantia Association International). In the early days of this new organisation, Tonia, along with Cathy Jones, phoned just about everyone on the database to tell them about the new social fraternity of Urantia Book readers and invited them to join. They managed to attract tremendous support for both the Foundation and the new Urantia Association, and before long many new National and Local Associations formed all around the world.
In 1996, after Tonia became Executive Director of Urantia Foundation, she offered me a job as the Foundation’s Development Coordinator. As our children had all grown up and left home, we packed up and moved from Sydney, Australia to spend a few years in Chicago. We lived on the 2nd floor of 533 and Tonia and her husband, Steve, lived on the 3rd floor. We were there for three years living and working together and witnessed tremendous positive changes for both the Foundation and the new social organisation. Tonia’s personality, her creative thinking, and leadership talents were an inspiration—a real breath of fresh air.
Tonia was truly a unique leader and a wonderful human hero of the Urantia revelation. I miss her and look forward to meeting up with her again in the never-ending “eternal voyage of discovery” (145:5.10).
From James Woodward, USA
Tonia Baney was responsible for the best experience of my life.
When we saw each other at a Urantia Book conference in 1999 and she said we needed to talk about something over lunch, it triggered both excitement and dread. “Uh-oh, what did I do?” was mixed with “Cool, a chat with Tonia, the Executive Director of Urantia Foundation. I wonder what this is about?”
Our first meeting, which had occurred five years earlier, had left an indelible impression on me. It was a special gathering of readers in Southern California, hosted by John and Jane Ploetz, where we enjoyed an update on the progress of International Urantia Association given by Cathy Jones, Executive Administrator of the expanding fraternal group, and news about the business of Urantia Foundation given by Richard Keeler, then-president of the Trustees, and Tonia. Being amid such high-profile Urantia folks impressed me; they were so friendly and so devoted to service.
There was something about Tonia that day and it struck me on a spirit level, when you feel fate moving. I was to learn there was always something about Tonia.
Thus began a great friendship and lots of volunteer service on my part. Tonia had a gift of recognizing talent in people, along with a charming ability to recruit help in disseminating an epochal revelation. I was humbled to join the team, and I saw her insight bear fruit with many volunteers. We began to correspond, and she began assigning me some journalistic work. Soon I was serving with Urantia Association, traveling to Chicago for meetings, documenting with photos and reportage.
During our lunch in 1999, Tonia spoke these life-changing words: “There is an opening on the staff of Urantia Foundation and your name keeps coming up for the position.” An electrical / spiritual shock of surprise and joy went through me. My life did change.
It was a big deal to move from sunny California to frozen Chicago. But move I did. And the next amazing thing was getting to know Steve Baney, a fellow worker bee at 533 who became my best buddy. Joining the staff, being welcomed to the mission, was truly meaningful. Being part of a devoted crew and fielding inquiries in the Reader Services Department was the most rewarding work I’d ever done. I had the world’s best job, the experience of a lifetime. Thank you, Tonia.
Beyond the work of assisting readers and helping Steve in his various duties, it was being adopted into the Baney family that meant so very much to me. Their quarters on the third floor became my second home; so many casual times, fun parties, and deep dives into the meanings and values described by superhuman teachers, as well as difficult conversations about the troubled status of a divided readership. Together we served and prayed and struggled with feelings of loss when the court verdict was delivered—the legal battle for the copyright was lost. Despite the agonizing setback, Tonia held the center. I don’t know how she did that but sometimes she would smile big and laugh loud just when the mood needed lightening. I once made bold to ask her how she kept a cheerful attitude, especially when facing problems. She quoted Christy: “This life is just a shakedown cruise, and we should be happy and grateful that we get to serve. It’s important work that we do here but greater things await us.” We all benefited by her faith in the long mission, and her grace under pressure.
The Baney adoption of me also included my son on his frequent visits. He often played with their grandkids in the Diversey mansion, had big fun at the Wolf Lodge waterpark, and joined family outings around Chicago. Later I visited their amazing home in Maui, and in Wisconsin after they returned to Tonia’s homeland. The thing she missed most in Chicago was making her art. She dabbled while at 533 but mostly there was so much work and travel that she never set up a proper studio. It was like a mediation for me, to watch Tonia in her oil-painty smock, in her creative zone, applying lines and colors with such ease it took my breath away.
Tonia Baney was the one who brought me into the center of the Urantia fold, who fetched me up to a new level of service, who cared for me when I was far from my west coast home. Steve adored her of course, and I adored them both. Tonia loved to remind us that we would be serving together for a very long time—in this fraternity of agondonters, this family of the children of Michael and Mother, the grateful graduates of 606, unique Urantia.
As an artist I am faithfully anticipating that Tonia will recruit me to some cool assignments she’ll be working on… cheerfully.
From Marian Hughes, Hawaii, USA
Tonia was an amazing person, a successful businesswoman, an incredible artist, a spiritual leader, and a dear friend to me and many others. I consider myself fortunate to be a fellow agondonter with her in both time and, eventually eternity.
We met sometime in the 80’s through our connection with the revelation. She exemplified the word “charm.” She was a gracious hostess whenever I was a guest in her lovely home on Maui or at 533. I will never forget the intimate conference she hosted on Maui where we had the pleasure of meeting Dr. James Mills, who was at the time, one of the few living “Forum” members. It brought the readers of our state together.
In the early 90’s, the Foundation Trustees recognized the unique abilities Tonia possessed to re-energize the disrupted Urantia Book readership and invited her to be part of the Advisory Committee to the Trustees (ACT), in which capacity she offered wise counsel.
She and Steve moved from their home just a few blocks from one of the nicest beaches in Hawaii to cold windy Chicago and lived in the antiquated Urantia Foundation prior to its modern renovation.
In 1993, Tonia came to my home on the Big Island of Hawai’i along with several Trustees to license the first USA Urantia Association local readership association and christened us with the name H.U.L.A. (Hawai’i Urantia Local Association), which was her idea. She spoke at our small Hawai’i conference that day. Tonia inspired us with the important message of supporting the Declaration of Trust (DOT) creating Urantia Foundation, and increasing service and strong leadership, all of which has kept us active for thirty years ever since.
Eventually, in 1996, she was appointed the Executive Director of the Urantia Foundation. I recall with pleasure the wonderful galas she put on at the Dewes Mansion, which was just a four-minute walk from 533.
The exquisitely translated Russian Urantia Book was presented at one of these events. She arranged to have some of it read to us in Russian. Those evenings were filled with delicious food, live music, and wonderful companionship. She knew how to entertain, and she taught us how important it was to make people feel that they were part of something special.
Tonia supported the formation of the IUA, (which with the advent of the internet, became the UAI or Urantia Association International). She gave “orphaned” Urantia Book readers a new organization to work with and for.
She was a devoted wife, mother, study group leader, and Urantia Foundation executive. I don’t think there has ever been a more spiritual and creative portrait artist in our times than Tonia.
On page 911 (81:6.42) of the Urantia Book, we are told,
“Leadership is vital to progress …And the quantity of such wise leadership has never exceeded one percent of the population.”
Fortunately, for our spiritual movement, Tonia Marks Baney was certainly part of that “one percent.”
Mahalo Tonia, we love and miss you.