Maria (Fry) Race, a Springfield native and fourth-generation Lithuanian-America, lives in Elmhurst. Ill. and is director of environmental services for Edison Mission Energy, owner of 4 coal plants and 31 wind farms.
Maria grew up in the Springfield’s Laketown neighborhood, the older of two daughters of Jeanette (Tonila) Gooch and Frederick Fry. Her grandmother, Agnes (Tonila) Gooch, grew up on Reynolds St., one of nine children of John George Tonila and Agatha (Mankus) Tonila, who immigrated separately from Lithuania around 1900. Great-grandfather Tonila was a coal miner. One of his sons, John Tonila, (Maria’s great uncle and a Golden Gloves champ, according to family lore) gave his life in the WW II Battle of Monte Cassino near Rome, Italy in May 1944, and was memorialized with other parish war dead on a special plaque in Springfield’s Lithuanian-Catholic St. Vincent de Paul Church.
Maria’s parents were married and Maria was baptized at St. Vincent de Paul’s. “My younger sister Stefanie and I were the first in our family to go to college,” she recalls, “and my mother pushed us hard to be successful because she wished she had gotten the chance to go.” Stefanie had straight “A”s at the U of I in Champaign (Bronze Plaque 1987) and went to UIC for her medical degree. (Stefanie is now saving lives as a cardiologist in Boise, Idaho.)
Maria pursued a double major in art and physics at Parkland Community College, then got a B.S. in physics at the U of I Champaign, followed by a master’s in environmental technology at the New York Institute of Technology. Maria’s spirituality conflicted with the defense work that would have been the easiest application for her physics degree. So she moved into the environmental field, working in hazardous waste management. Now at Mission Energy, Maria says, “I manage people, compliance, and policy. It’s a very difficult field–very challenging–but very interesting.”
Maria was a volunteer and donor to Lithuanian Mercy Lift before it closed in 2010, and in 2011 she met former Lithuanian Preside Valdas Adamkus and his wife Alma on a trip to Lithuania to visit the facilities and people LML had helped over the years.