by Donna Carlson
Ask OOIDA member Tonya Nesbitt what is most important to her and it's likely she'll say, "family, faith and friends." The country girl from the backwoods of Tennessee says life is an adventure and over the years, her heart and trucking have taken her many places.
A strong believer of "family first," Nesbitt has raised seven children. She herself was a product of a large household.
"My daddy was a trucker," she says. "He taught all 15 of his children to drive a rig."
He also taught them to be independent. In 1970 she moved her family to California where she started a construction business. "There was a contract I wanted badly," she says, "but I needed to fly to the site and I hated flying. My pilot was getting ready to retire and I had no choice." Nesbitt took lessons and flew herself.
In 1974, Tonya had a car accident while on vacation in Michigan that left her badly injured. Because she went through two years of rehabilitation, she lost her construction business.
But once again, she bounced back. "I loaded up my household goods and kids, opened a U.S. Atlas and randomly picked North Carolina," says Nesbitt. "Friends helped me drive there."
She began to work with the homeless, helping in soup kitchens and growing produce for the local food bank. "Moving here turned out to be the best thing I ever did," she said. When she was fully recovered she went back to teaching mechanics at a vocational school.
In 1982 a car full of party-goers struck one of her sons who was riding a motorcycle. "The driver of the car was drunk," she said. Tonya's son survived, but sustained permanent head injuries. In 1987, two of her sons were killed. Tonya said her faith kept her going.
During this time she managed to study and complete an insurance law course and passed the bar exam, but she says, "I just couldn't hang in there until the big money came in. Someday I'll go back and do it again."
Meanwhile Tonya continued to teach diesel mechanics plus CDL licensing. "I just can't stop learning," she said. "I had a Class A license forever and could have been grandfathered in for a CDL." Instead she took the CDL exam with her class.
She noted, "The teaching didn't pay well, but it sure makes you feel good when someone turns their life around." In her spare time she continued to work with the homeless.
In 1990 Tonya once again became an owner-operator, running the lower 48 and Canada. In 1995, she was hauling a load from San Diego to Chicago when she slipped on diesel fuel while in Denver and broke her pelvis. She also fractured her left arm and suffered a closed-head injury.
"Thanks to God's grace I got through it," she says. "God saw me through 26 months out of work. The company I was leased to didn't offer me any backup so I lost my big rig, my car, my land, everything."
Her doctor predicted she would never drive again and advised her to return to school. Tonya was hesitant, but took his advice and waded into some computer courses. Afterwards, she submitted more than 100 applications to companies. Still, there were no job offers. Believing that trucking had pulled her through bad times before, she tried driving for a friend, but business was slow and the truck's owner wanted to drive it himself.
A dispatcher told her about Eddie Scarberry of S2 Trucking in Clinton, AR. "We talked and Eddie saw something in me," she said. "He hired me and I told him I wanted a new truck and to be an owner-operator again and he worked on it with me and we leased to Panther II Transportation out of Medina,OH. I thank God every day for our success."
Scarberry describes Tonya as a "sweet Christian girl with a heart as big as a room." Despite Tonya's own tribulations, Scarberry says she still puts other people first.
"I only see her three or four times a year," he says. "When she drops in, it's always for some charity cause."
Last year a three-car accident occurred in front of her truck on an unlit section of Ohio's US 68. Tonya took charge of getting help for all the victims at the scene. One of the victims, Barry Duggins, had life-threatening injuries and Tonya stayed with him, literally keeping him alive until help arrived. For her involvement, she was recognized by the Truckload Carriers Association as a TCA Highway Angel. She still maintains contact with Barry and his family.
Tonya currently makes her home in Liberty, NC. In her spare time she works for numerous community organizations. Helping people just comes naturally for Tonya Nesbitt.