In the early morning of Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2019, Sonia Tonnemaker passed peacefully from this lifetime.
She was born Sonia Lee Blackstock on Feb. 15, 1961, to parents Hoyt Blackstock Jr. and Patricia (Chapman) Blackstock. Sonia’s family moved from Georgia to California then to Moses Lake, Wash., finally settling in Caldwell, Idaho, as her father advanced through the food processing industry. Sonia attended school in Caldwell, where she and lifelong friend Lori Carlton (Smith) together navigated from sixth grade through high school, graduating from Caldwell High School in 1979. In those years, she developed her love of horses and running. Sonia and her younger sister, Jill, enjoyed years training, riding and competing with their horses as part of the Caldwell 4-H club. She followed older brother, Karl, to the University of Idaho in Moscow in the fall of 1979, where she studied animal science and continued her successful running career. That fall, she became the first woman in the history of the University of Idaho to qualify for the collegiate National Cross Country Championships. In the fall of 1980, she became the training partner and friend of world-class athlete and South African native Patsy Sharples (Schehrer). Sonia flourished in such a high-caliber training environment. As a collegiate sophomore, she earned All American honors by finishing ninth at the AIAW National Championship Cross Country race. Sonia met fellow University of Idaho athlete, Kole Tonnemaker, in the fall of 1980, and they were married Dec. 20, 1981, in Caldwell.
She briefly continued her studies and running at the University of Idaho after marriage. When injuries sidetracked her running, she followed her heart and moved to the Tonnemaker family farm near Royal City, Wash., where she and Kole built a memorable life together over nearly 38 years. Sonia and Kole were blessed with two sons, Luke, born in 1989, and Ethan, in 1992. Sonia devoted herself to her sons and they in return have been loving sons. Of course, being farm boys, Luke and Ethan grew up highly involved in the farm and farmers markets. For many summers, the prized family time was a picnic on the return trip from the Moscow Farmers Market. As the boys grew, Sonia made time for their activities, including taking them to swimming lessons in the summer, running with them at cross country practices and attending almost every track meet, baseball game and wrestling match, no matter how distant, over their entire athletic careers. Sonia’s powerful example helped drive the boys to their own successes, including the Washington State Cross Country Team Championship that they shared. The family will always remember that Sonia seemed absolutely tireless and her sweet nature remained undiminished even when working and training at an incredible level
The annual post-harvest November vacation to the Washington Coast was usually cold, windy and wet. Undeterred as usual, Sonia and the boys had a great time regardless while hiking, beachcombing, checking the tide pools at midnight and cooking over open fires on the beach. The family covered thousands of miles hiking anywhere from the Washington coast to the mountains and to the deserts of Utah and Arizona. In 2015, Luke married Amanda Smith, a long-time summer employee on the farm. They gave Sonia two grandchildren, Lincoln, born in 2017, and Roslyn, born in 2018. What an incredible blessing to have grandchildren on the farm.
Sonia pursued her love of horses by training and breeding Registered Quarter Horses for many years. Her skill with horses was widely recognized, and she is still known as a top hand. After years barrel racing with her first and favorite horse, Ginger, and showing many of the horses she bred and trained, she devoted herself to training performance horses, especially reining horses. In 2003, she and her horse Lucy, whom Sonia had bred and trained, won the prestigious Superslide competition in Chilliwack, B.C., and finished the year 11th in the U.S. in the Novice Nonpro Reining standings in spite of competing in a limited number of events.
While raising a family and training horses, Sonia continued running and built a reputation as a top competitor in local races. She won many races, occasionally outrunning all the male competitors, as well as the female. In 1987, she won the Pasco Marathon in a time nearly fast enough to qualify for the Olympic Trials. Eventually, Sonia developed a passion for cycling and triathlons. She became an exceptionally strong cyclist, well known locally for pushing training partners very hard. By dedicating herself to long hours of training, she developed into a top age group competitor in Ironman triathlons. She competed in many Ironman National and North American Championships qualifying for the World Championships several times. Her ability to train for such a demanding sport in spite of working in the field, working at farmers markets, supporting her sons activities and taking care of a family was astonishing, especially to those familiar with the demanding training for endurance sports.
Her work in the farm fields became equally well known. She began selling the farm’s produce at the Moscow Farmers Market in 1984. What she started grew to involve the whole family. Sonia loved to grow peppers, both hot and sweet. Eventually, she grew as many as 400 varieties of peppers and would routinely pick 80 or more varieties for any given market day. Her peppers became quite an attraction at markets from northern Idaho to the Seattle area. Today, many Seattle and Palouse area restaurants cook with her peppers. Customers loved her fabulous peppers and could not help warming to her kindhearted nature. Such a reputation contributed to Sonia and Kole being selected as Farmers of the Year by the Washington State Tilth Association in 2013.
Success and recognition never changed Sonia’s quiet, kind and sweet nature. In any group, she always preferred simply to share in the camaraderie of those enjoying similar interests. Sonia was most likely to simply listen to others. She rarely spoke of her own accomplishments and was so unassuming that many acquaintances had no idea about the intense inner drive that led to those extraordinary accomplishments. There is no way to tell Sonia’s story leaving out those remarkable achievements. However, not surprisingly, in the end, she wanted to be remembered not for places in triathlons or for the trophies she won, but for the good times she shared with family and friends doing the things she loved on the journey to her goals. Her favorite photos were not of winning trophies and crossing the finish line, but of her family and friends. There was no containing her inner joy and her genuine smile ignites those photos. She remains a wonderful example, showing that the real joy in life is in what you do everyday while making your way to some distant goal. She cherished sharing the pure happiness she felt in working toward something worthwhile with friends and family.
A devout Christian, Sonia was at peace at the end, trusting in God’s promise to take her home. She truly felt Jesus’ love for her and was never angry or bitter about her illness. Her passing leaves a hole in the lives of family and friends that cannot be filled in this life. There is just no way to replace such a uniquely wonderful part of our lives. Those of us who knew and loved her will be forever enriched and blessed by the time we shared with her. Sonia’s family cannot begin to thank her friends who were there at the end when Sonia needed them. How wonderful to have friends that came to help her at a time when she could do little or nothing for them. Sonia’s life was truly enriched by the many friends she made — friends with whom she shared many hours cycling, riding horses, running, hiking, swimming, traveling or fellowshipping at church.
Sonia is survived by her family at the farm, Kole, Luke, Amanda, Lincoln, Roslyn and Ethan; her parents, Hoyt and Pat Blackstock, of Boise; brother Karl and family, of Georgia (Kathy, Chelsea and Ansley); sister Jill and family, of Nampa, Idaho, (Patrick, Amy and David) and Kole’s brother Kurt and family, of Issaquah (Michele, Joseph and Clayton). She is also survived by many friends, riding and training partners who say they will carry Sonia with them to help when the going gets tough.
A memorial service will be held 10 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 23 at the Royal City Church of the Nazarene, with a reception to follow at New Life Fellowship of Royal City.