DONOR STORY

Home Is Wherever Saint Leo Is

Anthony “Tony” McGee ’06 ’08 (far right) joins fellow members of the Tampa Bay Alumni Chapter for “Feeding Tampa Bay.”

If you ask Anthony “Tony” McGee ’06, ’08 where he was born, the answer he’ll give you is East St. Louis, IL.

If you ask him about the place he calls home, you’ll find he’s a Tampa native, through and through.

Sometimes home isn’t where we predict it will be.

Having moved to Florida with his family at the age of six, Tony grew up under the Tampa sun. He spent his childhood here, met his first crush here. He went to school here and had his first date here. In time, he raised a family here.

Today, as a certified procurement analyst, he serves the city he loves by negotiating money-saving contracts for goods and services.

So when Tony McGee says he loves Saint Leo University, it’s easy to imagine that his story includes four years at Saint Leo’s scenic University Campus, a mere 40-minute drive from his Tampa home.

Except it didn’t work out that way. Instead, Tony explains, “Life happened.”

Lacking the means to pay for a college education, Tony joined the U.S. Army after high school, hoping his military service would afford him the opportunity to return to school. By the time he was honorably discharged from active duty in 1982 and then reserve duty in 1992, his personal circumstances had changed considerably. He had been married twice – both marriages ended in divorce – and struggled to support a family that would eventually include five children.

He found himself unemployed, with his savings exhausted.

“Family was first,” Tony says. “The money I’d saved for college went straight to living expenses. But it never left my mind that I wanted to get my education.”

He was in his 40s when that chance came.

While Tony was taking classes at Hillsborough Community College, his life was changed by an instructor who gave him two sage pieces of advice: “He told me to apply for the Florida Resident Access Grant, and then he said, ‘Get to know Saint Leo.’ ”

The first piece of advice helped Tony finance his dream. The second led him to MacDill Air Force Base, where he found his academic home at Saint Leo University’s MacDill Education Office.

“I loved it. The classes were small. You got to know the professor. If you go to one of those big schools, you might be in a class with 100 people. That teacher doesn’t even know you.”

Encouraged by his wife, Artina, Tony earned his bachelor’s degree while working full-time during the day for the City of Tampa and part-time during the evenings and on weekends as a courier driver.

When Commencement Day finally came, Tony wasn’t ready to stop. Inspired by Kenneth Gonzales, director of the Tampa Education Center and the MacDill Education Office, Tony decided to continue his education and pursue an MBA.

“There was something about the way Kenny presented himself, the way he talked to students. I wanted to be like him. I don’t think he knew it, but he influenced me big-time.”

That decision finally brought Tony to Saint Leo’s University Campus, where he found a continuation of the same intensely personal experience he’d discovered at MacDill.

“There was one business professor, he was so passionate, he would be yelling and screaming because he was so excited … about business! I used to hear him from other classrooms and think, ‘What is going on over there?’ When I finally took his class, I understood his enthusiasm. I got it.”

John Bienkowski

Tony and Artina MCGee

This, Tony says, is what Saint Leo does best: inspire. It’s what keeps him giving back – and coming home.

“I feel like I owe a lot to Saint Leo. If it wasn’t for my education and Artina’s support and understanding, I don’t think I would be where I am now.”

In addition to offering a generous annual gift, Tony helped spearhead the January 2017 launch of Saint Leo’s Tampa Bay Alumni Chapter. Over the past nine months, members have prepared meals for homeless residents, represented Saint Leo in a walk for cancer awareness, and enjoyed valuable opportunities for networking.

So where will Tony McGee be on November 2 – 5, when Saint Leo celebrates the return of Homecoming Weekend at University Campus? If his part-time job as a local disc jockey doesn’t interfere, he plans to be right in the middle of the fun.

And if his plans don’t work out? He’ll remind himself that home is always as close as the nearest alumni.

“Saint Leo would still be home even if I’d never taken a single step on campus.”

 

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