Born in Mexico City on September 6, 1941 to Elena Chellet Gilland (of Leon, Guanajuato, Mexico) and Franklin Worth Gilland (of Monteagle, Tennessee), Magda moved with her family to San Antonio in 1954. She enrolled at Ursuline Academy, and quickly acclimated to American culture – attending sock hops, seeing Elvis Presley at the Majestic Theatre and playing guitar and even singing an Everly Brothers duet on a local TV Show.
After graduating from Ursuline, Magda attended Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio, receiving her B.A. in Foreign Languages (French, Spanish and German) and Art. She graduated in only three years and, encouraged by her sister, Helen, Magda swiftly got her teaching certification and became a teacher at age 21.
In 1966, Magda and Michael McChesney were married and they welcomed the birth of their first child, Marcella Elena. Magda and Mike went on to have three more children together.
Magdalena’s career as an educator was vast – ranging from 1962 until she retired in 2017 – and included Northeast Independent School District, Providence and Central Catholic High Schools, Keystone, Edgewood Academy for Fine Arts and Communication, Esperanza Peace & Justice Center and English (ESL) teacher at Lackland Air Force Base.
As impressive as her teaching career was, she was even more widely known and celebrated as a prolific, powerhouse Multi-Media Artist – able to work in any medium of her choosing, including paintings, sketches, watercolors, pottery/ceramics, stained glass and jewelry. Her accolades include publications in The San Antonio Express News, The San Antonio Light, and various art magazines. Her extensive collection of work is located all over the world, including The Smithsonian Art Collection. Magda’s commissioned work can be found at The King Ranch, Casa Rio Restaurant on the Riverwalk and the back dining room at La Fonda on Main Street.
Magdalena was a Renaissance Woman, a firecracker, a dynamic human being who could converse effortlessly on any subject. With a brilliant mind and a memory like a steel trap, Magda could give definitions and explanations as if she were reading from an encyclopedia. Like her father, she liked to quiz people and be quizzed. She liked to keep her brain active and always had a Sudoku puzzle nearby. Her favorite show was Jeopardy and could have been a champion. In fact, she was yelling out answers from her hospital bed up until her last day. With a natural proclivity for languages, Magda could speak in Spanish, English, French, Italian and German and studied Czech, Arabic, Portuguese and Latin.
She enjoyed world history, art history, science, theology, geography, metaphysics, quantum physics, philosophy, literature, foreign films, opera, writing stories, good food, traveling, classical music, cooking, sewing, singing, playing the guitar and piano, whistling, throwing parties and going on adventures to the Texas Hill Country.
Magda was a free-thinker, a feminist and a human rights activist before it was popular. She was fiercely independent and taught her daughters how to use power tools and do for themselves. A motto she got from her own mother was, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Anything can be done.”
Magdalena “Magda” Gilland Chellet, age 81, passed away after a long battle with illness on Wednesday, February 15, 2023, in San Antonio, Texas, surrounded by family.