Lonnie was born in Brooklyn and brought up in Long Island. She received a B.A. degree in American Studies with a minor in Social Work from the University of Buffalo, as well as studying Folklore and Folklife at the University of Pennsylvania. She and her husband and two young children came to St. John in 1975 as the new owners of the St. John Car Rental, Inc., which they ran for over 40 years. She has been a founding member of the St. John Singers and the St John Accommodations Council. She has also been an active board member in the St. John Community Foundation for over 29 years.
After several years of supporting the Board as a SJHS member, Ms. Willis took on the position of SJHS President in 2013. She was an active member of the St. John Community Foundation for over 30 years.