By Laurent Colasse, founder and president of resqme, Inc.
As their memorial anniversary approaches, we at resqme, Inc. remember college softball athletes Ashley Neufeld, 21, and two of her teammates, Kyrstin Gemar and Afton Williamson, who went on a late-night stargazing adventure in their SUV, Nov. 1, 2009, only to crash into a farm pond in Stark County, North Dakota. Tragically, Ashley, her teammates and her dog were unable to escape when the car was submerged in water, cutting short the lives of these talented young women.
In the wake of Ashley’s fatal accident years ago, we partnered with the Neufeld family to raise funds with our resqme 2-in-1 keychain rescue tool. Over the years, the Neufeld’s have been a source of inspiration and strength and I had the pleasure of visiting them again on my recent trip to Canada.
I traveled the road west of Winnipeg to Brandon to visit the friends whose cause is very dear to my heart. Phil and Bev Neufeld are the surviving parents of Ashley Neufeld, who died in 2009, along with two friends when their SUV crashed into a farm pond in Stark County, North Dakota. Ashley was 21 and a student at North Dakota’s Dickinson State University. As I drove the long, flat road crossing a bunch of agricole fields from Winnipeg to the Neufeld’s in Brandon, Canada, I recalled our work with the Ashley Neufeld Memorial Fund – a cooperative effort with her parents to prevent tragedies like this from happening to other families. Resqme tools emblazoned with the logo of Ashley’s memorial fund have raised more than $50,000 for the Fund’s causes and helped save the lives of others in danger of vehicle entrapment.
I was greeted warmly by the Neufeld’s and their son, Jeff. Ashley was a gifted softball athlete, so we went to see the progress of the new softball field being constructed in Brandon in part through funds from resqme sales imprinted with Ashley’s name. This softball park will be named under Ashley Neufeld in memory of her love for this sport. After a fine dinner at Blu restaurant, whose owner has been particularly supportive of the Neufeld’s cause, we returned to their home where I visited Ashley’s bedroom – everything has remained the same as she left it years ago. Her room was beautifully decorated in green colors with dark blue stripes and it was full of pictures of herself playing softball for Dickinson State University. A black metal chest was sitting on the floor, and on top of it was a wood box with a picture of Ashley with her dog, Easton, engraved with the year she was born and the year she died. Inside the box remain her ashes until the softball field is completed.
Phil and Bev’s intentions are to erect a granite memorial at the entry to the field, in which a portion of Ashley’s ashes will rest. I offered to have the resqme foundation participate in this project by funding the cost of the monument. We chatted for a little while longer and I went to rest and reflect on an emotional day. The next morning, I was treated to Bev’s home-cooked breakfast and we visited Brandon’s sport outlet – this was the store where resqme tool sales in the community started in 2009 and continue today, selling to benefit the Ashley Neufeld Memorial Fund.
Returning to my sweet home in Santa Barbara I’m struck at how this trip has been an amazing experience full of intense emotions and I realize how fortunate I am to meet such wonderful people in a short period of time. They said that I have changed their life since they’ve known me, but equally, they have changed mine. And I am grateful to somehow help make a difference in others’ lives.