It has been a decade since Brandon softball player Ashley Neufeld died, but her legacy in the Wheat City is far from forgotten.
The Ashley Neufeld Softball Complex, nestled between 18th Street and First Street in Brandon’s north end, stands strong as a memorial to Ashley, who was a softball player at Dickinson State University. Softball season might be over for the year, but in a few short months, kids and adults alike will again take to the fields named after Ashley to hit home runs.
Bev Neufeld, Ashley’s mother, said the anniversary of her daughter’s death is never easy but it’s comforting that she is remembered for her positive impact on the city’s sporting community.
"I think people remember her personality and how bubbly she was and how caring she was. The response and comments we’ve had on Facebook today and every year of the anniversary is so touching," Neufeld said.
Ashley was one of three university softball players whose bodies were found on Nov. 3, 2009 in a Jeep submerged in a pond northwest of Dickinson, N.D.
Ashley, 21, as well as Afton Williamson, 20, and Kyrstin Gemar, 22 — both from California — were students at Dickinson State University.
If Ashley could stand on the fields at the softball complex named after her, Neufeld said, she would be "ecstatic."
"She would have loved to play in the facility, because she loved the game of softball so much and knowing that people are playing in a facility named after her — she would be over the moon," she said.
"She would be so happy because I truly believe that she would have come back to coach young kids."
There are currently four full-sized softball diamonds and four mini-diamonds at the complex, as well as a canteen, washroom facility, umpire change room and storage area. The fields are as good as any in Manitoba, but there is still more to come at the facility, according to Brett Turner, a family friend and vice-chair of the complex’s committee.
The third phase of expansion recently wrapped up, and Turner said there is fourth still to come, which will include more trees, a walking path and additional lighting.
"It’s amazing what we were able to accomplish, what we’ve accomplished in her name. I don’t think we would have gotten as far as we did if we hadn’t built around honouring her," he said.
The complex’s construction has allowed softball to grow and blossom in Brandon. The committee has hosted both provincial and western Canadian championships. At some point, Turner said, he would like to see a national championship hosted at the fields.
After Ashley’s death, the family started selling ResQme tools, which can be used to break a car’s window or cut a seatbelt. The hope is that the devices may help prevent another tragedy.
"I would never want somebody to be without one if it can save another life," Neufeld said. "We have gotten some responses from people saying they had used it in a situation, which makes us very humbled that her accident, it’s a tragedy but it has saved a couple of other lives."
ResQme tools are available at Brandon Source for Sports and proceeds go to toward Ashley’s memorial fund. Neufeld said at least 6,000 have been sold so far.
"The possibility that a young person has it on their keychain and if something is to happen they can be saved because of it in her memory — it’s an honour."
Apart from the softball complex, Ashley is remembered by friends and family as a hard worker and a true teammate, Neufeld said.
"We are just are very appreciative that she’s remembered, and everybody’s thoughts and prayer are with us and with her. To know that she’s made an impact and how she’s still remembered is all we as a family can hope for, that she’s never forgotten — and I don’t think she will be."
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