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Remembering Chris

Ten years after teen's death, parents consider student in Class of 2008 as family
Lead Summary
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Mavis Fodness

After 16-year-old Chris Ashby was killed in an auto accident July 5, 2006, his parents, Barb and Gene Ashby, established a scholarship in his honor.
The first Christopher Martin Ashby Memorial Scholarship was awarded the following spring in honor of their only child.
In 2008, the year Chris would have graduated, the couple said they found it difficult to select one student among Chris’ classmates to receive the Ashby scholarship.
“It would have been impossible,” Gene reflected last week.
As a solution, the Luverne couple gave every student in the Class of 2008 who qualified for a Dollars for Scholars award an additional $500 in honor of Chris.
The Ashbys said several of Chris’ classmates have stayed in touch, a decade after their adopted son’s death and eight years after graduating from high school.
Other classmates they have followed through newspaper accounts reading about graduation from colleges, marriage ceremonies and birth announcements.
“We are glad to see most of his classmates turned out well,” Gene said.
As for the students themselves, many think that their success was boosted in part by the Ashbys’ decision to help the majority of Chris’ classmates.
Eight years after receiving the scholarships, 69 out of 70 recipients who are now in the mid-20s have earned two- or four-year degrees with a few still in the process of pursuing advanced degrees. Barb thought Chris’ interest in sports would have drawn him to an advanced degree either as a trainer or physical therapist.
“He would have done something involving athletics,” Barb said. “He loved school so much.”
Chris was an “A” honor roll student and would often decline a vacation outing, choosing instead to attend school.
For the past several months, the Star Herald has reached out to the Class of 2008 through email and social media.
In their responses, many of Chris’ classmates were unaware they received an extra $500 with their Dollars for Scholars award but a handful share what they have been doing since graduating from Luverne.
Some also included reflections and memories of their late friend and classmate.
“The scholarship obviously was a great blessing and helped me with tuition to get my four-year degree,” answered Chris’ friend Erik Stegemann. “I was in such awe that Barb and Gene did this.”
Stegemann lives in Anamosa, Iowa, with his wife, Ashton. He works as an ag/commercial loan officer at Citizens Savings Bank.
“I still don’t have a day that I don’t think of Chris, because so many things remind me of him,” he wrote.
Another close friend to Chris was Whitney Stoffel Harnack, who lives in Luverne. She earned a special education degree and has accepted a position at Roosevelt High School in Sioux Falls.
She said she remembered Chris in her recent wedding by naming him as an honorary usher alongside Stegemann.
“I lost a brother that day and the pain doesn’t go away,” she wrote. “I always wonder what it would have been like to watch him tear up the Minnesota Gophers football field and what it would be like when he was drafted into the NFL. But it will always be a thought.”
The Ashbys’ interest in Chris’ classmates means they often stop and talk at chance meetings.
“The Ashbys are such wonderful people, providing us all with the opportunity to attend post-secondary education options,” wrote Katie Klosterbuer.
Klosterbuer received a Family and Consumer Science education degree from Minnesota State University in Mankato. After teaching for several years, she is now the Nobles County 4-H Program coordinator in Worthington.
“Whenever I see them around town, they are always interested in what I am doing with life,” Klosterbuer wrote. “And they take the time to stop and talk.”
On one such visit to Sioux Falls, the Ashbys talked with the one student who after two years didn’t redeem the memorial scholarship. That classmate is going back to school this fall.
Through Chris’ death the Ashbys also feel they have the opportunity to still connect with activities their son was involved in when he was alive.
The retired couple is frequently seen at sporting and music events along with community celebrations.
“Barb and Gene always were and continue to be great supporters of Luverne students and athletes,” wrote Natalie Willers.
Willers attended the University of Minnesota Duluth and graduated with degrees in molecular and cellular biology and Spanish. She is currently pursuing an advanced degree while working at the Sanford Heart Hospital in Sioux Falls.
She said 10 years ago the Luverne community lost a friend and classmate who was hardworking and caring. The scholarship is a constant reminder of the spirit that was Chris.
“We remember Chris and understand his wonderful humanity through their constant acts of love and support,” Willers wrote. “They help keep a piece of him — ­­ it’s never been just the money.”

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