More than 3 1/2 years after tragedy claimed the life of a promising 19-year-old music student, her family and friends continue to
remember her and the legacy she left behind.
Ashley Willwerth was on her way to classes at St. Johns River Community College when she became the victim of a fatal car
accident Oct. 8, 2004, at the intersection of U.S. 1 and Gun Club Road. She was a 2004 graduate of St. Augustine High School,
where she had played violin in the school's orchestra. She also played in the St. Augustine Community Orchestra, the Jacksonville
Symphony Youth Orchestra, and with the orchestra at First Baptist Church in Jacksonville.
In keeping with her love of music, the Ashley Willwerth Memorial Scholarship Foundation is a 501(c)3 organization that provides
financial assistance to orchestral string music students and their teachers. The foundation awards scholarships to help with
music-related fees such as tuition for music camp, supplies, instruments, published music and more. According to the foundation's
Web site, "it would be Ashley's wish that dedicated students of music have every opportunity to find the joy she experienced as
her talent grew."
Each year family and friends gather on a Saturday to celebrate Ashley's birthday. This year's celebration happened to fall
directly on her birthday, April 26. In addition to family and friends, scholarship recipients are also invited to attend.
Susan Hager and Genny Holmes, friends of Ashley, were at the celebration and greeted Willwerth with hugs and smiles.
"[Ashley] loved everybody," Hager said. She had a spirit about her, and she was the nicest person I've ever met. I don't think she
could have ever said anything negative about anyone."
Holmes, who had known Ashley since elementary school, remembered her friend's sense of humor.
"It was just so easy for her to make people laugh," Holmes recalled. "She would be so happy to know that her foundation is helping
so many people."
Last year, well-known aviation artist Sam Lyons donated a limited edition signed and numbered print to benefit the foundation.
Lyons made another donation this year with a print titled Tuskegee Ace.
"Ashley had a strong interest in American history," explained Willwerth. "She loved Washington, D.C. and everything there is to
see there. And she had a special interest in the Tuskegee Airmen, the nation's elite WWII fighter squadron. Lyons heard about
Ashley's interest and donated this artwork because of it."
The art was revealed at the birthday celebration, along with donated art by Robert Bailey, a Canadian who is also an Artist Fellow
of the American Society of Aviation Artists. Bailey's limited edition, signed and numbered prints include a framed piece entitled
Tuskegee Titans and another one called Tuskegee Thunder, which is accompanied by three unframed prints (Maritime Massacre, Making
Their Mark and Mitchells Over the Field).
Ashley's stepmother, Laurie Willwerth, said that approximately 35 scholarships have been awarded to date.
"We've never turned anyone down," she explained. "The nice part is that recipients can reapply for the scholarships each new
Charlie and Laurie Willwerth are two of four board members who review scholarship applications. Carolyn Law and Betty Pipkins
complete the foundation's board.
For more information on the Ashley Foundation, including details on how to donate, purchase artwork or apply for a scholarship,
visit the web site at www.ashleyfoundation.org or send an e-mail to email@example.com.