Honoring a Friend

Ailee Norton (left) with her roommates—including Amy Hoschler (middle). Hoschler was killed in a car crash before what would have been her junior year.

Ailee Norton (left) with her roommates—including Amy Holscher (middle). Holscher was killed in a car crash before what would have been her junior year.

By Drew Lyon

 

Ailee Norton hoped someone was playing a cruel prank when a text message awakened her near the midnight hour on Aug. 1, 2014.

“It was a Friday night,” she says, “and I was like, ‘Oh geez, who’s texting me at this hour?’”

The text was from a friend of her roommate, Amy Holscher, saying how sorry she was and asking if Norton was okay.

A series of frantic messages later, Norton learned that the kindred spirit she had met during her first week at Minnesota State Mankato had died earlier that evening from injuries suffered in a car accident.

“I thought, ‘What are you talking about?’” she says. “You don’t think this crazy accident is going to happen; it’s something you can’t even prepare for.”

Norton stayed in bed, staring at the ceiling in disbelief, paralyzed by the shock.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

“Amy was like a sister to me,” she says. “Most days are OK now, but I still have days when I don’t understand why this happened. But I do think it made me stronger, because it happened in the middle of my college years.”

Norton graduates from Minnesota State Mankato on Saturday with a degree in sport management. She won’t be walking alongside her friend like they had imagined they would during their freshman and sophomore years, but Amy’s parents will be there in honor of their daughter and in support of her best friend.

“We were always talking in futuristic terms,” Norton says. “Even though she’s not here, I have the University to thank for the memories. Freshman and sophomore years are years that you really grow up, and Amy was doing that right there with me.”

Fast friends
image1[1]Norton moved into Crawford Residential Community in August 2012. A native of Duluth, she arrived in Mankato without any friends from high school.

“Mankato reminded me of Duluth,” she says. “I liked it right from the start. And not knowing anyone made it even better that I made friends my first year. I definitely recommend living in the (residence halls).”

At her first floor meeting, one of the students was a few minutes tardy; Norton would soon learn this wasn’t unusual. Norton took a moment to meet that woman afterwards. She was from St. Anthony, Minn., had just turned 18 and lived down the hall from Norton. Her name was Amy Holscher.

“We were like little school girls getting to know each other,” Norton says. “I liked (the floor meetings) because, thinking back to it, I don’t see myself going up to everyone and introducing myself. There’s a lot of people I wouldn’t have met if I hadn’t been on that floor.”

Witty and vivacious, Holscher had an infectious charm. Norton says that you could fee Amy’s presence when she walked into a room. “Even people she hadn’t met who I’ve talked to about her, they wished they’d known Amy,” Norton says. “She could’ve branched out easily, but I was lucky enough to be one of the first people on the floor she met.”

The two became inseparable. When Norton wanted to stay in and watch Netflix, Amy would use her considerable powers of persuasion to convince her otherwise. Looking back, Norton thinks that Holscher didn’t want to waste any time.

“We did everything together,” she says. “She helped me branch out (socially). She always wanted to be doing something; she always seemed to be in a hurry.”

image3[6]Amy had ambitions of becoming a lawyer, a profession her mother and Norton felt was a suitable fit. “She wasn’t hard-headed,” Norton says, “but she could talk anybody into anything.”

After their first year, Ailee and Amy, along with their Crawford roommates, moved into an apartment together. Ailee learned that her new roommate liked to sing with reckless abandon in the shower. And if one of the pair was out of town, they would catch up on their days via FaceTime.

Just a few days before her death, Amy drove down to Mankato with her sister to pick up belongings from Norton’s apartment. It was the last time Norton saw her friend.

“She gave me a hug and said, ‘It’s so good to see you,’” Norton remembers. “I remember she tweeted, ‘It was great to see Ailee Norton for three seconds today!’”

Holscher was on her way to buy We Fest tickets—“She would drop everything to go to We Fest,” Norton says—when a truck collided with her car south of Shakopee. Amy was conscious and talking when she reached the hospital, but passed away later that night.

“She was the type of person who wasn’t scared,” Norton says. “It wasn’t anyone’s fault.”

As Norton stared at the ceiling in the long hours after learning of Amy’s death, she spotted a white figure appear in the corner of her bedroom and watched it flash across the room and disappear. “It looked like an angel figure,” she said. “People might not believe that, but when you deal with something that traumatic, there are things that happen that make you wonder.”

Norton went with a group of about 20 Minnesota State Mankato friends to attend Amy’s funeral. Several of them made a pact to honor Amy’s memory in a permanent fashion.

“The day after she passed, I went over to our friend’s house and somebody brought up a tattoo, and we were all like, ‘Yes!’” Norton says, pointing to the tattoo on her right ankle, an ‘A’ with a halo on top. “I would normally never get a tattoo, but we did that because it’s a place we can look down and think of her and think about the people she was the glue for.”

Ailee Norton (second from left) with the friends who decided to honor Amy Hoschler with tattoos on their ankles.

Ailee Norton (second from left) with the friends who decided to honor Amy Hoschler with tattoos on their ankles.

In the months after Amy’s death, Norton sought solace by reminiscing with Amy’s friends and family. Reading stories about Amy posted on Facebook brought laughter and tears.

“If I didn’t have her friends and family, I would still be torn up about it,” she says. “We’ll go into talking about fun times, and that’s really nice. It’s like her mom said—without each other, we’d still be lost. And I take a lot of happiness by still having a relationship with her friends and parents and sister.”

After commencement, Ailee plans to visit with Amy’s family and share memories. She’s prepared for a bittersweet day.

“It’ll be a hard time,” she said. “I always expected her to be graduating with me
and moving on with me. But I know she’s probably thinking, ‘Ailee, go have some fun!’”

Norton might relocate to the Twin Cities after graduation. “But I can’t tell if that’s just because Amy loved the Cities and it kind of rubbed off on me,” she says, laughing. “Minnesota State Mankato was great. I’m just happy I went somewhere I could grow with people who cared.”