FFA Lifestyle

Colorado FFA chapter heals after founding member killed

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Ashley Doolittle’s Colorado FFA plaque in horse judging still hangs in Berthoud High’s ag classroom. It’s a small memorial for a larger-than-life young agvocate who was murdered by her ex-boyfriend.

Prior to 2015, Thompson FFA didn’t exist. Today the Loveland, Colorado-based chapter is home to 120 students and serves four high schools in the district. Most of the students hail from Berthoud and Loveland, and only 10 percent have any agriculture background — but that hasn’t stopped the FFA chapter from growing over the years.  

And it all started with Ashley Doolittle.

“I talk about her ‘following’ of members, and they kind of just did what Ashley did,” said Jessica Brown, a Thompson agriculture education instructor and FFA advisor. “She had that effect on everyone, that if you weren’t alongside her you were missing out.”

As one of Thompson FFA’s founding members, Doolittle will never get to see the fruition of her labor. On June 9, 2016, at the age of 18, Doolittle died at the hands of another.

The victim of teenage dating violence, or, more specifically, break-up violence, Doolittle was shot to death by her ex-boyfriend Tanner Flores. Today, Flores is serving life imprisonment plus 32 years for the first-degree murder and kidnapping of the Berthoud rodeo queen.

“I miss my best friend. She was the one person I was always myself with,” said Sydney Baty. “I miss being able to pick up the phone and call her. I miss her voice, her laugh, everything. I miss having a friend that I could turn to no matter what was going on.”

Courtesy of Thompson FFA

Baty, who attends Northeastern Junior College in Sterling, Colorado, first met Doolittle in the fall of 2014 when six students were selected to attend the National FFA Convention to see if the Thompson School District could start an agricultural education program. Once they returned home, the six were responsible for meeting with the principals at each school and then with the local board of education to get the go ahead for the program. Baty said there were many bumps in the road to getting the chapter running, but they got it done, and both Baty and Doolittle served on the first officer team together. It’s a memory that Baty cherishes.

“No matter what was going on, Ashley always made time for other people,” Baty said. “She always allowed anyone she met to feel like they had a friend in her. She inspired me to be more selfless and to try to give back to others and the community to the best of my abilities.”

In addition to serving as Thompson FFA’s vice president for two years, Doolittle had a solid history in horses. Her achievements included competing on numerous national horse judging teams and being named the champion high individual overall in the National 4-H Western Roundup and the state FFA competitions. Doolittle was also passionate about agriculture and used her experiences and role as Boulder County Fair and Rodeo Lady-in-Waiting to educate others about agriculture and the western lifestyle.

Courtesy of Thompson FFA

She had plans to attend Colorado State University and study agriculture business in the fall of 2016, and wanted to continue FFA at the state level.

Brown said Doolittle had also promised her to come back and help coach Thompson FFA’s horse judging team.

“From the time the program got started until she graduated, she was a vital part in making our Hired Hand Auction and our annual banquet go off without a hitch,” Brown said. “She was a very detailed-oriented person and helped correct the little things that others may have overlooked.”

Current Thompson FFA President Jake Hewson, who served as sentinel on the Thompson FFA Officer Team with Doolittle, said the young ag leader also had a way of making students feel welcome in the chapter.

“Ashley was the type of person who could make anyone comfortable and feel welcome. She had a way with people that I can only admire,” Hewson said. “She inspired me to be myself and be what I wanted –no matter who was to judge. She made me want to impact people just the same that she does.”

Brown said there isn’t a day that one of the Thompson FFA members doesn’t think of her.

Courtesy of Thompson FFA

“Whether it be a picture that pops up or a memory that was made, she is still very much part of our program,” Brown said.

Today, the chapter honors her in the form of a memorial scholarship. Doolittle was one of two students who was the first to receive a scholarship from the chapter. Since her money was never used, the scholarship has been recycled, with permission from her family, to start the Ashley Doolittle Memorial Scholarship, which is gifted to two seniors each year.

Doolittle’s mom and others have also started the Ashley Doolittle Foundation, whose mission is “to preserve Ashley’s legacy by building awareness of and preventing teenage dating violence, while honoring her love of our western heritage.” The foundation currently holds two events to fulfill their mission. One is a gala, and the other is a horse show. Brown said Thompson FFA helps at both of these events.

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As an FFA advisor and teacher, Brown encourages others in the profession to get to know their students on a personal basis and ask about their life.

“Ashley was such an amazing human that let me into her personal life in just a short time. We laughed, we cried, and she made me a better person because of it,” Brown said. “We all miss Ashley, and there are days where I still think she’s going to send a text or come visit, but all we can do now is move forward as a chapter in memory of her and for the strength of her family.”

And Doolittle’s memory is something Baty hopes Thompson FFA will never forget.

“Many young and new members do not know who she was but have only heard the stories of how she passed way. I hope that the officer teams for years to come will help remember the legacy of what that first officer team tried to build,” Baty said. “I hope they will honor the idea of Ashley and try to pass on what she believed and her love and passion for helping other people.”

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