Friends, family remember area woman fondly

By Helena Rodriguez: PNT Staff Writer

When Keri Bechthold’s older sister, Kelly, needed a car, Keri freely handed the keys to her own vehicle over to her sibling rather than trading it in.

When her mom’s best friend, Susan Chambliss, was home alone, Keri would go to her house and invite her to a movie.

“Keri had compassion. I would just be sitting there by myself. I’m going through a divorce right now, and I would think ‘She’s just a kid. How did she know?’” Chambliss said. “She was always thinking about other people.”

Family and friends are remembering 19-year-old Bechthold, of Portales — one of two Eastern New Mexico University students killed in a car accident in Clovis on New Year’s Eve — as a very sociable person who had lots of friends. Her mom, Renae Hipp, describes Keri as a person who liked to stick up for the underdog and advocate for minorities and people who were being oppressed and discriminated against.

Ashley Welch, 21, of Estancia was also killed in the New Year’s Eve accident which occurred after a recent snow storm when road conditions were still slick. Welch was a sophomore at Eastern majoring in physical therapy. She was a member of the Alpha Sigma Lambda honor society at ENMU. Welch was also a cheerleader at Estancia High School before coming to ENMU. She was the daughter of Brian Hernon and Julieann Welch.

Family and friends also remember Keri, a 2005 graduate of Portales High School, as a kind-hearted person who had a gift for working with children, a talent for art and a wacky but fun streak that went well with her contagious smile.

“She liked all kinds of music, from country to Frank Sinatra to rap,” said Keri’s stepfather, Jamie Hipp. “Sinatra may have been odd for her age, but not odd for her.”

Jamie Hipp said that Keri’s mom was her role model and hero and she even had written essays for class about her mom. And like her mom and Chambliss, who are both social workers, Keri also wanted to become a social worker. In fact, Keri had been employed at the Academy of Angels daycare for a year-and-a-half and had a real knack for children, according to her mom.

“She loved those kids. She had a real gift for children,” her mom said.

Her mom said that just a few weeks ago at the Academy of Angels, Keri sat the children down and had them cut from magazines things that they wanted for Christmas.

“She clipped pictures of flowers and diamonds and said she wanted to get married and have children some day,” Her mom said between tears. “So for Christmas, I gave her a diamond solitaire necklace. I guess I will give that necklace to her sister now.”

As for Kelly, who is pregnant and has a due date of March 10, she said she will give her child the same middle name as her sister. Her expected daughter’s name will be Jozlynn Elizabeth.

Keri’s brother, Davis, said that his older sister was a very independent person who always paid for things herself, including her cars, and was very goal-oriented.

“Keri had everything straight. She knew where she was going,” Davis said. “She was always active, too. She was either going to her classes at ENMU or working at her job at the daycare center.”

Chambliss said of Keri, “She made a difference in everything she did. She would have made a great social worker … with her empathy and compassion.”

A viewing for Ashley will be held from 2 to 6 p.m. on Thursday at Harris-Hanlon Mortuary in Moriarty and a funeral has been set for 1 p.m. on Friday at the Estancia Middle School auditorium in Estancia. Services for Keri are set for 10 a.m. on Friday at the Third and Kilgore Church of Christ in Portales. Burial will follow at Portales Cemetery.