“She was just the sweetest little girl, such a good baby. Everybody loved her.”

Abby’s presence is everywhere.

Her smiling face beams in pictures on display on the furniture and fills stacks of photo boxes in Abby’s family’s home in Lincoln.

A bright red ladybug plant stake adorning a potted philodendron by a sunny south window speaks to Abby’s love of ladybugs.

Among Abby’s other loves are Mickey and Minnie Mouse and the movie Toy Story. And then there’s Bear.

Abby Renschler had her heart set on getting a dog. Not just any dog, but a Goldendoodle she had picked out from a breeder in South Dakota. Bear’s loving presence is part of Abby’s legacy.

“She was adamant to get this dog,” said her mother, Sandy Renschler. “That connection with Bear is wonderful.”

Her family went to South Dakota to pick up Bear and bring him home. Abby was planning to do so herself, but tragically was killed, with her friend, Taylor, in a car accident June 27, 2015. She was 22.

They and their friend, Shayna, who survived, were struck on Bismarck Expressway by a vehicle going the wrong way on an exit ramp.

She had just graduated in May 2015 from the University of Mary summa cum laude with a degree in business and banking and had started her full-time job in the finance department at Bismarck-based engineering company, KLJ.

“They loved her,” Sandy said. “She was just starting out; she had big plans. We knew she was going to do something big.”

Beautifully photogenic, with her mother’s looks and her father, Jason’s, height, Abby made friends with ease. She had a quick wit and always had a ready comeback. Teachers loved her and her employers raved about her.

“This did not have to happen,” Sandy said. “She always did the right thing. She was responsible. That was just her.”

“My mom and Abby were very close,” she said, speaking of her parents, Don and Mary Nicholson. “She spent time on her school breaks with my parents. My mother was a NICU nurse and she was there when Abby was born.”

Abby has a brother, Tim, 17, and a sister, Ally, 16.

“Tim and Ally were 14 months apart, and she immediately became the little mother,” Sandy said. “She was a very loving, amazing kid, very responsible.”

In coping with Abby’s loss, her brother and sister are doing well, Sandy said. “Sometimes they help me more than I help them.”

Bear is now a 10-month-old 80-pound ‘puppy,’ the eager greeter of visitors to the family home.
They and their friend, Shayna, who survived, were struck on Bismarck Expressway by a vehicle going the wrong way on an exit ramp.

Grieving’s not a straightforward thing.

“Some days are really good,” Sandy said, “and some days are worse, worse than right away.”

Sandy also deals daily with the extreme fatigue and joint pain that go with lupus, with which she was diagnosed in 2008.

She appreciates it when people ask how she is, how the family is doing. “Other people have been just amazing,” she said. “When somebody asks, ‘how are you doing?’ … they’re just wonderful to me. I will usually thank them. I’ll say, ‘I’m so glad you mentioned it.’ It means a lot.”

And Abby’s work family at KLJ has been awesome, Sandy said — “so supportive. So much kindness. “You just never, ever, think it’s going to happen to you.”

Abby’s mom, Sandy wears a purple bracelet that simply reads “Abby Forever”.

‘a friend in me’

At KLJ, no one has been able to take down the papers on the walls of Abby’s cubicle.

“We have tried to fill her position, but we just miss her so much,” said Miranda Grayson, accounts receivable supervisor at KLJ.

Miranda first met Abby at a Bismarck afterschool program. When a position opened at KLJ, Miranda thought of Abby.

“I know she was probably working a lot of hours at (her other job) at Fiancée Bridal during prom time, working here and going to school, while maintaining a 4.0 grade point average,” Miranda said. “And always with a smile.

“She was a special person. She was so willing to learn. She was so responsible — the first to volunteer for projects and just a joy to work with. She was not just a coworker, but a close friend.

“We miss her so much.” Miranda and other coworkers who knew that Abby liked to walk along the river requested that KLJ place a bench along the river, “so there’s a place for friends and family to go and reflect,” she said.

A plaque is attached to the bench engraved with a song Abby loved from the movie Toy Story — “You’ve Got a Friend in Me.”

‘such a joy’

Abby worked at Fiancée Bridal in Bismarck for five years while she was in school.

With Abby, there was never a dull moment, said Kinzey Whitty, owner of Fiancée. “I saw a lot of potential in her,” Whitty said.

“She was so mature in her manner, so calm. At the end of the workday Saturday, she’d have everything done, QuickBooks finished and the deposit ready to go.” The girls who work at Fiancée get to be like family, Whitty said.

They were heartbroken when Abby died, she said. “They idolized her as a mentor.”


missed every day

“Abby was one of those students who made me realize why I went into teaching.

“She had a contagious smile and always came into the room with a positive attitude.

“The coolest thing about Abby was her willingness to share her life – whether it was what she planned to do over the weekend or during spring breaks or summer. She talked about her siblings and made me feel like I was part of the family.

“I took the news hard when I heard of her death; I didn’t want to believe it was true. In a way, a little piece of the world died with her. She was not just another student — she was one of those students who made not only the University community better, but any place she was, better.

“She is missed every day.”

— Karel Sovak, associate professor, Gary Tharaldson School of Business


blessed to know her

“I got to know Abby in my insurance and risk management class. Abby was one of my favorite students. She always asked thought-provoking questions. ‘Just because’ wasn’t a good enough answer for her.

“She would frequently mention that she would discuss our class with her family at suppertime. It amazed me that she would visit with her parents since most college kids are so busy, but she made the time. The type of person she was is a direct reflection of the upbringing that she had.

“I miss Abby. Going to class the first time and not seeing her in her seat was harder than I realized. I feel very blessed to have had the honor of knowing Abby. She is a beautiful young woman who will be remembered and missed forever.”

— Terry Richter, Agent, State Farm Insurance, Bismarck