Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Cubans name café after beloved teen

Family overwhelmed by heartfelt gesture

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Ashley Schlag was 17 when she was killed in a highway accident in 2012. Now, a larger-than-life image of her has been painted on the wall of a new café in Cuba, which is named for her.

"It was huge," her mother Nicole Schlag said after visiting the resort in Holguin earlier this month and seeing Ashley's face and name memorialized. "It was very emotional."

Ashley Café had its grand opening in March at Club Amigo, a place the gifted soccer player from Oakbank loved visiting with her family every winter.

The 17-year-old's life was cut short on an August afternoon in 2012 when the pickup truck she was driving south of Dugald rolled and hit a hydro pole.

'She loved this place. We knew she would've kept coming here. She likely would've been married here. It was a place she called home'

—Nicole Schlag, of her daughter Ashley's love of Cuba's Club Amigo, where her painting graces the wall.

The outpouring of grief in Manitoba spilled over to Cuba, where the Oakbank family had vacationed for the past 10 years at Club Amigo. The resort hired an artist to paint a mural of Ashley in its new café, which is named for the smiling, athletic teen who practically grew up there.

"They didn't let us know they were doing this," said Schlag. She said they found out about the homage from another longtime Club Amigo guest who got in touch to tell them about the new Ashley Café and mural.

The artist worked from a collage of pictures of Ashley taken the last time she was at the resort, when she turned 16. Her mom presented the framed collage to Club Amigo staff last March on a trip that should've included Ashley, who would have turned 18 there.

"I wanted to take something," said Schlag. "She loved this place. We knew she would've kept coming here. She likely would've been married here," said Schlag.

"It was a place she called home."

Earlier this month, she, Ashley's dad, Graham, and younger sister, Madison, visited the resort. They waited a couple of days before checking out the Ashley Café.

They expected seeing her face painted on the wall with her name and a moving tribute would be overwhelming -- and it was.

"We kind of all cried. It was amazing," she said. They went to meet the artist at his home.

"He's a 24-year-old with incredible talent." He's going to paint Ashley again -- this time as part of a family portrait, said her mom. The Schlags had always wanted to have one made but never got around to it before Ashley died, she said. "He's working on it now."

The warmth of the weather in Cuba is nothing compared to the warmth of the folks they've gotten to know there, Schlag said.

"The people treat you like you belong there. You get to know them and they remember you. They take you in with open arms."

The tribute they've paid to Ashley has inspired the family to do more to memorialize her here.

They've already established two annual scholarships in her memory, one for a female soccer player and the other for a female Grade 12 Springfield Collegiate Institute student. Now the Schlags are raising funds to build a field and complex in Oakbank in Ashley's memory.

The Moves Like Schlager Memorial Soccer Tournament is set for July 5 at the Oakbank soccer fields.

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 29, 2014 A18

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