Celebrating the ubiquity of Ashley Laneri: 1993-2015

March 30, 2015 / by / 6 Comments

Story by Janie Magruder
Photos by Darryl Webb
GCU News Bureau

She was ubiquitous in life, seemingly everywhere at once — acting in Grand Canyon University’s Ethington Theatre, singing at its stellar music concerts, praying for and with her fellow students before rehearsals, enthusiastically piecing together costumes backstage as part of the crew.  She had an opinion and a story about everything, her friends say, and if she was ever silent, that was a problem.

Kathy Laneri, with her husband, Eric, shares memories of their daughter Ashley, a GCU student who died from injuries she sustained in a car accident. Ashley would have walked with her class at commencement on April 23.

Kathy Laneri, with her husband, Eric, shares stories of their daughter Ashley, a GCU student who died March 13 from injuries she sustained in a car accident, during a memorial service Saturday. Ashley, a music major, would have walked with her class at GCU’s commencement on April 23.

Memories of Ashley Kathleen Laneri and examples of her considerable impact on GCU’s College of Fine Arts and Production, specifically, and on the University, in general, permeated every inch of her memorial service Saturday on campus. About 450 family members, friends, GCU administrators, faculty, staff and others filled First Southern Baptist Church of Phoenix for 90 minutes to laugh, cry, sing and share their love for the dark-haired beauty with the dazzling personality and contagious smile.

Ashley died March 13 from injuries she sustained in a car accident in Phoenix eight days before. The 22-year-old was to graduate in April from GCU with a bachelor’s degree in music with an emphasis in voice performance, summa cum laude.  She planned to go to graduate school for a degree in music therapy.

Ashley’s family has scheduled a memorial service for Monday, April 6, in Lomita, Calif., and her funeral and burial on Wednesday, April 8, also in California. On Thursday, April 23, Ashley’s parents, Eric and Kathy, and her siblings, Eric Jr., Ryan and Christy, will return to GCU to receive her diploma during commencement.

At Saturday’s memorial, Ashley’s cap, gown and diploma were displayed on the church altar, as were huge bouquets of flowers that included red roses, her favorite. Many of her friends wore red bows in their hair or hat bands or on their lapels because Ashley was “the red bow girl.”

Ashley Laneri loved red bows and butterflies.

Ashley Laneri loved red bows and butterflies. (Photo by Devyn Garrett)

A slideshow was projected on screens overhead, offering glimpses of Ashley’s life bubbling over with happy times. There was the sweet-faced baby, the gap-toothed, pigtailed birthday girl, the butterfly lover, the badge-earning Girl Scout, the classroom superstar, the goofball and the high school graduate who was thrilled to attend GCU.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone who was so excited to come to GCU as Ashley was,” said Dr. Juan Hernandez, COFAP’s assistant dean and director of its Music Department. “Ashley loved the theatre and music departments like her own family, and she was so encouraging and welcoming to our new students.”

Both departments were well represented at her service. Students sang as soloists and in groups, and Ashley’s lovely voice filled the room during a video of one of her auditions. An adapted reading from C.S. Lewis’ “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” was offered by senior Ryan Usher, senior Emma Lehtinen and junior Ryan Beamon.

A beautiful life

With Ashley’s father by her side, Kathy Laneri, wearing a pink “GCU Mom” T-shirt and a red bow in her hair, thanked God for the week between her daughter’s accident and her death when the family was able to learn much more about her from friends who texted, called and stopped by the hospital.

Ashley's memorial service Saturday on campus was filled with music, including a piece by the choir of which she was a member, as well as solo selections.

Ashley’s memorial service Saturday on campus was filled with music, including a piece by the choir of which she was a member, as well as solo selections.

“We caught a glimpse into our girl’s life and know the impact she made, the people she touched and the beautiful life she had and has, here on earth and now with God,” she said. “We got to see another chapter of our daughter, the fullness of who she became.”

As a young girl, Ashley loved to play dress-up with her sister, dipping into their mom’s big jar of hair bows, makeup and clothing. It was not surprising that she chose to be on stage during college, too.

“She’s been a performer from the start,” Kathy Laneri said.  “I can’t remember a time when she wasn’t out there wanting to sing or dance or make funny faces for the camera.”

She also read a poem, “When Tomorrow Starts Without Me,” that David M. Romano wrote the year her daughter was born. Its conclusion, “So when tomorrow starts without me, don’t think we’re far apart, for every time you think of me, I’m right here in your heart,” seemed to bring comfort.

The service had lighter moments, too, such as when COFAP Dean Claude Pensis, following a flag presentation to the Laneri family by two GCU public safety officers, said, “That speaks to her ubiquity again that even security knew Ashley.” Michael Kary, a COFAP acting instructor who directed the young woman in 2014 in “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” (she played a wood nymph), pointed out her uncanny ability to be, well, everywhere.

Ashley wanted to become a music therapist.

Ashley wanted to become a music therapist. (Photo by Devyn Garrett)

Ashley was vice president of the GCU student chapter of the National Association of Teachers of Singing, and she auditioned for everything — Main Stage productions, Second Series, Improv and Arts Jam. She appeared in five Ethington shows (and was on the crew for many more), performed the role of Murgatroyd and acted as cast chaplain (and for the music department all last year) in “A Child’s Christmas in Wales,” in which she also was cast as Murgatroyd. Ashley also sang in three productions.

“Most honorably, she gave us her hands backstage, where she dressed and prepped her fellow students to perform, humbling herself so others could be lifted up,” Kary said.

Ubiquitous. “I think I can say that, even now, Ashley still fits that word,” he said. “She is with the creator of the universe, and to be so intimately with Someone who is everywhere is to share His ubiquity. She’s also here. Just like a piece of theatre that comes for a moment and dazzles and disappears, so did Ashley come into our lives and dazzle us for a while. However, also like a really great production, she sticks with us.”

Sophomore Johnni Medina told the congregation she couldn’t pick just one memory of her friend. Instead, she noted a trait in her that many students in the audience recognized — Ashley was always talking. Death has not silenced her, however.

“These past few weeks have been full of silence, which is really weird because Ashley’s friends are talkers, too,” Medina said. “But she keeps filling the silence. She’s made every single silence absolutely beautiful. Thank you, Ashley.”

Reflecting God’s love

About 450 family members, friends, GCU administration, faculty and staff and others filled First Southern Baptist Church of Phoenix. A memorial service and funeral for Ashley is planned for April in California, where she was born.

About 450 family members, friends, GCU administrators, faculty and staff and others filled First Southern Baptist Church of Phoenix. A memorial service and funeral for Ashley is planned for April in California, where she was born.

Reading from 1 Corinthians 13:13 — “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” — senior Taylor Kessler said her best friend demonstrated all three so well. Kessler ended her message on a comforting note, from Psalm 46:5: “God is within her, she will not fall. God will help her at break of day.”

Ashley was a very special person to sophomore Becca Owen, who read 1 John 4:11-19, which focuses on God’s great love for us and ends with, “We love because He first loved us.” Said Owen, “This reminds me of how much Ashley loved everything she came into contact with. She loved people deeply, and she is one of the people who taught me to love God.

“I believe that Ashley had God living in her.”

Ashley Laneri, 1993-2015.

Ashley Laneri, 1993-2015. (Photo by Devyn Garrett)

Of course, music filled the church during Ashley’s service. The program included a soothing performance of “On Eagle’s Wings,” by sophomore Fernando Ruiz, the mournful “Ave Maria,” by GCU vocal instructor Christopher Herrera and accompanied by Annie Taylor, Ashley’s accompaniest, and the hopeful “How Great Thou Art,” which the congregation sang together. Fourteen of Ashley’s girlfriends performed “At the Beginning” from the animated film, “Anastasia,” valiantly fighting back tears, then smiling sweetly through them as they sang, “Nothing’s gonna tear us apart.”

Directed by Hernandez and accompanied by pianist Mark Fearey, three dozen members of GCU’s choir also sang a piece that they, with Ashley, had performed last fall, “Luminous Night of the Soul.” And there was a video of Ashley’s sophomore audition for Arts Jam in which she performed the song, “Look in the Mirror.”

In introducing the choir and song, Hernandez encouraged the audience to “remember Ashley as a person who put her trust in a Savior who carries us through all the deepest parts of the night and also the brightest times.”

Kathy Laneri had begun her remarks Saturday by describing Ashley as “our butterfly who was always flittin’ and floatin.’” On the day of her daughter’s death, she noted in conclusion, she asked the many friends gathered at the hospital for a special favor. “I asked everybody to look for butterflies that day,” she said, “because all around Ashley is still flittin’ and floatin’.”


Contact Janie Magruder at 602-639-8018 or [email protected]

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6 Responses
  1. Courtney Laubacher

    Thank you so much for writing this beautiful article about my cousin. I live in Nevada so I was unable to attend this amazing ceremony. My aunt and uncle are amazingly strong people who are very grateful for this touching piece of writing. Thank you.

    Mar.30.2015 at 6:47 pm
  2. Mary Trickel

    Dear Mr. and Mrs. Laneri and GCU family,
    As an online student, I never had the privilege of knowing Ashley in person, but she truly has touched my life. I appreciate Ms. Magruder;s ability to capture the essence and emotions that must have filled Ashley’s GCU memorial service. I, too, have experienced the pain of losing a daughter. May you take solace in your faith, and comfort in pride for the daughter you molded and cherished to become the very special, beautiful person who touched so many lives.
    God bless you.

    Apr.03.2015 at 9:59 am
  3. Reverend Annqunett

    I have seen several butterflies at my house, and now I will remember Ashley every time I see one. My our Lord Jesus Christ be your rock during this time. Her smile will be the sunshine, her hugs the cool breeze of the wind, and the butterflies are her kisses and the love she gave the world. Please Sweet Jesus let her love shine through. Amen.
    Love you all

    Apr.03.2015 at 6:24 pm
  4. Jennifer Cole

    As a Canyon Alumni, I am always excited for my high school students who head to GCU for college, as I was for Ashley. It was heartbreaking to have to come home to my school for her memorial, but heart warming to see how much she impacted the school and how much the school loved her. The service was beautiful, thank you for giving her a wonderful send off.

    Apr.03.2015 at 10:02 pm
  5. Haydee Benitez

    I have never met Ashely but felt like I came to know her from the reading of the ceremony, My she was a diamond shining so bright on everyone she came in contact with. I love the Lord with all my heart and soul and know that just as she has touched so many her reward were imparted to her on her entry to heaven where he awaited her. My sympathies for her parents and all her loved one’s, I lost my sister 3 years ago and my consolation is who she was,, what she did here on earth for the Lord and knowing that she is with her/our eternal father. God Bless you all and thank you for sharing Ashely with me.

    Apr.29.2015 at 2:54 pm
  6. Brandon Johnson

    I am also an online student so I did not know Ashley, but I send my most heartfelt condolences to her family and friends. I recently lost my baby girl as well just a couple days after she was born so this hits home. I have found comfort in knowing that she was so special, God couldn’t wait for her to grow old, but instead took her home right away. With someone as talented, beautifully spirited, and connected as Ashley, I bet the same is true. He was too excited to have His special creation back in His presence. I believe she is resting now with God and putting on a great and entertaining showcase for those aside her in heaven. I send my love and prayers to anyone mourning Ashley’s passing!

    Aug.16.2015 at 8:34 am
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