A group of Alisha Schoonmaker’s oldest friends huddled together at the corner of the Trick Shot Billiard Hall, laughing and reminiscing over some tall cold brews.
Alisha and her boyfriend, Kyle Dobert, were killed in a car accident nearly two years ago. Kyle’s father, Philip, was driving 80 mph through a 35 zone, drunk. He drove off the road into a utility pole, killing the young couple.
On Sunday afternoon, Alisha’s mother, Heidi Bennett, threw her second annual Dove Memorial Scholarship benefit in memory of both crash victims. A $15 cover charge bought an evening of music, free billiards and a chance at a handful of raffles. It was a perfect opportunity for Kyle and Alisha’s old high school friends, now in their early 20s, to look back on brighter days.
“She was sort of a grumpy girl who got her way,” said Kirsten Razz. “That sounds bad. It wasn’t.”
“She was a spitfire,” said Kyle Gemme, projecting over the live music and crowded room.
They talked about camping trips, white-water rafting expeditions — all memories featuring Alisha’s big smile and curly hair.
“Kyle was so in love, he’d do anything for her,” said Krysten Ciavolella, “so they were perfect for each other.”
About halfway through the benefit, the Trick Shot Billiard Hall was packed with friends and family and Heidi Bennett went outside for some air and a cigarette.
“This is the first time I’ve sat down since 9 a.m.” she said.
She started the Dove Memorial Scholarship fund shortly after the car accident.
“When Alisha was 16, I took her to Vermont to get a tattoo,” she said. “She got a dove on her right foot. For some reason, she was interested in doves.”
Bennett rubbed the fresh ink of her own dove tattoo swooping over her right forearm.
“It’s only a few weeks old,” she said.
Last year, she held the first benefit. Originally the plan was to give $1,000 to a community-minded Shenendehowa High School senior. The first event was so well-attended there’s still enough money in the account to keep the scholarship going for years.
Sunday, based on the crowded bar, Bennett said the scholarship’s future is pretty stable.
“It’s my way of keeping their names alive,” she said.
Last fall a little over $1,000 was awarded to graduating senior Christiana Hoffman. With the second benefit completed, Bennett is looking forward to sorting through another batch of applications. In the absence of her daughter, running the fund gives her some purpose.
“The loss will never go away,” she said, “but I had to do something to avoid ending up in a padded room on the fifth floor of Samaritan Hospital.”