By Claire Duquette
For The Lakeland Times
BAYFIELD - Justine Ringberg of Bayfield was the kind of girl who made sure others felt at home, managed to make mundane tasks fun and loved to laugh.
Justine was born to help people,” her friend Zoe Matthews of St. Louis, Mo., said.
Ringberg, 22, and her good friend and Beloit College classmate, Raquel Nunez, of New York, N.Y, also 22, were killed Tuesday when the car Ringberg was driving drifted over the center lane and collided with a propane truck.
The truck's driver, Jeremy Ritchie, 22, of Minocqua was also killed in the accident.
The loss of the 2009 Bayfield High School graduate has left those who knew her stunned and grieving.
“The staff at Maggie's is devastated,” Heidi Nelson, Bayfield, said. She helps manage the popular Bayfield eatery. “(Justine's) been a summer employee since high school and throughout college. She was beloved by everyone for her great sense of humor, quick wit and ability to work with everyone … even when the stress level of summer wants to break you. This summer will not be the same without her.”
While still at Bayfield High School, Ringberg played soccer, participated in Quiz Bowl, was active on the student council and was elected president of her senior class. When she headed to Beloit College, she chose biology as her major with a minor in history.
Beloit College classmate Matthews said she first met Ringberg in freshman biology class in which Matthews was struggling.
“Things I couldn't hope to grasp just made sense to her, and she always took the time to explain them to me,” Matthews said. “When she had to address the class, her voice would shake, but only great ideas would come out of her mouth. I learned more from her, both about science and overcoming fear, than from the professor that year.”
Matthews and Ringberg both worked as resident assistants, a job that helped Ringberg blossom.
“I watched her confidence grow to match her compassion and kindness,” Matthews said. “When I found out she had been chosen as a Head RA in our senior year, I remember thinking no one could be better at the job.”
Ringberg and Nunez were driving south from a visit in Bayfield with her parents, Gordon and Mary Brigh Ringberg, back to Beloit when the accident occurred while driving through bad weather.
Although Ringberg was a biology major, her father said she didn't necessarily envision a life working in a laboratory.
“She loved being an RA and had been thinking of working for Beloit or another college as a director of student life,” he said. “But she was also looking at bartending jobs in Costa Rica – she was still trying to discover who she was.”
Her father said Justine loved back rubs, computer gaming, New Glarus beer, Chinese food, her turtle, her friend Raquel's cat and her dog, Sadie. She loved a day on the beach with her friends and had a dry sense of humor and a soft spot for bad jokes.
He said her favorite thing about college was her sorority, Alpha Sigma Tau, where she made great friends and was elected sorority president.
“She loved her sorority sisters, and they loved her,” he said.
After learning of the accident, Beloit College President Scott Bierman informed the student body and faculty noting the school lost “two friends, classmates and community members. Many of you lost even more; a confidant and ally, a loving advocate, an inspiration. Many of us – nearly all of us – were touched in far more specific, deeper meaningful and personal ways by Justine and Raquel than I can possibly attempt to capture in this note.”
On Ringberg's Facebook page, friends have been posting goodbyes, memories and condolences. Many college classmates remember Ringberg as the girl who took time to say hello or make them feel welcome.
Heidi Nelson remembers her as a person who already made a difference in other's lives.
“When I last talked to her she said she planned on coming back to Maggie's for one last summer and then said she'd like to take a year off and drive taxi somewhere!” Nelson said. “That was Justine! She was just so smart, and I would have loved to have her drive me around anywhere in the world – and I'd be a better person for having gone with her.”
Funeral arrangements for Justine are pending at the Bratley Funeral Home, Washburn.