Celebrating a life

ONALASKA, Wis. — A community celebrates the life of a teenage girl killed by a drunken driver — the same day the driver is released from prison.

It’s been eight years since the crash claimed the life of Holmen High School student Sarah Mullenbach.

Every year since Sarah’s death, her family and friends have been celebrating her life with a golf tournament.

She wasn’t there Monday to play golf with her family and friends at The Golf Club at Cedar Creek, but signs of Sarah were everywhere — from the non-competitive nature of the golf tournament, to the blue-colored golf tees, to the penguin on the event’s logo.

“I think she’d be very proud of this event. Although Sarah was always a pretty humble person, she did like to have a little bit of attention, so I’d like to think that she appreciates the attention from this tournament. And I know she’d love it that it’s non-competitive,” said Sarah’s mother, Cece Mullenbach. “Basically, it keeps her memory of just playing sports for the fun of it.”

Sarah’s golf coach at Holmen High School, Anna Curtis, remembers the 17-year-old as someone people just wanted to be around, both on and off the course.

15567062

“If a coach could create a dream team based on character and athleticism, you would want a full team of Sarah Mullenbach’s,” said Curtis. “She was absolutely the real deal. Pure goodness.”

Since the drunken driving crash that claimed Sarah’s life in 2004, her mother has become an advocate for educating the community about the dangers of driving under the influence.

“I want to do everything that I can to prevent another family from having to go through what we have,” said Mullenbach.

On the same day as this tournament commemorates Sarah’s memory, the man who caused the crash that killed her is released from prison.

Gary Nehring had a 0.27-blood alcohol level — more than three times the legal limit to drive — when he crashed his truck head-on into Sarah’s car.

But Sarah’s mother is staying focused on her daughter’s life.

Sarah was an aspiring medical professional, so all the proceeds from the golf tournament go to a local family struggling with a medical issue.

“It would be a way to keep Sarah’s memory alive and kind of fulfill what would have been one of her dreams, to help others in need,” said Mullenbach.

This year, all the funds raised at the event will go to the Oliver family from Holmen. Mike Oliver had a liver transplant in May.

Mullenbach said helping families like the Olivers over the years is a way of doing what Sarah never got a chance to do.

Even though Gary Nehring was released from the Thompson Correctional Center today after eight years behind bars, he still faces 10 years of extended supervision.