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A Life: Ashley Wyatt Gravelle, 1970 — 2014, "She Never Stopped Moving"

Ashley Wyatt Gravelle teases her nephew, Caleb Morse of Brownsville, 11, with a mustachioed air kiss at Frances C Richmond Middle School before their ride in The Prouty in Hanover in 2013. Ashley Gravelle, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008 and died March 9, was a regular participant in the Prouty. July 13, 2013. 
Valley News - Libby March

Ashley Wyatt Gravelle teases her nephew, Caleb Morse of Brownsville, 11, with a mustachioed air kiss at Frances C Richmond Middle School before their ride in The Prouty in Hanover in 2013. Ashley Gravelle, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008 and died March 9, was a regular participant in the Prouty. July 13, 2013. Valley News - Libby March

West Windsor — The annual West Windsor Forest 5 & Dime trail race normally draws a little under 200 participants.

But o nce word got out that this year’s event would double as a barbecue to celebrate the life of Ashley Wyatt Gravelle, more than 500 people ran the race and another 360 came just for the barbecue.

Many of the proceeds went to the Gravelle family to help defray medical expenses from her 5 1/2-year battle with breast cancer. Ashley Wyatt Gravelle died at her Silver Hill Road home on March 9. She was 43.

Bearing what friends and family called a “contagious smile” and a mantra of “power of positive,” Wyatt Gravelle carried a welcoming, congenial demeanor that endeared her to countless friends. Whether in Vermont — where she co-founded Keeper’s Cafe in Reading and later worked the front desk at Edge Fitness Center — or on Long Island, N.Y., and Pittsburgh, where she grew up, or in Boulder, Colo., where she went to college, Wyatt Gravelle kept in close contact with a vast network.

“She loved to laugh and thoroughly enjoyed people,” said Wyatt Gravelle’s husband, Jason Gravelle, with whom she had two children,11-year-old Sadie and 6-year-old Chase. “She was happy to go above and beyond the call of duty. She was the first one there to help someone when they needed it.”

The oldest of three siblings, Wyatt Gravelle was born in the Long Island town of Manhasset, N.Y., before moving to Pittsburgh when she was 9. Her family maintained a vacation home in Cavendish, Vt., where Ashley developed a love of the outdoors and learned to ski at nearby Okemo Mountain.

In Pittsburgh, Wyatt Gravelle attended The Ellis School, an all-girls grade school and high school, walking there most days with neighbor Ann Lee Grimstad. It didn’t take long for Grimstad to form a bond with Wyatt Gravelle after the family moved to the neighborhood. “She was just so nice and so fun, you couldn’t not have a good time when you were with her,” said Grimstad, who once spent the summer in Cavendish with Wyatt Gravelle’s family. “They other thing about Ashley was that she was in constant movement, always moving and doing something active.”

In high school, Wyatt Gravelle was captain of the Tigers’ tennis team and also played field hockey, basketball and lacrosse.

She continued to play lacrosse in college, first at Skidmore, where she attended as a freshman, and then at the University of Colorado, where she was a teammate of her younger sister, Kelly Lilly, after the siblings had previously been college foes.

“I started off at (University of California at) Santa Barbara, so we actually got to play against each other and later on the same team, which was great,” said Lilly, who now lives in Stowe, Vt. “She was a great player, no matter what sport. She also ran the Pittsburgh Great Race 10K with our dad (Sterling Miller) every year “

In 1994, the sisters moved into the family’s Cavendish home together and soon opened River’s Roost, a bagel and coffee shop in neighboring Ludlow, Vt.

“She just loved it because she got to meet so many people,” Lilly recalled. “She had a great relationship with the regulars and a lot of fun with the locals. She really made an effort for us to be part of the community, because up until then we were the vacationers, the weekenders in town.”

Eventually the sisters closed the bagel shop and Wyatt Gravelle went on to work the front desk at Mount Ascutney Resort’s Sports and Fitness Center, where she met Jason Gravelle. She later worked for Bike Vermont in Woodstock, helping to organize guided cycling tours in Vermont and elsewhere.

Wyatt Gravelle went on to work at Farms for City Kids, an organization providing outdoor classrooms to children from urban areas at Reading’s Spring Brook Farm. She became its education director, designing curriculum that involved active farm practices, such as milking cows and other chores, along with outdoor adventure activities.

“She loved children and she loved cycling, so both of those jobs were great for her,” said a friend in West Windsor, Lucy Dunne. “She was great with kids, and she had a very adventurous spirit. Whenever she had the chance, she was on her bike or running.”

After marrying Jason Gravelle, the couple settled in West Windsor. Sadie was born and they opened Keeper’s Cafe, named for the family’s lively black lab.

At the Reading cafe, Wyatt Gravelle had many duties, though she was most well known for the amicable way she greeted patrons at the door.

“She was just incredibly engaging with people, the kind of person you could talk with about anything,” said Lilly. “She could start a conversation, or pull you into one. Even if you were a wallflower, she had a way of bringing everyone around her into the mix and making everyone feel included.”

The one subject Wyatt Gravelle wasn’t keen on discussing was her disease. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008. “It was difficult to get her to open up about it, because she considered it her own battle,” Lilly said.

The Gravelles eventually sold Keeper’s and Ashley became the manager at Brownsville’s Edge Fitness Center, where she greeted customers with the same friendly demeanor. Jason Gravelle, meanwhile, became a game warden for the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department.

“Working at the fitness center was another great job for her, because she had such a healthy lifestyle,” Jason Gravelle said. “Fitness and nutrition was a big part of her life.”

Wyatt Gravelle was a regular participant in the Prouty as part of “Team Kick It,” cycling the 20-mile version of the event to raise money for Norris Cotton Cancer Center. “She was non-stop,” said Jason Gravelle. “She never stopped moving, all the way to the end.”

The Vermont Game Warden Association combined with organizers of the West Windsor Forest 5 & Dime to hold a barbecue as part of the festivities at the finish line of the 5- and 10-kilometer trail races on June 21. With 15 game wardens on hand to cook and serve, all proceeds from the meal, as well as 50 percent of the race entry fees, went to the Gravelle family.

The turnout was enough to impress West Windsor resident and game warden Stephen Majeski, who helped spearhead the cooperative effort.

“She had friends and family from all over the place come to participate and celebrate her life,” Majeski said. “We kept it low-key in terms of promoting it because we wanted to make sure we had enough food, and it still drew almost 1,000 people, between the barbecue and the race. To get 1,000 people together like that at the drop of a hat I think says a lot about the kind of person Ashley was.”

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.