New Castle woman Lisa Detweiler’s life honored at branch library

Merle Detweiler speaks with friends and family during a memorial service for his late wife, Lisa, at the New Castle Branch Library on Saturday.
Ray K. Erku/Post Independent

Merle Detweiler always knew his wife impacted the community. But he really didn’t know just how much until that same community showed up in droves to the New Castle Branch Library on Saturday for one final goodbye.

“She loved working at the library,” Merle said, trying to compose his emotions before the ceremony. “She had told me about 10 days before she passed.”

Nov. 10, a day after Merle’s 58th birthday, was a dark day for New Castle and the greater Garfield County community. That day, Lisa Detweiler, 47, a New Castle librarian and former Youth Zone employee of 12 years, was fatally struck by a passing freight train in Old Town.

Lisa Detweiler
Courtesy/Merle Detweiler

Before that fateful day, the Detweilers lived a relatively simple and quiet life. The couple didn’t have cable television and instead Lisa, a voracious reader, entertained Merle with jokes she read from Reader’s Digest or People Magazine. Whenever they did dishes, they’d talk about life as Lisa washed and Merle dried. Whenever Merle fly fished the Roaring Fork River or the ponds at Rifle Falls, Lisa sometimes joined him, where she’d sit beside the water and read books.

“She would say,” Merle reminisced, “‘We’re like an old married couple.’”

Merle and Lisa married in Glenwood Springs on Oct. 13, 2007. Merle, from Ohio, met Lisa, raised in Indiana, through family ties at the Glenwood Mennonite Church (now Defiance Church).

Leading up to this point Lisa did volunteer services for Mennonite organizations between high school and college at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Lisa also at one point worked at a homeless shelter and a halfway house.

She was also fluent in Spanish.

“She was probably one of the smartest people I have ever been around, and one of the kindest people,” Merle said. “She read a lot and she really knew things. I just loved to talk to her.”

After they wed, it was snowshoeing in the White River National Forest and impromptu, drop-of-a-dime trips to Moab. Many photos displayed during Lisa’s service Saturday were of them posing in front of natural rock formations. Other displays included her awards over the years: the Garfield County 2013 Humanitarian Award, the 2021 Lucy Schweers Excellence in Support Services award and a Beach Ball Award “For Bouncing Around and Being a Great Coworker to Everyone.”

“A lot of photos you see she had a smile on her face,” Merle said.

Merle didn’t speak during Saturday’s celebration of life ceremony in New Castle. Instead, he sat quietly next to Lisa’s brother, Mark Guengerich, and Mark’s 9-year-old daughter, Brooke, toward the front.

“The girls miss her a lot,” Guengerich said. “I miss her a lot.”

A celebration of life service held for Lisa Detweiler at the New Castle Branch Library on Saturday.
Ray K. Erku/Post Independent

Keeping close allegiance to his faith, however, Merle invited people like Defiance Church pastors Matt Shedden and Tom Jones, and family friend Jacob Ruiz, to read scripture, like Psalm 34, and sing religious songs, like “O Little Town of Bethlehem.”

Fellow librarians, like New Castle Branch Library Manager Ana Gaytan, also offered their fondest memories of Lisa. Her accomplishments at the library included starting its first Zoom account and getting all its events online.

Gaytan told the story of Lisa and the library’s gratitude cup, which was mostly filled with chocolate.

“We had a staff meeting every other week, where we talked about everything that was changing that was work-related,” she said. “(Lisa) made this new thing that we do where we pass the gratitude cup and we talk about something that we’re grateful for today.

“Something that makes us glad, and, if not, we’re just happy for chocolate.”

Guengerich’s daughter, Brooke, later walked to the microphone unaccompanied, determined, on a mission. Despite being just 9, she spoke about her aunt.

“She was a great person,” she said. “She’s always been there for me.”

Longtime family friend John Gracey also said Lisa was a unique, special person.

“Good night, Lisa,” he said. “We’ll see you in the morning.”

That morning

It was like any other. Merle spoke to Lisa for a while before heading to work. 

She told him she was going for a walk that day because it snowed. He told her he’d work a couple hours before going fishing with some friends who were in town from Ohio.

“Then I went back out, took some stuff to my car and came back in,” Merle said. “I said I love you and she said I love you too, I’ll see you tonight.

“I was working, and my neighbor called me and told me that there was a New Castle police officer and a Garfield County sheriff knocking on my door very loudly.”

Merle called Lisa’s personal cell, no answer. Merle called the library, they thought she was at home. Then, the police told him what happened.

Soon enough, Merle was joined by Pastor Shedden as they rode to go see Garfield County Coroner Robert Glassmire.

“The only thing that the coroner and the New Castle police could tell me was that she was not between the rails, that she was walking outside of the rails,” Merle said. “Which is so strange, because everyone that knows her, knows she was one of the most cautious people ever.”

On Monday, Merle looked back on the help he received from Glassmire. After Lisa’s death, Merle went back to Glassmire’s office to retrieve some of her personal belongings, like her ring, phone and glasses.

Glassmire didn’t have some of the items, so he himself went back to the scene to search. Merle said Glassmire eventually found the battery to Lisa’s phone and her glasses.

New Castle Branch Library Manager Ana Gaytan speaks about Lisa Detweiler on Saturday.
Ray K. Erku/Post Independent

“That was above and beyond what a coroner would be required to do,” Merle said. “That’s just something that I won’t ever forget.”

Right now, Merle is waiting for the Union Pacific Railroad to release details on the investigation over his wife’s death, and said he won’t receive any details for about the next four months.

In the meantime, Merle is spending the holiday season back in Ohio. He won’t be back in New Castle until early January. 

“It’s really hard,” he said. “I still expect her to come home sometimes.”

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