If there’s one thing Ventura resident Denise Olson-Drury remembers that her daughter Kirra Drury taught her, it’s to stay strong.  

“Kirra was a personal trainer and was always encouraging people to stay strong and be strong, and that’s what Kaley [Olson-Drury’s daughter] and I are both doing; self-care, loving yourself and loving others,” Olson-Drury said.

Kirra, 23, and her friend Raegan Heitzig, 26, both Ventura residents, died in a boating accident on the Arizona/California border of the Colorado River last year over Labor Day Weekend. Kirra was a well-known bartender who worked at The Tavern while Heitzig worked at Social Tap, both in Ventura.

Family and friends will celebrate the young women’s lives one year later with an intimate beach party. Those wishing to light a candle at sunset on Sunday, Sept. 1, at the end of Seaward Avenue by Pierpont Beach are welcome.

“It’s nice to see when people bring things down there [to the memorial site], I know people leave tokens,” Olson-Drury said. “It’s hard for me to see dead flowers, so every week I bring fresh flowers.”

A celebration of life for Heitzig will be held on Friday, Sept. 20, in Visalia, her hometown. Heitzig’s body has not been recovered from the river since the accident.

“Jordan [Heitzig’s sister] and I want to find something special for our star girls,” Olson-Drury said. “We want to keep [the memorial site] going until the 20th. After that, we are looking to have a commemorative plaque for the two girls [in the Ventura area].”

Olson-Drury said Kirra was enrolled in her last prerequisites for nursing with a specialty in aesthetics at Ventura College. She was also a volleyball player at the college and her No. 7 jersey was retired last Saturday during an alumni game.

“She loved makeup and transforming herself and others,” Olson-Drury said. “She also wanted to have kids someday.”

As a way to remember Kirra’s life, #StarGirlStrong bracelets were created by Olson-Drury and Kaley to remind people to be authentic to themselves and to be kind to others. The bracelets are available at Coastal Postal and Video in Ventura. “Stargirl,” written by author Jerry Spinelli, was one of Kirra’s favorite books and celebrates the power of individuality and personal expression.

“It embodies who Kirra was,” Olson-Drury said. “She danced to the beat of her own drum and was genuinely a nice person.”

After Kirra’s memorial services, Olson-Drury received art drawings of her daughter from people around the world such as Bali. Even the Stargirl Society from Ohio sent her a handmade quilt with inspirational messages on stars.

“Everyone was reaching out,” Olson-Drury said. “Kirra had such a following on Instagram and people genuinely adored her.”

Denise said a future nonprofit in Kirra’s memory is currently in the works. An account has also been created at Coastal Postal and Video for those wishing to donate.  

“Her spirit still lives on,” Olson-Drury said. “I try to make light of it and act like she’s still with us. She was the kind of person you just wanted to be around.”

For more information, visit www.stargirlstrong.com.