Columbus grad remembered as ‘bright, gifted and lovely person’

Friends of Jacqueline (Kleine) Watts remembered her as a loving and giving person who had a passion for helping people.

Watts, 33, the daughter of Ric and Peggy Kleine of Columbus, graduated from Columbus East High School in 2002. She graduated from Butler University in 2007 where she studied in the College of Education.

Ena Shelley, dean of Butler’s College of Education, said she had recently run into Watts in an Indianapolis restaurant and caught up on what had been happening in Watts’ life since she had graduated.

“She was always so happy,” Shelley said. “I had her in class and just loved her.

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“Every faculty member in the College of Education who had her in class — I’ve heard from all of them — they loved her. She was a bright, gifted and lovely person.”

Watts was the type of student who would help a fellow student who was struggling, the dean said. In one of her classes, she kept reaching out to a student in her own kind way to make sure the student was included and successful in the class, the dean said.

During the conversation in the restaurant, Watts told Shelley that she was working at a hotel spa and asked if her former teacher was upset that she wasn’t teaching at the moment.

“I told her that she was helping people, and that is what is most important,” she said.

When Shelley heard the news Saturday, she was traveling and had just arrived in an airport in Charlotte when she learned about Watts’ death. “I was sobbing in the airport,” Shelley said, and was comforted by a passerby who offered prayers.

Watts and her husband Michael are originally from Columbus — her mother-in-law Sandy Watts recently retired as a Parkside School teacher. Watts’ in-laws, Dave and Sandy Watts, live in Columbus.

Watts’ husband graduated from Columbus North High School in 2003 and Clemson University in 2007. The two were married May 14, 2011, in the Dominican Republic, according to their engagement announcement which was published in The Republic.

In Indianapolis, Watts worked for a time at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Indiana, where she managed activities and partnerships and supervised special learning opportunities for mentors and children in the program.

Darcy Palmer-Shultz, chief executive officer of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Indiana, said she worked with Watts and several team members there have kept in contact since she left in 2010 after working with the organization for several years.

“She was bright, enthusiastic and kind,” Palmer-Shultz said of Watts. “She was always very generous and thoughtful. She had a very big passion for helping people — and helping animals,” she said. “She was a very special person.”

Zach Wells, a friend who went to school with Watts at Columbus East High School and Butler, said the two have stayed in touch through social media over the years.

“It was really a shock, when it was posted about her being missing,” he said.

Wells said the news of Watts’ death had been difficult to process. “It’s been a rough 18 hours for everybody,” he said.

He described his friend as someone who had a bubbly, upbeat personality and a huge smile.

“She was very caring and giving — she would light up a room when she’s there with good, positive energy,” he said.

Animals and pets were another passion for Watts and she was working with a pet animal shelter in Indianapolis, he said.

“I will remember her personality and her smile,” he said. “She was a generous person that everyone wanted to be around.”

One of the organizations Watts helped Indy Claw Rescue, which posted a tribute to Watts on its Facebook page. The organization said she had been part of its rescue program for five years and was on the board of directors.

Describing Watts as someone who would hug and kiss on the bunnies, dogs, and even a few of the cats, the rescue group members said they would never forget all she did for the organization and for the animals.

“We will always love you and will never forget you Jackie … never,” the posting said.

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Julie McClure is assistant managing editor of The Republic. She can be reached at or (812) 379-5631.