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Friends and loved ones of Maxine Bartkovich gathered at Natura Feb. 28. Video by Daniela Marin, Central Florida Future

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When word of Maxine Bartkovich’s fatal accident spread, her Orlando friends felt “an unspoken call to congregate” at a place where her laughter often filled the room.

Bartkovich died Feb. 17 in a four-vehicle collision on I-4. Around 5 p.m., a Ford truck struck Bartkovich’s Toyota Corolla from behind, forcing her into another Ford truck. She was declared dead after being transported to Orlando Regional Medical Center.

Nick King, a Valencia student who knew Bartkovich, said coming together following the 21-year-old UCF student’s death at Natura, a coffee bar near UCF, was the only thing that felt right during a time of shock and tragedy.

“I knew Maxine through Natura, kind of like everyone else did,” he said. “When I first started coming here, I would kind of just disappear into the background. But it became quickly apparent that Maxine wasn’t a ‘disappear into the background’ type of person.”

Instead, he said she pulled him out of dark place with her overwhelmingly warm and magical personality, making him feel like her best friend, like she tended to do for a lot of people.

When King first met Bartkovich, the walls at Natura were still red and the furniture dingy, but on Feb. 28, the newly-renovated coffee shop near UCF was packed with friends and loved ones gathered to celebrate Bartkovich’s life at a place where her impact was made evidently clear.

“Maxine was someone who you’d know you’d see every time you came into Natura,” King said. “And you would just hear her laughter, and it didn’t matter what kind of mood you were in, it could brighten your day beyond anything.”

Marissa Brown planned the second official memorial to be held in her honor at the coffee shop.

“Every time I would see her on campus, I would run over and give her a hug and she always made my day,” said Brown, who attended the Rosen College of Hospitality Management with Bartkovich. “It was important to come together and mourn, but we didn’t want to end it like that, because she wasn’t like that. She was always happy and she was always so positive, so we wanted to make it a celebration of her life.”

During Monday’s Open Mic Night, which Brown said was Bartkovich’s favorite, friends and staff offered her favorite beer, memory candles and snacks in exchange for donations for her family.

The memorial event raised more than $500, Brown said.

“We are all a family here, and we wanted her family to know that she was a big part of that and that we will never forget her,” said Brown, event manager at Natura. “It’ll never be enough to compensate, but we wanted to do a little part, and it’s what we can contribute to give a little bit of what we can.”

The night was filled with stories about Bartkovich and songs dedicated to her memory.

Holding back tears, King described her as the physical embodiment of love, adding that she helped teach the Natura community how to care for one another.

“Natura has been around of many years, and there’s always been changing communities,” he said. “But I don’t think there’s ever been a community that’s been as tight as we are here, and I would credit much of that entirely to who Maxine was as a person.”

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Daniela Marin is a digital producer for the Central Florida Future. Follow her on Twitter at @dan__marin or email her at DanielaM@CentralFloridaFuture.com.

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