A Wisconsin morning news anchor and former college basketball player died suddenly Saturday at age 27 in an apparent suicide.
News of WAOW anchor Neena Pacholke’s death left her family and colleagues stunned, and she was remembered for her contagious smile and happy-go-lucky demeanor.
“Neena Pacholke, our beloved morning anchor passed away suddenly Saturday,” 9 WAOW said in a statement. “The entire team here at News 9 are absolutely devastated by the loss as we know so many others are as well.”
Pacholke, who grew up in Tampa and played basketball for the University of South Florida, was engaged to be married at the time of her death, her older sister Kaitlynn Pacholke told Tampa Bay Times.
“She was just like a little ball of sunshine, and her smile was massive,” Kaitlynn Pacholke said Monday morning. “My sister was by far the happiest person I thought I knew.”
One of Pacholke’s last posts on Twitter was a retweet from author Jon Gordon about positivity and believing the best is yet to come.
“We are not positive because life is easy. We are positive because life can be hard,” Gordon wrote in the original tweet. “Give yourself (and others) grace. Speak life and encourage others. Look for the good today. Remember your WHY. Believe the best is yet to come.”
News 9 and Pacholke’s co-anchor also cited Pacholke’s smile and bubbly personality in tributes.
“She was a kind person with a big heart and a contagious smile and we will miss her greatly,” the station said.
Her co-anchor Brendan Mackey said Pacholke was “the brightest light in the room” with the “biggest smile and the funniest laugh.”
“I have never met anyone in my entire life that is more loved than this girl,” Mackey wrote in a tribute post on Facebook. “Everyday she made people smile, whether that was through a tv screen or just being an incredible friend. She was so happy and so full of life and a role model.”
Pacholke joined the news station as a multimedia journalist in May 2017 and was promoted to anchor in February 2019, according to her website.
She graduated from the University of South Florida, where she lettered three seasons as a point guard.
Jose Fernandez, head coach of the USF women’s basketball team, said the organization was “devastated” over Pacholke’s death.
“Our prayers are with the Pacholke family during this extremely difficult time. Please keep them in your thoughts,” Fernandez said in a statement posted to Twitter.
Kaitlynn Pacholke said you can never really know what another person is going through.
“Sometimes you just don’t know what people are going through, no matter how much you think you know someone. … My sister had access to every resource you could imagine,” she told the Tampa Bay Times. “She was loved by everybody. She was so good at her job.”
Kaitlynn Pacholke said her younger sister had a talent for making people feel special and important, whether she knew them for five minutes or her whole life.
“She just radiated love and positivity, and she just cared so much about pouring into other people, and always put other people first,” she told the local Florida paper of her sister. “I think she did that at the expense of not caring about herself.”
My heart truly goes out to Neena’s family as I know that devastating bewilderment as my handsome healthy son took his life at 28. We will never have an answer as to why they made that choice and you never get over it just learn to accept it and life must go on. Your all in my prayers and believe she rest in the arms of our Lord Jesus Christ. Hugs to you all!