Editor’s note: This story is part of a series about Oklahomans who have died in the coronavirus pandemic. Read the stories of other Oklahomans here. Have you lost a loved one to COVID-19? Help us tell their story. 

When Kelli Montoya met Benjamin “Ben” Weylin Montoya on a cruise in 2015, she knew she had met her soulmate. 

“He was pretty smitten right off the bat,” Kelli said. 

So was she.

 “He pretty much swept me off my feet,” she said. 

Ben was ambitious, adventurous and passionate about serving others. 

Later that year, Kelli moved from Ohio to Oklahoma to be with Ben. The couple married in 2018.

Ben was born in Denver, Colorado on Feb. 13, 1975. He moved to Colorado Springs in 1983 and later was a lightweight champion in boxing at Ft. Carson, a nearby U.S. Army post. He started working as an emergency medical technician at age 18.

He also became a member of the Black Forest Fire Department ambulance service and was a volunteer at the Ellicott Fire Department. Ben was a member and past president of the Explorer Post 47 Search and Rescue. 

In 1998, he moved to Liberal, Kansas, and worked for the fire department there. Ben made his way to Oklahoma in 2001, where he worked for the Beaver Police Department. During the years he was there, he was a volunteer firefighter, and eventually served as the police chief. He was also police chief of Forgan, Oklahoma. After retirement, he served as a reserve deputy in Beaver County. 

Ben also was a member of the U.S. Air Force Reserve and served a deployment in Afghanistan.

He earned a degree in criminal justice from Oklahoma State University in 2003 and went on to attain a master’s degree in safety administration from the National Association of Safety Professionals. He started a business, Tri-State Safety Service, LLC, in 2011. 

“He did more in 45 years than some people do in 90,” Kelli said.

Ben’s love of people and his smile were his trademarks, she said. He often talked about how blessed he was in life. 

Ben and Kelli loved to share adventures together. They went on several cruises, and also traveled to Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Las Vegas, Nashville and more. The couple loved live music and went to so many concerts, Kelli said she wouldn’t be able to list them all.

The couple had more adventures planned.

But Ben became sick with COVID-19 on Dec. 12, 2020. Three days later, he sought care at an emergency room and was diagnosed with COVID-19 pneumonia. Days later, he was flown to a hospital in Dodge City, Kansas. He was later flown to a hospital in Kansas City, Missouri, where he died on Jan. 16, 2021. 

He is survived by his wife, Kelli; sisters Kacy Heath and Tori Conway; his father, Michael Collins; two stepdaughters, Amanda Falvey and Cheyenne Edwards; three stepsisters; and several nieces and nephews. 

“He just had the best smile and his personality was just like nobody I’ve ever met,” Kelli said. “He was just fun, he was positive. He was very giving to other people.”