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‘Know that you are never alone’: Community, family mourns loss of ND sophomore

James “Jake” Blaauboer passed away unexpectedly on Friday, Nov. 11. Blaauboer was a sophomore at Notre Dame, veteran of the U.S. Army and avid runner, but most importantly, he was a brother, a son and a friend.

Born in December 1995, Blaauboer grew up in upstate New York in a small town called Clifton Park. He lived with his loving parents, Mary and James “Jim” Blaauboer, and younger sister Molly Blaauboer. 

Molly Blaauboer, only 20 months younger than Blaauboer, said she was always the “proud younger sister,” following behind Jake throughout their schooling. 

“Molly is very outgoing and social, and Jake was very reserved and would keenly observe,” their mother, Mary Blaauboer, explained. 

Jake and Molly Blaauboer grew up together in Clifton Park, New York with their parents, Mary and Jim Blaauboer. / Courtesy of Molly Blaauboer.

Right out of high school, Blaauboer enlisted in the U.S. Army, and then spent the next few years of his life in active and reserve duty, during most of which he was stationed in Fort Carson, Colorado. 

After his service, Blaauboer started community college and applied to a myriad of other universities and colleges — one of which was the University of Notre Dame. Although his parents said they had no personal connection to Notre Dame, the family grew up watching Notre Dame’s Fighting Irish win football games. 

Blaauboer first transferred into the University in the fall of 2019, where he was a sophomore English major in St. Edward’s Hall. 

His family explained that although Blaauboer loved to read and write, he didn’t know what he wanted to accomplish with an English degree— which was why he took a leave of absence from the University in 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. 

When he left Notre Dame, Blaauboer went directly into technical school where he learned to be a welder. Working with his hands was something that Blaauboer began during his time as the Army when he was randomly selected to be a mechanic, Molly Blaauboer said.  

“We’re getting outreach now about how great he was at being a mechanic and what a great soldier he was, which we totally believe, but it’s interesting to see the ripple,” she noted. 

After he finished technical school, the family said Blaauboer moved to Maine to work as a welder, far away from his hometown in New York. 

While the family was in Maine celebrating Easter 2022, Molly Blaauboer mentioned that Blaauboer announced his intention to return to Notre Dame unexpectedly. 

“This is completely out of the blue,” she said. “[He said,] ‘I have something to tell you guys … I’ve applied to be unparoled from Notre Dame.’”

Jake Blaauboer was only 20 months older than Molly, who said her teachers always liked to have another Blaauboer in their classrooms. / Courtesy of Molly Blaauboer.

Molly Blaauboer noted that this wasn’t unlike Blaauboer and that he often changed his mind about what he wanted to accomplish with his life. 

“I would joke about how I wonder what he wants to do this week,” she laughed. 

Mary Blaauboer explained that Blaauboer wasn’t happy as a welder because he needed something more intellectually stimulating. The family said he loved to debate politics, philosophy and history with anyone who would listen. 

“He’s an intellectual person, you know, he was a deep thinker. He was a reader,” Mary said. 

Blaauboer had to go through an entire re-entry process, Molly said, and finally found out he was retuning in July. So, in August 2022, now 26 year old Blaauboer moved to Notre Dame for the second time but as a history major instead. 

Because adjusting to college life can be hard — especially the second time — Notre Dame’s care and wellness consultants in the Center for Student Support and Care put together a support group filled with re-admitted students, including Blaauboer and fellow sophomore Ua Tom.  

Tom, a theology major and native of the Bronx in New York City, said he was originally a Gateway student, but he took time off from the University because he didn’t want his first semester at Notre Dame to be controlled by the COVID-19 pandemic. While away, Tom returned to NYC and was a teacher in Chinatown. 

“All of us re-admits, we have our mental health issues, for sure, every single one of us. But that’s also what got us close,” Tom noted. 

The support group, colloquially named “we back” by the members, met every Wednesday at 4 p.m., according to Tom. 

“Self-deprecation was the highest form of humor that we have for ourselves in that group. We dropped out but we’re back,” he joked. 

Tom explained that Blaauboer stood out as a natural mentor and leader of the group.

“When Jake spoke, people listened, he was just so earnest and genuine. Jake always checked up on me and was a wonderful influence on myself and the rest of the readmitted students,” Tom said. “He happily and naturally took on the role of an older brother and mentor, and whenever I saw him it would totally make my day. It was clear from the moment that I met him that he had a big heart. His positivity and compassion was contagious.”

Tom said he would never forget one moment when Blaauboer helped Tom during a difficult period of time.

“I’ll never forget when I was really having a tough time [at the beginning of the semester] when I was in the thick of [transitioning] and really struggling to focus on class,” he explained. “Jake gave me a hug. He told me he was there for me, and I wasn’t alone.”

Although he had only known Blaauboer for a short time, Tom noted how much of an impact Blaauboer had on him, saying that he wished they had spent more time together. 

“He really was a light of a human being. He was such an easily likable guy who was really gentle and kind,” he said. “In some ways, he knew us better than we knew ourselves.”

Apart from classes and the support group, Blaauboer was also active in the Notre Dame Running Club. Race coordinator for the club and Stanford Hall junior Jonathan Karr said Blaauboer was an active member of the group and often volunteered to drive the team to and from meets. 

“He was very supportive of the entire team. He took pictures when we ran, he wanted us to succeed, and he cheered for all the runners,” Karr said. 

Karr emphasized how deeply grateful he was for Blaauboer’s positive influence on the team and for him personally. 

“I was a very close friend with Jake, and he really helped the team,” Karr noted. “He really, really embodied what it means to be a Fighting Irish.”

The family also emphasized how important running, particularly the routine of the sport, was to Blaauboer.

“He was strict with himself,” Mary Blaauboer said. “Routine and ritual were important to him in every aspect. So, there was a routine for food and exercise and friendships and then the school and work and everything. For him, overlapping those things was uncomfortable.”

They said he also loved comedy and was a huge fan of movies. Overall, the Blaauboers said the outpouring of love they have received from family, friends, teammates and anyone who knew Blaauboer has meant a lot to them. 

“That’s an amazing blessing and comfort — to know that he’s remembered and prayed for,” Mary Blaauboer said.

The family said Jake Blaauboer loved movies, comedy and running. He would also debate politics or philosophy with anyone who would listen. / Courtesy of Molly Blaauboer.

Tom emphasized that anyone, who knew Blaauboer personally or not, can honor his memory by living fully and not being afraid to reach out to others.

“Live with the same spirit that he did,” Tom said. “Reach out and ask someone how they are doing, like he did for us.”

Fr. Pete McCormick, the inaugural assistant vice president for campus ministry, echoed Tom’s sentiment during Notre Dame’s mass of remembrance on Nov. 16.

“Sometimes words fail and can’t always communicate the depths of sorrow,” he said. “Be unafraid to reach out to a member of hall staff, the University Counseling Center (UCC) or campus ministry. Know that you are never alone.”

Contact Bella Laufenberg at ilaufenb@nd.edu.

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