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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.

Categories
Viewpoint

I wish grandpas never died

“And I wish even cars had truck beds
And every road was named Copperhead
And coolers never run out of cold Bud Light
And I wish high school home teams never lost
And back road drinkin’ kids never got caught
And I wish the price of gas was low and cotton was high
I wish honky tonks didn’t have no closing time
And I wish grandpas never died.”

These are lyrics from country singer Riley Green’s 2019 magnum opus, “I Wish Grandpa’s Never Died.” Dedicating this song to his two late grandfathers, Green credits them as co-writers on a track that has been streamed 130 million times in 2022 alone. If you haven’t listened to this song, please do. Because I guarantee it will at least bring up memories of growing up. For me, it reminds me of my grandparents.

Like many teenagers and young adults across the country, I grew up with grandparents who had a massive impact on my development as a child of God. And like so many other kids, I have helped lay my paternal grandparents to rest. I never met my maternal grandparents due to their passing before my parents’ wedding, but for 25 years, my grandparents never knew the word “no” when it came to the needs of their 11 grandchildren. Devoted, tireless and generous to a fault, Steve and Marilyn lived a life of service and integrity that is rarely seen. I miss them dearly and am grateful for the presence they had in my life and in the lives of others.

This week commemorates the second anniversary of their passing, as my grandpa Steve died eight days after my grandma, Marilyn. The namesake for both my dad and I, my grandpa Stephen A. “Steve” Viz was one of the smartest men I’ve ever met. Born to Hungarian immigrants in Dayton, Ohio in 1936, Steve’s father passed away six weeks after he was born. Forged by his mother, older brothers and the city of Chicago that they called a new home, my grandpa’s life was anything but uneventful.

Two weeks after being sent home from school due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the health of both my grandparents began to decline. After several more health scares, my grandma was sent to a rehabilitation facility for nearly five weeks. When she was released, health compilations would then arise for my grandpa, a man who had survived a heart coronary nearly forty years before. When my grandma would return from facilities, my grandpa would enter them. A frustrating process for both me and my extended family, the five months before their deaths were filled with the dread of hospital food, COVID visitations and healthcare worker availability.

But even through all this, we came to see our quarantined spring and summer as a blessing from above. A hard reset, it gave my siblings, parents and me not only the chance to catch up, but to care for the grandparents who had cared for us for the entirety of our lives. These months were filled with belly laughs, great meals and stories. The true story of a scar on my grandpa’s lip even came to light. He detailed that in 1946, the best thing to do for kids in the city on a Saturday was to participate in a “rumble” where unwatched neighborhood children would fight each other and place wagers on it. Amidst the anxieties of COVID-19, these were the best of times.

After weeks of in-home, end-of-life care, my grandma passed away on the morning of Sept. 20 2020, with my brother Thomas at her side. Her wake and funeral followed a Friday/Saturday format that following week, and I could clearly tell that my grandpa was hurting. To see your spouse of 54 years be laid to rest would suck the life out of anyone, but still, my grandpa pushed through. On Sunday, he wanted to accompany my dad and I on the drive back to South Bend. Our 75-minute ride back from the southwest suburbs of Chicago went by quickly, but as we listened on the radio to the Bears defeating the Falcons and conversed, all agony and dismay dissolved. Following an evening of Noodles & Company and Culver’s custard, we exchanged goodbyes. “Stephen, I love you and am proud of you” were the final words he mentioned to me that night. Those would be the last words I would ever hear him say.

The following morning while in class, a quick barrage of texts noted news I was not expecting. “Grandpa just passed away on the drive to Christ Hospital. Congestive heart failure.” I had no words. I was stunned. Shell-shocked. Befuddled. Discombobulated. Leaving that class, I told the professor of my next class that I wasn’t going to be taking his midterm, returned to my room and sobbed.

My grandpa’s funeral would be that following weekend, exactly a week after my grandma’s funeral. And while we yearned as a family to be anywhere but that funeral home, something about these services was different. No longer was my grandfather in a wheelchair accepting condolences for the loss of his beloved wife. Rather, we took solace in the fact that after only eight days apart, my grandparents were united again once more on the heavenly plane. My cousin, an Augustinian priest, sealed my peace of mind with his homily at my grandfather’s funeral mass. “Love and do what you will. If we can say that Steve and Marilyn did this throughout their Christian life, then there is no doubt that they are reunited today in the eternal Kingdom of Heaven.” Two years later, this anniversary is not a solemn one, but a joyful day of remembrance that commemorates the beautiful lives my grandparents lived.

So, to Steve and Marilyn: May God give you rest, and I look forward to seeing you soon.

Stephen Viz is a one-year MBA candidate and graduate of Holy Cross College. Hailing from Orland Park, Illinois, his columns are all trains of thoughts and he can be found at either Decio Cafe or in Mendoza. He can be reached at sviz@nd.edu or on Twitter at @StephenViz.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Categories
Scene

What ‘Coco’ has taught me

Believe me, I get it. Here’s another piece on Coco! Has it been talked about numerous times since its release in 2017? Absolutely, but for good reason. Being Mexican-American myself, I was skeptical at first when Disney announced this film. I thought right away it would be a stereotypical Hispanic film that the majority of audiences would assume Hispanic culture is. However, “Coco” was a film that truly moved me emotionally. So, while this isn’t necessarily a recommendation, I would like to talk about what this film meant to me.

In case you haven’t seen it yet, “Coco” is a 2017 film directed by Adrian Molina and Lee Unkrich. The story is of Miguel Rivera, a young musician who crosses over to the Land of the Dead to find his purpose in life while connecting with his ancestors. The film is heavily influenced by the Mexican holiday Dia de los Muertos or also known as Day of the Dead. On this multi-day holiday, family and friends gather to pay respects and remember friends and family members who have died.

When I was little, I had very little care for Dia De Los Muertos. I was naive to the idea of death and why we spent a whole day remembering those who passed on, especially those that I wasn’t necessarily close to. It wasn’t until I was in high school that I understood the importance of this holiday, as well as remembering the dead in general.

I lost all my grandfathers in high school: my Papo (Robert Balleza) on my mother’s side, my grandfather (Raul Zarazua) and my step-grandfather (Lloyd Negrete) on my father’s side. It was hard to process. The role models of my childhood, the people I never thought would leave, are now gone. The idea of death hit me hard, and made me think about what would happen if I left now. How would I be remembered? Would I be remembered years down the line?

As I grew older, the thought wasn’t in my head 24/7, but still lingered, and appeared again when COVID-19 hit. The idea of death and not being remembered hit me like a truck. I never knew how to process these thoughts until my sophomore year, when we finally came back to campus.

I went to an event showing “Coco” and my feelings finally come together. While those we loved are no longer with us, they are never truly gone forever. Just because someone isn’t with you anymore, that doesn’t mean that the love you have for them has disappeared. Their lives have meaning because we, the living, refuse to forget them. When we pass on, we trust and hope those we love will do the same for us. 

“Coco” also shows the importance of passing on traditions and familial legacy. While Coco’s family has a strong hatred toward music, the family and audience learn the value of respecting previous generations and the knowledge our elders have accumulated. There are plenty of people who feel they have made grave mistakes in their life and wish they could take them back. However, the best thing a person can do is to teach the people they love to not make the same mistakes. While those who look up to us want to be just like us, we want them to be better than us so they can have better lives.

No one we love is ever truly gone, and we can continue to keep their legacy alive, remembering the times we had with them and continue to pass on their legacy.

Title: “Coco”

Directors: Adrian Molina, Lee Unkrich

Starring: Anthony Gonzalez, Gael Garcia Bernal

Streaming: Disney+

Shamrocks: 5 out of 5

Contact Gabriel at gzarazua@nd.edu

Categories
News

University leader and Holy Cross priest Richard Warner dies

Fr. Richard “Dick” Warner died Wednesday at the age of 83 at Holy Cross House, according to a University press release.

Warner was a part of the Congregation of Holy Cross since 1962, the same year he graduated from Notre Dame, the release said. Warner became a part of the University’s Board of Fellows and Board of Trustees in 1979 as a part of his role as the provincial superior of the Indiana Province. In 1988, Warner was appointed a counselor at the University by then-president Fr. Edward “Monk” Malloy.

Warner also served as the director of campus ministry from 1989 until 2010 before he was elected the 12th superior general of the Congregation of Holy Cross, the release said.

“Father Dick Warner was a consummate priest, a servant-leader in Holy Cross, fiercely loyal to Notre Dame, and he had an abiding love for our students — a love that was richly reciprocated,” University President Fr. John Jenkins said in the release. “He was to me and many a model, mentor and friend who generously gave his life to the mission of Notre Dame and the Congregation of Holy Cross.”

The University will hold a wake and funeral mass Tuesday for Warner at 2 p.m. and 3:30 p.m., respectively, at the Basilica.