On Wednesday, Feb. 26, at least 75 people gathered on the second level of the Student Union concourse for a candlelight memorial service to honor the life of first-year student Eric Van de Laar, who passed away on Thursday, Feb. 6.
The event began with Rev. Brother Salvatore Patricola of St. Josephs’s Church in New Paltz addressing the crowd with opening words and led prayers.
Eric’s friends and family said he was a person who was passionate about music, loved playing video games, had a good sense of humor, a sharp wit and was someone who was able to maintain his composure.
Eric’s father, Lyell Van de Laar, addressed the crowd and thanked them for all of the kind words they posted on Facebook and said it meant so much to their family that everyone came out to the service.
Eric’s brother, Ian Van de Laar, said he was thankful for everyone in attendance for the support they have given their family.
“He was my best friend and my first memories are of Eric,” Ian Van de Laar said.
First-year biology major Alexandra Shea said she would always walk to her 9:25 a.m. classes with Eric, and described him as a person who put her at ease.
First-year fine arts major Haley Springston said Eric’s kindness made a big impression on her. She said when she first came to New Paltz she was very nervous, but Eric gave her some of his mom’s cookies, making her feel at home.
Eric’s roommate, first-year biology major Thomas Nicholas, said Eric was a person who was extremely kind, generous and never judged anyone.
First-year journalism and political science double major Sarah Eames said she valued the time spent with Eric.
“I will cherish my experiences with Eric for the rest of my time at New Paltz and for the rest of my life,” Eames said.
SUNY New Paltz Associate Vice President Ray Schwarz said the service showed how large of an impact Eric had on the lives of those he met.
“What I think it says first is more about Eric and how he touched people than the community itself,” Schwarz said. “Yes, it always makes me proud when the community comes together for each other, and New Paltz does that so well, but it speaks mostly to Eric and his sensitivity and his caring, which came out over and over again from the hearts of students.”
Director of Student Activities and Union Services Mike Patterson said when people come together to honor someone they have lost and loved, it defines a sense of community.
“When we lose one of our own, those that are closest come together to share memories and honor the life of someone that has been lost,” Patterson said. “The students really led the effort on this and I think that shows a lot of commitment and care.”
Balloons were handed out to those in attendance. At the end of the service, the balloons were released into the sky to signify the release of any regrets and to send prayers and thoughts of kindness into the sky.
For anyone who’s seeking additional counseling, the campus Psychological Counseling Center can be reached at 845-257-2920 or during regular business hours Monday to Friday 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.