By Steph Mostaccio
The Westminster Choir traveled to four cities between Jan. 12 and Jan. 18 for its Texas tour, but one city, Austin, held special meaning for the group.
That is where the choir dedicated its performance to Jake Foster, former production coordinator at Westminster Choir College (WCC), who passed away on Jan. 2 after a 10-year battle with cancer. The 30-year-old died among his family in Stillwater, Okla.
Foster came to WCC in the summer of 2005 and left last May to work for Conspirare, a choir based out of Austin. Although he was only at WCC for a short time, his death still created a feeling of emptiness among his co-workers and friends at the college.
“It left a void for all of us,” James Moore, director of WCC Performance Management, said. “I think we’re all just sort of coming now to accept it.”
Moore knew that Foster had a serious illness because according to him, Foster was always upfront with everyone about his situation. Yet, his death still came as a shock.
“Even though we knew Jake was sick and getting sicker, because we had seen him fighting the cancer so valiantly while he was here, I think we all assumed to a certain extent that he would continue fighting it and that [he] would be OK,” Moore said.
Foster never allowed his illness to affect his work performance, according to Moore. Even during the times when he was receiving chemotherapy treatments, he maintained his spirited demeanor and was ready to work.
“He had a perspective on things because of what he was going through personally and took what he was given with a grain of salt and a sense of humor,” Moore said.
According to senior Adrian Archer, who worked in the office of Performance Management while Foster was out sick, nothing could keep him from his duties at WCC.
“Even when he was in the hospital, I remember him calling me and asking to check on this or check on that even though he could barely speak,” Archer said.
Archer also remembers Foster being at every performance and staying to the end of every trip even though he was sick and sometimes looked tired.
“I was really amazed at how he kept up his stamina because he had come out of the hospital and on the bus with everybody else,” Archer said. “He participated as though there was nothing wrong.”
If Foster had not looked sick, no one would have known that he was battling cancer because he was always doing his work the best he could and in a “very professional and cheerful manner,” according to Archer.
Yet, although Foster looked sick, senior Perri Sussman did not know that his illness was so advanced since he did not act like he was in poor health. Sussman simply thought that he was taking time off to
“I thought he had gotten better, and I didn’t know he was as sick for as long as he was,” she said. “I was also very sad that somebody so young lost his life so early.”
Foster’s death felt surreal to Sussman. She remembers seeing him at various performances on and off campus. But now when she returns to those places, she will not see his face in the audience. This experience has given her a new outlook on life.
“It’s kind of an odd feeling for me just how fragile life can be,” Sussman said. “One day you’re here and the next you’re not. It made me think about that a lot.”
Archer experienced a deep sadness when he first heard about Foster’s death because although he only knew Foster for a year and a half, the two had become good friends. As Archer put it, Foster was “a jewel of a friend.”
Even though Sussman was not very close with Foster, she still feels the emptiness left by his death.
“This is such a small community, Westminster, and we all have this one common bond that ties us together,” she said. “It’s like when you lose somebody in the community it’s very heavy for all of us because you know very much what that person is like because everybody has the same passion. So it is a big loss.”
To help Foster’s friends and the WCC community cope with his death and to honor his memory, Archer created the Facebook group “Remembering Jake Foster — RIP.”
“We didn’t know what to do when he passed away,” Archer said. “So now Facebook has allowed us to be together in that sort of way.”