STOUGHTON MOURNS JAKE HOFFMAN: The heart of Stoughton was once again broken earlier this week, with the tragic death of 21-year-old James E. "Jake" Hoffman in an apartment fire in Amherst Monday, Jan. 21.
Hoffman, a 2009 graduate of Stoughton High, was in his senior year at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, studying Hospitality and Tourism Management in the school's Isenberg School of Management.
At UMass in Amherst, Jake was a member of MESIBA Team, the Club Managers Association of America, and was the Vice President of the Jewish Student Union. An avid sports fan, he was a kind and caring man who in his free time enjoyed fundraising for different foundations and donating his time to anyone who needed it. He went on Mission Trips with fellow parishioners of St. James Church.
If you met Jake, you immediately liked him. He had a 1000-megawatt smile, and a warm and engaging personality.
In these days of slovenly kids, Jake was a well-mannered young man, who never came over to my house without a "Hi, Mr. Snyder or thank you, Mr. Snyder." Whenever I'd see him around town, no matter what he was doing, he'd stop, walk over, shake my hand, smile and say, "Hi Mr. Snyder. How are you doing?"
He was disarmingly handsome, and my daughter and all her friends would intimate that if one of their friends said they didn't love him, they were lying. He was athletic, smart, and a leader of his peers. But, he was also amazingly down-to-earth.
The girls thought he had that the "Abercrombie" look, like he had stepped out of one of their magazine ads, but you'd never know it the way he treated people.
He was friendly with everyone, whether they were popular or not. He was a leader on the soccer and baseball fields at Stoughton High, and off the field, as well. He was also devoted to his church, and to helping people anywhere who needed it.
Tuesday night, the Stoughton High boys' basketball team had a moment of silence for Jake before their game. The Knights blew out rival North Attleboro by 30 points. Among those with tears in their eyes in the Knights gym that night was assistant coach Evan Taylor. Taylor was a friend and classmate of Hoffman's.
Stoughton High Athletic Director Ryan Donahue told About Town, "I did not know Jake personally, but I know his [younger] brother Riordan, who is also a great kid. The athletic department wanted to recognize Jake's wonderful reputation and we wanted to acknowledge the family with some well wishes, thoughts and prayers. His classmates and teammates have told me many wonderful things about him."
Matt Bernstein, former head coach of the Stoughton High soccer team, shared with Stoughton Patch his memories: "Jake was the very first soccer player I met at Stoughton High School, in 2006 when I was coaching the junior varsity soccer team. I knew right away there was something about this kid. I can remember Sunday practices with the boys and Jake being there each and every week at 8 a.m., with a ton of jokes and a smile.
"He was a strong defensive back on the field, and was a devoted kid with great determination," Berntstein added. "Without question, he was an all-around great kid that all coaches would have been lucky to have had on their team. I am so saddened by the news of Jake. He and his No. 4 jersey will always be remembered."
He became captain of the varsity soccer squad in his senior year.
Stoughton High math teacher Michael Armour, who coached Jake in soccer and baseball at SHS, tells About Town, "He was a confident kid, and he always had a positive outlook and a smile. I never had him in my class, but on the field he was just great. He was an easy kid to coach and got along well with everyone. I coached his sister Nichole my first year, and got to know her dad. What a great family.
"Jake had his whole life ahead of him. It's just too sad. Life is not supposed to go like that for a kid that did everything right. My heart goes out to the Hoffman family and everyone who knew him."
Retired Gibbons Elementary School gym teacher Peter Everett wrote About Town, adding, "I had Jake at the Gibbons School throughout his elementary years (K - 5) in my Physical Education program. What I remember about him is he was very athetic, even his earlier years. He was able pick up the physical skills asked of him, with ease. This led him to be successful in my classes and in his athletic interests as he grew."
Everett continued, "Jake was a very competitive, yet compassionate student. He was able to help students with lesser skills in many of the activities we participated in. His unselfishness sticks out. He was a student who was respected by many of his peers. His passing is a great loss to all who knew him and to his generation. My deepest sympathy go to his wonderful family."
Jim Derochea, who coached Jake in youth basketball, said even back then he was a leader.
"A few years back, I was assisting Jake's dad, Dave, during the STOYAC 7th & 8th grade league. Jake was in eighth grade. My son Trevor was in seventh. Trevor was futilely trying to guard Dartaye Ruffin (now 6'8" and playing for Division 1 Drexel University), who was a foot taller. The first half went miserably for us and I think we were down by 13 points.
"Trevor was visibly frustrated and perhaps disappointed that he couldn't stop Dartaye. That's when Jake came over to him and put his hand on his shoulder and told Trevor to stay low and use his quickness to steal the ball whenever Dartaye put the ball on the floor. His encouragement and advice worked as we climbed back into the game with a flurry of break away baskets and even tied the game in the waning moments. We lost, but it was Jake's gesture, his encouragement to a younger, rattled teammate that stuck in my mind from that day.
"Years after coaching him in basketball, I'd often come across Jake around town, whether at the baseball field, at a school event or over one of his mutual family friend's house. Each time, he would come over and would greet me with that big smile of his, shake my hand and ask, 'How are you doing Mr. Derochea?' or 'How is the baseball team looking, Coach?' He was always so genuine and respectful, a throwback to a previous era and that's what always impressed me most about Jake. That and his easy-going nature and ever present smile!"
Jake took Jenna Policow to her senior prom at Stoughton High. Policow, a sophomore at Drexel University, told About Town, "Jake was one of those people that made an impact on your life whether you were just acquaintances, or his best friend. I was lucky enough to have Jake in my life as a close friend sharing so many memories I will carry forever. He showed me that there were some special people out there - people who really and truly cared. He defined what it meant to be a good friend. I can’t think of a time he wasn’t there for me.
"Looking back on it, everything seemed so trivial compared to right now, but he was just always there. His laugh was contagious; he always made people so happy. I never could understand how someone so handsome, smart, funny, and confident, could have a heart that matched in every single way. People have good things to say when someone’s not there anymore, but when I say Jake Hoffman was the most incredible person I was given the pleasure to meet, I have thought that since the day I met him. I know everyone who knew him would say the same."
Kevin Thompson, an acquaintance of Jake's from high school, wrote, "He's the type of person where there is no line, everybody was his friend. He greeted all with open arms and smiles all the time. Nothing but good to say about him."
Patricia Dexter, a clerk at Andy's Market, also wrote Patch, adding, "I work at Andy's Market and it was always a pleasure to talk with Jake. Such a polite and fun loving kid."
His classmate, Samantha Kaplan, who provided a video, which includes Jake (click here), added, "Jake, your spirit is now a part of us all, and your presence will never be forgotten! Now, we are all lucky enough to have best guardian angel watching over, and protecting us!"
Rachel Lisker O'Reilly, a French teacher at Stoughton High, relayed this story to About Town: "Tom Silva, Elyssa Koretz Schneider, and I traveled to France and Spain with Jake Hoffman in April of 2008. He was an enthusiastic participant, and I really enjoyed meeting him on that trip and remember a lively chat with him while walking through narrow French streets from the Notre Dame Cathedral to our dinner restaurant that night. I also had Jake's sister in French class (Jake took Spanish), and I am deeply saddened by this tragic loss for her family."
Kevin Bechet, a Media & Technology teacher at SHS, said simply, "What a character! He was a funny kid who was thoughtful to his teachers and peers."
Christine Carr, a Guidance Counselor at Stoughton High, wrote, "Jake Hoffman was without a doubt one of the happiest students in his senior class. He was personable, considerate and charismatic. He was always looking to lead by example and did so without any need or desire for recognition. He took pride in all that he made a part of his high school career. On the soccer team he was chosen as captain and was a role model for the other members.
"Through his involvement with Student Council and DECA, Jake had filled the roles of student representative, action team leader and competitor," Carr continued. "As Jake indicated in his college essay, DECA made a significant difference for him throughout his high school career. I had the privilege of observing Jake compete at the DECA regionals and can attest as to what an outstanding job he has done representing SHS with his involvement.
"[Jake] had a lot to offer," she said. "His positive attitude, contagious smile and outgoing personality are just a few of the attributes that he encompassed and that will be so gracefully remembered by so many."
Dawn Carr of Brockton might have said it best when she wrote, "Jake has always been a shining light and now he shines even brighter."
I can only imagine how painful this is for Dave and Anne, Nichole and Riordan. I know that every parent who knew him feels like my wife and I. We have warm memories of Jake. You raised a wonderful son, taken too soon, but never to be forgotten. We were honored to have known him. And I know that his friends are devastated and feel a deep sense of loss and helplessness.
There are no words strong enough to console a loss this painful. There will never be another Jake Hoffman. May time heal the wounds of those left behind, and may he Rest in Peace.
The Wake is Friday, from 3-7 p.m. at Farley Funeral Home on Park Street. It will be extremely busy. Get there early. The Funeral is at 10 a.m. on Saturday at St. James Church on Page St.
Donations in his memory may be made to the James "Jake" Hoffman Memorial Fund, PO Box 93, Stoughton, MA 02072.