JACKSON, Ohio — On this night, a sea of purple and gold spreads across Robert Fife Stadium in Stark County. The Jackson High School Class of 2022 is 491 students strong, and ready to graduate as loved ones look on.
But one chair on the sidelines sits empty, a reminder of who should be here on this day.
"Everyone knew him as 'Skinny,'" Lt. Todd Roberts of the Ohio State Highway Patrol said of his former colleague, Daniel Laubacher. "That was his name that everybody called him. He was just the life of the party everywhere he went."
Daniel "Skinny" Laubacher was a 14-year veteran of the OSHP in Wooster. More importantly, he was a husband to Jennifer and a father to three beautiful children—Logan, Landrey and Lexin.
A bigger than life personality who had every gift but length of years.
"He left a huge crater, a huge crater for sure obviously for me and the kids," Jennifer told us when we spoke to her last October. "Our lives were shattered."
Cardiac arrhythmia took Daniel's life unexpectedly in 2014. He was just 39 years old. Understandably, the past 8 years have not been easy for anyone, including Logan.
"My life would change forever," Logan said. "I would be different than everybody else, because I have a different outlook on life family friends and school."
To ease the void, Jennifer has tried incorporating Daniel's memory into many of the kids' milestones, including Logan's senior photos taken by photographer Ashley Escola last fall. Daniel's badge, his patrol photo, and the flag from his funeral were all used in ways to honor him.
And on graduation night, Daniel's presence is felt once again. Six were chairs placed to the right of the graduation stage, five occupied by fellow troopers who all knew "Skinny" and asked Jennifer if it would be okay if they were there on graduation night for Logan, and for their friend.
"To have them reach out to me and ask if they can be a part of this day—and a way to represent his dad because he can't be here—it meant the world," Jennifer said from the ceremony.
Each man stood as Logan approached to wait his turn to go on stage. They shook his hand and hugged him, knowing his dad would be proud.
The "Blue Family" was there not just to honor "Skinny," but to witness his boy become a man.
"We want to be able to support him, to show that people still care about him," Roberts said of Logan. "If his dad was here, he would be doing the exact same thing."
His high school days now officially behind him, Logan is ready for the next chapter: College first, then career, with family—blood and blue—always ready to support him.
"It's always nice to know that they will show up for me and my family," Logan added.
In the fall, Logan will be attending Kent State University, with plans to follow in his father's footsteps and pursue a career in law enforcement.
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