Jake Deware, a young man with a ‘huge heart’ 

  • Jake Deware was known for his telltale “smirk.”

  • Jake Deware

  • John and Jenn Deware with their son, Jake. —Courtesy

  • Jake Deware was a star goalie for Belmont. Alan L. MacRae

Monitor columnist
Published: 11/18/2020 5:36:57 PM

His impact continues, with no end in sight.

Danielle Embree calls her son “Mini Jake” because of the impact Jake Deware had on his life, and it’s a nickname that’s not going anywhere anytime soon.

Those who knew Jake have flooded the Monitor with stories of the profound effect he had on the lives of others.

Jake’s mother, Jenn Deware, reached by phone nine days after Jake had died in a dirt-bike accident, fought gamely through tears and sobs because Jake inspired her to speak.

“I’m so proud of him, I just want to remember him,” Jenn, a longtime paraprofessional at Belmont High School, said. “I want people to know he had a huge heart. He loved to compete, but he was not big-headed about it. He always believed in helping the underdog. Always.”

Jake suffered a broken neck and blunt force trauma while dirt biking in Canterbury on Nov. 8. He died at the scene. He was 20.

His 21-year-old cousin, Nick Galambos of Canterbury, was seriously injured and remains hospitalized after multiple surgeries.

Nick and Jake, inseparable buddies, had been at a family party at the home of Jake’s grandmother. They left for a quick dirt-bike ride in a nearby open area. They apparently collided head on, Jenn said, a split-second after turning in the same direction to avoid contact as they traveled in opposite directions on a hill.

They had all the protective gear on. They always rode hard. Jake began riding when he was 2. He joined the New England Hillclimbers Association at 8.

In fact, Jake competed on a circuit, traveling around New England, spinning his tires hard on ski mountains and steep hills. His life was layered, but a big part of it was his need for speed, driving him to ride motorcycles and mountain bikes as fast as he could.

Jenn was a conveyor belt of anecdotes, showing how Jake was different than most kids in school and, later, most young adults too. She said he once sped home to retrieve a jack and then returned to the road, where a stranded driver, a stranger, waited with his flat tire.

“He was an unbelievably good soul,” Jenn said.

Stories about Jake’s compassion and unselfish behavior, even at the obnoxious middle-school ages, abound. And not just from Jenn.

His friends wanted everyone to know about the mark Jake had left. They sent emails about him when we asked for Hometown Hero nominations. Then they sent more and then more – 35 in all.

Danielle Embree saw the effect Jake had on others up close.

Her older son, Griffin, graduated with Jake in 2019. Danielle and Jenn are friends. But it was Jaxson Embree, now 13, who benefited the most from what Jake had to offer. That’s the way it worked when kids were around Jake.

Danielle said her son idolized Jake since he could first look up high enough to see his face, hear him speak, see that smile that no one could resist. The one we’ll hear more about later.

Jaxson loved speed. Jake moved around fast, pedaling, accelerating, greeting every social group imaginable because he knew every social group out there.

“He was always there in my corner, whether it was to learn how to mountain bike or teaching me how to dirt bike,” Jaxson told me by phone. “He taught so many people, and I don’t think he realized that.”

Jaxson plays goalie in soccer. Just like Jake once did, including at Belmont High School. And Jaxson rides mountain bikes. Just like Jake used to. “Mini Jake” simply fit.

“Many other kids idolized him as well,” Danielle Embree said. “He taught so many people how to love life and live it to the fullest. He was honest, kind, so funny and beyond helpful.

“Jake made a friend out of each person he knew,” Danielle continued. “His friendship was contagious and he expected nothing in return. He had an innate way of knowing how to connect with anyone, especially those who needed it most.”

Everyone wanted a piece of Jake. He combined altruistic features with something his mother and others called a “smirk.” Not a bad or mean smirk, mind you.

Liz Tardugno saw it. She’s a social studies teacher at Belmont High. She coached Jake on the middle school track, cross country and ski teams. She spoke about the advanced instinct and sense of awareness Jake showed at a young age. A little scary, really.

“He was such a unique kid,” Tardugno said. “It was unnerving for me because he sort of understood things that other kids did not understand. As a coach in middle school, the kids are on the slopes everywhere and I have to tell them not to goof off and I recall Jake would look at me like he understood what I was going through.

“You’d see the ‘smirk,’ ” she continued. “He knew how hard I was trying to be good. It was unnerving. He knew what I was thinking deep inside that I would never want to say. That was my first impression of him.”

Linda Otten was Jake’s math teacher and Gunstock Ski Club coach. She said Jake joined her team in fourth grade, mixing with grade-school veterans who had been skiing for several years. Jake qualified for the State Championships that season, highly unique for a first-year competitor.

Otten had a different term for the smirk, calling it the “devilish grin.”

“He was a teddy bear,” Otten said. “He had that grin. He liked to tease people, and he ran with a lot of different groups.”

He played different sports, a rarity in today’s era of specialization. At Belmont High, he played baseball, he skied and he dabbled in lacrosse. He was also the star goalie on the soccer team and the main reason Belmont reached the semifinals of the state tournament his senior season. They lost on penalty kicks, after a marathon effort.

“The only reason we made it there to the penalty kicks was because of the saves he made during regulation and overtime,” Belmont High soccer coach Mike Foley told me. “He was calm and there was a demeanor about him that made everyone gravitate toward him as an individual. He was quick-witted but never disrespectful. He knew how to lighten a tense situation and he knew how to handle pressure really well.”

Foley said Jake came to practice after putting in hours at his lawn care business. “He wore his work boots to practice everyday, Foley said. “He was a mess and he put on his cleats and he was ready to roll around in the dirt for two hours, because that’s what he liked to do.”

Late in his school career, Jake did something no one expected: He joined the robotics club, surely an unusual move for the school sports star.

“He fell in love with it and took it by storm,” Tardugno said. “He did a lot of good things, and he could relate to a lot of different people.”

A pair of Go-Fund-Me pages for the families of Jake and Nick have raised more than $50,000, twice their stated goal. Dean Taylor, who’s been a family friend of the Galambos family for 25 years, is spearheading the effort to raise money for the families.

Nick has had multiple surgeries, Taylor said by phone. Extensive rehab will be needed down the road, he added.

Meanwhile, expect a lot of people to attend a public celebration of Jake’s life on Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. at the Highland Mountain Bike Park in Northfield. Jake rode there a lot.

His mom wanted you to know that, and plenty of other things as well. The opportunity to speak with Jake’s father, John Deware, occurred too late to gather his thoughts and include them in this column.

“I hope you got a sense of who he was from what I said,” Jenn said. “That’s what I wanted to be understood. He believed in people.”

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