Stafford Leader

Despite Personal Hardship, Southern Regional’s Samantha Laubach Graduates to Optimistic Future

Lost Mom, Endured Army Dad’s War Duty
By DAVID BIGGY | Jun 09, 2017
Photo by: David Biggy

During the evening of June 12, Samantha Laubach will be one of 523 among Southern Regional High School’s 60th graduating class, making a transition into her next phase in life. But for sure, while all the pomp and circumstance is occurring, she’s bound to look back on what life has been like for her the past 18 years and particularly the last half-dozen of those years.

“I’ve realized that I have a lot of people in my life who care about me, and I’m grateful for every one of them,” Laubach said. “I’ve learned that I can overcome a lot of things and I shouldn’t doubt myself.”

And that definitely is the truth, considering the young woman had to endure the loss of her mom, Susan, to breast cancer when she was in seventh grade, and then go through a 13-month stretch without her dad, Scot, who was deployed in the Middle East with the U.S. Army during most of her sophomore and part of her junior years in high school.

“Sam’s like a daughter to me,” said Southern guidance counselor Jacki Hemenway, whose daughter, Ashley, has competed alongside Laubach with the gymnastics team the past four years. “I’m in awe of her resilience and positive spirit.”

But resilience and a positive attitude are just two of many attributes Laubach possesses. Talented, resourceful, humble and passionate are a few more that may come to mind for anybody who knows her.

“I’ve learned that things will all work out at some point,” she said. “And I don’t stress over the little things anymore.”

Growing up in a military household – Scot Laubach is an active-duty major in the Army, while Susan was a flight medic and major with the U.S. Air Force for 26 years – Sam learned gymnastics and music early on in life, and for years competed with a high-level USA Gymnastics program while taking voice lessons with Jody Joseph up in Red Bank. But as time went on, Sam eventually had to make a choice between gymnastics and music.

“Gymnastics was excessively expensive, and practicing six days a week for four hours a day just didn’t seem right for me,” Laubach said. “I had switched to a less competitive team, and at one point I developed a mental block with tumbling backward. I had to decide whether to keep going or give it up. But I really wanted to pursue music, so I kept that going.”

After her father had taught her years before to play the guitar a little bit, Laubach continued to teach herself on the instrument while developing her musical voice under Joseph’s tutelage. By age 11, Joseph had invited her to be a part of Joseph’s annual Christmas show at the famed Stone Pony in Asbury Park. From there, Sam musically soared.

In 2012, the unthinkable occurred – Susan Laubach passed away.

“She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004, so she was sick for a while,” Laubach said. “But she still did her thing, always working out, cleaning, cooking and taking care of us. We always thought she’d be the one to fight off cancer, that if anybody would beat it, she’d be the one. Even up until the last couple of weeks, we didn’t think it was possible that she would pass away. It didn’t make sense that she was the one to die. But sometimes life doesn’t make sense. She was an amazing woman, and it was hard on me. It was hard for all of us. We were all numb for a while.”

In November 2014, Scot Laubach was sent to the Middle East, and Sam’s brother, Joe – going to school at Rutgers at the time – picked up the slack with regard to helping take care of his younger sister.

“He took on a parental role and was very good to me,” said Laubach, who lives in the Ocean Acres section of Stafford Township. “While my dad was away, Joe had legal guardianship of me, at 21 years old. He was commuting back and forth to New Brunswick, driving me all over the place for my voice lessons or whatever, and still cooked for me a lot. I took away a lot of his social time, but he’s awesome. He’s my best friend.”

Laubach had to take on many responsibilities as well, such as grocery shopping, cleaning and doing all sorts of chores around the house. Still, she pushed through it all and kept up with her schoolwork, extracurricular activities and music, occasionally fronting for several bands and artists, including Southside Johnny and The Nerds. However, “the coolest thing” she has done to date occurred in mid-December 2015 at the Stafford Township Arts Center.

“Mr. Henry (Southern Superintendent Craig Henry) had arranged for me to open for Matt McAndrew for his Home For the Holidays show, and when I contacted Matt, he said I could have a 20-minute set before he went on,” Laubach said. “So I picked five covers, and at the end of the show he called me up to sing a duet of his song ‘Wasted Love.’ But what was most awesome was that my dad had come home that day. My brother picked him up at the airport and brought him to STAC an hour before I went on.”

And now, come Monday, Laubach gets to plunge feet first into her musical future, unsure where it will go but optimistic and open to anything. Her plan is to take classes at Ocean County College for a couple of years while she seeks out musical gigs, writing more songs and settling into the next chapter of life.

“I’ve recorded one song so far – a song about my mom titled ‘Beautiful Angel’ – and that’s really what I want to focus on a bit more, writing songs and getting at least 10 good ones together for an album,” she said. “I want to give back and be a music teacher someday, but I’m open to whatever comes up during the next few years. And that’s why I want to do my own stuff and see where it leads. You never know what the road ahead has for you.”

Not surprisingly, Superintendent Henry believes Laubach’s road ahead is going to be full of success.

“She’s an incredible young lady with a lot of talent,” he said. “She’s an inspiration to everybody here at Southern, and I think she’s going to go far in life. She already has, but I believe her road is going to be a lot longer.”

biggy@thesandpaper.net

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