Teen’s untimely passing causes grief throughout community

Jackson, Michael, Eva and Lucas Shanker enjoy some time together. Lucas and his siblings were extremely close. “He was my best friend,” said Eva.

By Ellen Futterman, Editor

Given his relatively young age, it’s hard to fully grasp the overwhelmingly positive impact that Lucas Shanker had on his family, friends, teachers and acquaintances — virtually anyone who knew him. Less than two months shy of his 20th birthday, Lucas was not only incredibly gifted academically and musically, but he also exuded genuine kindness and compassion, and exhibited a zest for life that was insurmountable. Be it exploring the outdoors on a hike or bike or kayak, developing an app to locate a favorite food on his college campus or composing his own arrangement of songs from beloved video games, Lucas’ talents and skills seemed to know no limits. 

Tragically, on May 2, while riding his bicycle in West Lafayette, Ind. where he was a sophomore at Purdue University, Lucas was struck by a pick-up truck about 3 miles from campus. He was pronounced dead at the hospital the next day. 

Lucas had grown up in Chesterfield, celebrated his bar mitzvah at Temple Israel and graduated from Parkway Central High School in 2016. He was majoring in computer science and mathematics at Purdue, where he had been first chair cello of the university’s orchestra his freshman year and played jazz piano with the Purdue Jazz Band his sophomore year. He also was a member of the university’s running club. This summer, he was slated to start a prestigious internship in computer science at Salesforce in Indianapolis. 

On Sunday, hundreds of mourners gathered at United Hebrew Congregation for a memorial service to pay tribute to this remarkable young man, who left an indelible impression. 

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“Today, we wrap our arms around Lucas’ family, around each other as we seek, if nothing else to find comfort,” said Rabbi Brigitte Rosenberg, who officiated at his memorial service. “And, it is OK if words fail us. Just sitting together, being together, can bring comfort. Sometimes the gift of loving and of healing is the gift of quiet.”

Lucas Bernard Shanker was born on June 21, 1998, which happened to be Father’s Day, to Karen (Goldstein) Shanker and Michael Shanker. “He was my very special present,” said his father on Saturday, when the family sat around his dining room table to “tell Lucas stories” and reminisce about Lucas’ life. His two younger siblings, Eva, 18, and Jackson, 15, adored their big brother, and he was lovingly devoted to both of them.

“Everyone who knows me knows that my brother Lucas is my best friend,” said Eva Shanker, who like her brother, shares a love of learning and music. “Growing up, we did everything together. We spent so much time together that it wasn’t uncommon for someone to ask us if we were twins.

“Just walking with Lucas around our school filled me with pride because of his tremendous reputation as a great student, a talented musician, and an all-around lovable person. There’s a picture in my house of him riding a tricycle with me standing on the back, holding onto his shoulders, which I think describes our relationship well. We were a team, and I would do anything for him or with him because I loved him so much.”

At Parkway Central, Lucas participated in the orchestra as first cello and was president of the environmental club, Operation 350. He graduated summa cum laude, with a 4.5 grade-point average and was awarded an academic scholarship to Purdue. 

“Lucas was driven and determined,” Rosenberg said during her eulogy. “His parents and family described him as disciplined. If there was something he needed to accomplish, he would listen to the advice of others and work through whatever needed to be worked through. He was one of those rare people that actually listened and tried the advice people gave him.”

Family and friends said that while he cared about good grades, they weren’t the reason why he tried so hard in school. He loved the very essence of learning, and was naturally curious about the world and how he could help make it a better place. 

His sister noted how he read Scientific American with his cereal. Over summer breaks, he would continue to study computer science and teach himself new concepts. He fully embraced the Jewish principles of tikkun olam, and lived his life accordingly and to the fullest. 

“Honestly, I never did figure out where Lucas came from,” said his mother, who delivered a heartfelt eulogy, as did his father, sister, an uncle and maternal grandfather. 

“He was the perfect combination of me, his father and of the best of all of us,” Karen Shanker continued. “A mother’s job is to teach and guide and mold her child into a good man. But Lucas seemed to have just been born that way — a good, soulful man in a tiny baby’s body.”

To illustrate Lucas’ caring and understated nature, Karen Shanker recalled a turbulent plane trip home from Gunnison, Colo., where the family had been vacationing about five years ago. “Lucas knew how much I hated to fly so he took my hand and held it for the entire flight, rubbing it gently and saying, ‘You’ll be OK, mom, everything will be OK.’ And thanks to Lucas it was.”

On Facebook, friends of Lucas commented on his thoughtfulness, easy-going, gentle nature and sense of humor. “You have such a positive attitude and it always brightened everyone’s day,” wrote college buddy Andrew Arpasi. 

“You have been there for me at my worst times but now I never have a chance to do the same for you,” wrote Sherry Meian Ye, who counted Lucas as one of her closest friends.  “You are one of the kindest, talented and brightest people I have ever met . . . You are always patient, always comforting, always with a smile and a good heart.”

Lucas’s musical accolades were many and included making the NafMe All-National Honors Ensemble Orchestra, which represents the top high school performing musicians; being part of the Webster University Young People’s Symphonic Orchestra, and winning the St. Louis Civic Orchestra’s concerto competition. 

“He had an ear, a special talent,” said Rosenberg. “During one of those times when he was perhaps ‘bored’ Lucas created, and posted on YouTube, incredible videos, in which he remixed video game theme songs, playing the music on cello, keyboard, tambourine, etc. They are amazing.” (View Lucas’ videos online here.)

Lucas also created apps, including one to help Purdue students find their favorites foods on campus, as well as one that created four-year college plans. Not only was he a computer science major, he also was a webmaster at the university. 

He loved to have fun and had a passion for riding rollercoasters. Eva recalled how he once offered her any of his stuffed animals if she would ride a rollercoaster with him. And while he liked to play video games, he steered away from those that were violent and regulated himself from playing too much. 

“He loved the outdoors and cherished the time he spent with family exploring and hiking in Colorado,” said his father. “He would choose a hike with family at Castlewood (State Park) over a video game every time.”

In addition to his parents and siblings, survivors include his maternal grandparents, Dr. Ben and Linda Goldstein, and Judy Goellner; and many aunts, uncles and cousins. Contributions in his memory may be made to Missouri Prairie Foundation, P.O. Box 200, Columbia, Mo. 65205.