Both Western Albemarle High School and Henley Middle Schools students responded to their grief and shock over the death of beloved music teacher Eric Betthauser, affectionately known as Mr. B, on their first day back after the Thanksgiving break. Mr. Betthauser, 43, was killed in a car accident by an accused drunk driver on Tuesday evening, Nov. 22.
WAHS principal Darah Bonham placed a music stand in front of the school where students collected flowers and cards, and opened the choir room all day on Monday, Nov. 28, for students to gather and express their grief. Counselors were present, food was shared, and students spent the day singing, writing cards to his family, and writing memories on wall-mounted sheets of paper.
At Henley, a memorial of flowers and cards grew on the Henley Hornet sculpture outside, and counselors attended all homerooms on Monday morning to help grieving students. A hand-painted poem (author unknown), decorated with musical notes, on the Henley memorial reads:
Those who love don’t go away,
They walk beside us unseen, unheard
But always near
Still loved, still missed
And very dear.
Eric Betthauser joined the WAHS and Henley faculties in the fall of 2009 after a previous position at Charlottesville Waldorf School. He taught choir at both schools as well as guitar at Henley, served as vocal director of the annual WAHS musicals, and contributed his beautiful tenor voice to several local music groups.
“Eric was an amazing musician, colleague, and friend. He was pure and genuine in a way that made everyone he knew a better person,” WAHS colleague and band teacher Joel Hartshorn observed, a sentiment with which all WAHS teachers (myself included) would agree. “He devoted his life to music, teaching, and the local food movement, sometimes taking students to sing at the Charlottesville Farmers’ Market.”
Four WAHS students dedicated their show at Pro Re Nata on Sunday night to Mr. B, including a performance of “Landslide.”
Former students also shared their shock and sadness via Facebook. Bianica Tamara Baker, who graduated in 2014 and is still singing with her band The Fatigues (coming to PRN Jan. 7) commented, “He is one of the most important people who shaped me as a singer, who pushed me, who made me so much better….This was a wonderful man who put his whole heart into his work and gave his whole heart to all of his students.”
Zac Colomes, who lit up the WAHS stage with Bianica in 2014’s Beauty and the Beast, wrote “Rest easy B-slice. You were a great teacher that pushed the limits of my voice from terrible to sub par.”
And 2014 graduate Brennan Reid, star of several WAHS musicals, concurred. “The first thing he said to me in 8th grade is, ‘why aren’t you in choir?’ When I told him, ‘I can’t sing’ his response was ‘everyone can sing.’ Now I’m at a performing arts school, learning what I love to do most in the world. Mr. B inspired me to take voice lessons and follow my dream.”
Fellow Henley teacher Elizabeth Thompson Sweatman summed it up when she commented, “all you cared about was kindness and community building. We will keep tearing down those walls that divide us and sharing love as we remember you each day.”
A Liberty apple sapling that Eric brought from Wisconsin for teacher Diana Pace’s greenhouse, visible wrapped in blue paper in the Henley memorial photo, will be planted at Henley in Mr. Betthauser’s honor.
The funeral and burial took place in his hometown of Tomah, Wisconsin, on Nov. 30. Memories and condolences may be offered through Sonnenburg Family Funeral Home www.sonnenburgfh.com or sent to his father, Glenn Betthauser, 1200 Wellington Drive apt. D, Reedsburg, WI 53959. The previously planned joint choir concert scheduled for Sunday, Dec. 4, at 3 p.m. will still be held at WAHS as a celebration of Eric’s life and contributions to his students and the community.