STOCKTON -- Stockton’s University of the Pacific has been grieving after one of its well-respected and well-loved professors died unexpectedly Monday.
As the music swelled Tuesday and students readied at a concert hall for an afternoon rehearsal, there was a sadness that loomed as Dr. Eric Hammer’s students and friends coped with their loss.
"If the conservatory had a soul, it would be Eric," said Daniel Ebbers, a professor of voice.
Dr. Hammer was the campus' director of bands and professor of music education.
"That was really my first impression of Dr. Hammer just someone who was happy and energetic," said student Andrew Lu.
UOP reports the professor of 26 years passed away while recuperating from surgery. His cause of death is unknown.
"No one ever imagined that anything like this would happen to him," Ebbers told FOX40.
University officials said Hammer was a much-celebrated musician and community member who was nominated for the university’s highest award, the Order of Pacific.
"Eric was always very positive and so ... Things aren’t always rosy but with Eric, it seemed that way," Ebbers said.
Those who knew him say Hammer brightened up any room.
He was a dedicated educator who looked forward to his students spring break performance at New York’s Carnegie Hall.
"He was very excited for the kids and to know that experience was gonna be something they would cherish for the rest of their lives was really important to him," Ebbers said.
Students such as Lu fondly recalled the lessons they’ve learned from their professor.
"There are times where he would be on the podium and he’d be sobbing while conducting and making beautiful music, but he would still be going," Lu recalled.
With heavy hearts, they will push through their grief.
"Eric’s famous signature phrase was 'onward,'" Ebbers said.
Onward to the student concert set for Saturday that will be held in Dr. Hammer’s honor.
"Follow that example and even if we’re crying, we’re gonna keep playing and making music because that’s what he would have wanted," Lu told FOX40.
Before his passing, Dr. Hammer was set to retire this semester.
Students and professors also said Dr. Hammer loved trees and there were many trees around campus that he helped cultivate.