Families, students and staff at Life Christian Academy will gather Wednesday to remember Bobb M. Absten, the high school principal of the last eight years who died Saturday after a seven-month battle with cancer.
Absten, 56, was a Tacoma native who just two months ago spoke to the Class of 2012 at its graduation ceremony and exhorted students to hold firm in their faith.
"He stood there much lesser physically and yet so strong," said Ross Hjelseth, Life Christian's headmaster.
A graduate of Mount Tahoma High School and member of that school's hall of fame, Absten was known to his baseball teammates as "Bird Man" because of his short legs. Later in life, he would be called teacher and counselor by students in the Yelm School District, and pastor by churchgoers at Clover Creek Bible Fellowship in the Spanaway area.
He took an indirect route to the principal job at Life Christian, which has 725 students, including 200 at the high school. His wife, Juli, already worked there, and their children were students. (Three have graduated, two others still attend.)
"Bobb was a gentleman I had come to know from his role of being a parent here," Hjelseth said Tuesday. "Such an encourager and such a man who was solid in his faith."
Hjelseth recalled how Absten's personal concern for students and families was revealed as he checked in with them in the parking lot before and after school.
"I would observe him from car to car and person to person," the headmaster said. "His walk was never fast, it was always at a pace where he was never going to walk past anyone."
Absten was diagnosed in January with pancreatic cancer the same disease that took the life of his father in February. Hjelseth said the principal continued to attend to his duties while going through treatment.
Wednesday's memorial service is set for 1 p.m. at Life Center Church, 1717 S. Union Ave.
It will be the second time in two months that a leader on the evangelical Christian campus is eulogized. The Rev. Fulton Buntain who led Life Center for 40 years, developed it into Tacoma's first megachurch and founded the school in the '90s died in June.