When Zachary “Zach” Blanchard and his brother Josh Blanchard were driving back to their apartment complex in April 2020, Zach continued driving instead of stopping. Josh gave him a call, to which Zach responded, “Oh, I just wanted to sing a bit more. So I just took a detour.”
This memory was two years ago, though singing was not outside the norm for Zach, who sang since he was a kid.
“He just had a very rich, deep, rich sound that everybody really liked,” Susan Blanchard, Zach’s mom, said. “He wasn’t a big person, but he could produce a huge volume.”
Zach was a biomedical engineering sophomore at Cal Poly. He loved music, and was frequently seen one wheeling around campus.
Zach died by suicide on April 11. He is survived by his younger brother, Adam, older brother, Josh, and his parents Carey and Susan Blanchard.
How his family remembers him
Zach’s family hails from Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he was involved in various choir and theater programs growing up. He had a passion for music and was dedicated to trying new things, Susan said.
“Zach’s big influence on all our lives is that he brought so much music and theater into our lives that we probably never would have thought otherwise,” Susan said.
Zach got involved with singing as a child, where he joined the Albuquerque Boys’ Choir at age seven. Then, he joined Young Voices with the Santa Fe Opera. In high school, at Albuquerque Academy, he was also involved in musical productions. His involvement with music eventually inspired his family members as well.
“He introduced the brothers to music and theater,” Susan said. “Adam ended up doing a lot of the musical stuff that Zach did just because they were super close and they did everything together.”
Family members and loved ones remember him for many things –– most notably his voice.
“He was singing his whole life,” Zach’s older brother, Josh, said. “He was really into music, so he became a total audio file.”
Josh said that Zach would spend time on the internet to learn more and do research about new things, and put effort into having “a really spiffy audio setup” for listening to music.
Zach was also known for how much he one wheeled. Josh explained that Zach got the family into one wheeling during the pandemic. He moved into the same apartment complex as Josh, and they would one wheel to a different Starbucks each morning.
“He bought one at the start of the pandemic and then the whole family ended up with One Wheels and that’s what they would do to kind of get outdoors and spend free time,” Susan said.
Josh said that Zach was “pretty much savvy in anything that caught his fancy.”
He was also someone that Josh got advice from.
“You know, he’d be the person where I’d be like, you know, ‘hey, I’m thinking of doing like XYZ like, what do you think of it?’” Josh said.
During the pandemic, Zach got certified as a Pharmacy Technician. He distributed COVID-19 vaccinations at CVS Pharmacy in Albuquerque starting in January. Susan said that his work in setting up vaccination clinics was just “how he is,” as “he’s just going to do that kind of stuff.”
In high school, Zach started dealing with depression which was worsened by the pandemic. He had a therapist which he saw, but eventually stopped reaching out to family about how he was really doing, according to Susan.
The social isolation brought on by the pandemic was hard on Zachary. However, it wasn’t that he didn’t reach out for help.
“I want people to know he worked hard at managing his depression,” Susan said.
Zach began taking medication for his depression in 2021. In January 2022, the dosage of medicine was increased.
“He did a great job for many years and then, here right at the end, appears to be due to the medication –– he lost that control,” Susan said.
Zach’s legacy at Cal Poly
Zach’s piano teacher from Albuquerque Boys’ Choir, Paul Roth, knew Zach throughout each stage of his voice. During the pandemic, they conducted music lessons over Zoom while Zach was attending Cal Poly. In the music that he chose to work on, Roth said “[Zach] did not shy away from things that were challenging generally.”
At Cal Poly, Zach was involved in the acappella group That’s The Key, as well as the Polyphonics choir, in the baritone section. Scott Glysson was Zach’s choir professor for Polyphonics and is the club adviser for That’s The Key.
Following Zach’s passing, the music groups took a break from rehearsing.
“Of all the instruments that you possibly could play, [the voice is the] most personal, because like, if you’ve ever cried and tried to sing, you physically cannot do it,” Glysson said.
Soprano section leader for That’s The Key, Victoria Sanchez, was in the same quintet with Zach this year. Recently, the group has gotten closer as there are now chats where members check in on each other to see how they are doing.
“Everyone cares so much for each other and for Zach,” Sanchez said.
Sanchez recounted a memory where she was running late on her way to practice in the Constructions Innovation Center. Zach was also running late and one wheeling ahead of her.
“He just turned around with the biggest smile and was like ‘got it!’ and it was just laughing at me because he was like halfway there and I was still so far [away],” Sanchez said.
She said she wasn’t super close to Zach but that his smile was of a “sweet and just so kind person,” and she cherishes this memory now.
Tenor section lead, Aleya Dolorfino, spent a lot of time with Zach, mostly outside of practice. She described their relationship as an “older sister, little brother kind of thing.”
Dolorfino and Zach would hang out with a group of friends from That’s The Key often.
“He was super smiley and friendly and cared about everybody,” Dolorfino said. “He loved music with everything in his heart.”
Dolorfino said that Zach was in the midst of switching from biomedical engineering to music prior to his death.
“During the last quarter that he was here, I know that he like mostly focused on musical classes and musical clubs,” she said.
On May 28, That’s the Key will be hosting a Spring showcase which will be dedicated to Zach’s memory, to honor him. In addition, Polyphonics is in the process of planning other remembrances too, according to Glysson.
Students can receive support through Counseling Services (Building 27) by calling 805-756-2511. For immediate assistance, students can call the Crisis Line at 805-756-2511. Students can also seek assistance and support services by contacting the Dean of Students Office at 805-756-0327 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Campus employees and their families can seek confidential counseling services through the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) by calling their 24-hour support hotline at 800-367-7474. More information can be found on the EAP’s website.