Stephen Hillenburg

Stephen Hillenburg

A yellow sponge in square pants helped Adamu Pastor learn English as a child in Cameroon.

When the 21-year-old UF biochemistry junior scrolled through Instagram Wednesday night, he said he was shocked to learn that Stephen Hillenburg, the creator of “SpongeBob SquarePants,” died Monday.

“I was hurt because I grew up watching it,” Pastor said.

Hillenburg died at the age of 57 from Lou Gehrig’s disease, or ALS, which is a neurological disease that damages nerve cells, according to the Associated Press. He announced his ALS diagnosis in March 2017.

In 1999, Hillenburg created, produced and directed the Nickelodeon show. What started as a children’s show grew to two movies and a broadway show, which earned 12 Tony Award nominations in 2017, according to the Associated Press.

Almost 20 years after the show’s debut, memes created from screenshots of SpongeBob scenes fill Twitter timelines and Facebook newsfeeds.

Megan Thermes, a 21-year-old UF tourism, event and recreation management senior, said she counted down the minutes with her sisters until the “Best Day Ever” episode premiered in 2006.

Years later, she said she and her sisters still remember the song today.

“I think it’s cool that now you can bring up a SpongeBob quote to anybody, and everybody kind of knows what episode you’re talking about,” she said.

Ian Fennessy, an 18-year-old UF economics freshman, said he still fears DoodleBob, the villain from his favorite episode.

Like Stan Lee, who died Nov. 12, Hillenburg influenced the childhoods of a generation, Fennessy said.

“He shaped Nickelodeon to what it is today,” Fennessy said.