PHYLLIS SCHNECK

Busy retiree used free day to meet rep she admired

2011-01-16T00:00:00Z Busy retiree used free day to meet rep she admiredJosh Brodesky Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
January 16, 2011 12:00 am  • 

On Tuesdays Phyllis Schneck had her sewing and crafting group. Wednesdays were reserved for her quilting group.

Thursdays she played mah-jongg with friends. Fridays she had her hair done at Dee Dee's Prestige Hair Designs before lunching with a grief group.

But Saturdays were wide open, meaning she would have been free to respond to the robo-calls made in her area inviting residents to meet and chat with U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

It was a cool and crisp morning on Saturday, Jan. 8, and Schneck likely woke up early at her north-side townhome. She was, neighbor Allan Reith said, "a 4 or 5 o'clock kind of person." Stars-in-the-sky kind of early. If she couldn't sleep, she kept herself busy with crafts, puzzles and baking.

Reith and his wife, Barbara, would often look for Schneck's light in her window at dawn, a cue from across the street that she was up and at it. Awake and OK.

Breakfast that morning was likely a planned meal. She had resumed dieting, signing up again with Jenny Craig after the new year, losing 2 pounds in her first week.

When she left her house last Saturday morning, the knitting she had been working on lay on the couch. Her unfinished book was in the sunroom. Jigsaw puzzle pieces were spread across the dining room table. A frozen entree had been set on the kitchen counter for lunch. Small signs of a life cut short.

Schneck was 79, and she had the wheels to go with her age, getting around town in a smooth-riding Buick Lucerne. She climbed into her car that morning and drove to the Safeway at North Oracle and West Ina roads for Giffords' "Congress on Your Corner" event, which started at 10 a.m. It was a short drive - she rarely ventured far from her townhome near East River Road and North First Avenue.

A Republican, Schneck admired Giffords, a Democrat. She had spoken with Giffords on a conference call last spring, and been impressed. Very impressed. Schneck didn't just vote for Giffords, she talked often about the congresswoman to her friends and neighbors. "I just like her," she would say.

But she never mentioned "Congress on Your Corner." It wasn't even on her calendar - and everything was on her calendar.

The night before the event, Barbara Reith saw Schneck, who had gone through a hip replacement, standing on a stepstool outside her comfortable whitewashed townhome taking down her icicle Christmas lights.

"I said, 'Phyllis, you are going to kill yourself. Get down from that stool,' " Reith recalls.

The two women took down the lights together. Reith figured she and her husband would have dinner with Schneck that weekend, as they did so often.

All through Saturday afternoon there was hope that Schneck was not at Safeway. She was a Republican, after all. She shopped only at Fry's. But as the hours passed, worry grew.

Her kids left messages. So did the Reiths. They learned of her death that night. A police officer friend sat son Ernie Jr. down in New Jersey, and word spread to Schneck's two daughters, Betty Jean Offutt, in Colorado; and Phyllis Rautenberg, in California.

Schneck had been fifth or sixth in line when the shooting started, chatting amiably with fellow attendee Randy Gardner. He told her they should run but was shot before he could take a step. Her kids take comfort in knowing she was killed instantly. She did not suffer.

Schneck was a Christian. Church was her rock. And friends and family say they believe she is in a better place now - in heaven with her husband, Ernie.

Still, that doesn't make her absence easier to accept. Barbara Reith said she still finds herself expecting Phyllis Schneck to come home. She can hear just what Schneck would have said upon meeting Giffords - had the shooting never happened.

" 'I talked to ya on the phone, and now I'm meeting you in person,' " Reith imagines her saying. " 'Wait till I tell everybody. This just makes my whole day.' "

Contact Josh Brodesky at jbrodesky@azstarnet.com or 573-4242.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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