Schneck's life of service recalled

2011-01-16T00:00:00Z 2014-09-05T14:58:41Z Schneck's life of service recalledJosh Brodesky Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
January 16, 2011 12:00 am  • 

Phyllis Schneck was an ace with fabric, busily stitching together aprons and knitting up sweaters.

But it was how she wove together the fabric of her life - as a dedicated mother, wife, friend and Christian - that captured the hearts of all who met her, mourners were reminded Saturday at the 79-year-old's memorial service.

"She lived her life serving all of those around her," said Pastor Andrew Ross of Northminster Presbyterian Church.

Moments into the service, Ross donned his own handmade apron from Schneck. It was made out of fabric dotted with little skinny dogs because, as Ross said, he has "a fondness for dachshunds." That's simply how Schneck was. She made aprons with personal themes for countless friends and their children.

Schneck split her time between Tucson and Green Pond, N.J., but when she was here, Northminster was her rock. She was an active member in the church's sewing and knitting groups, Bible study and was often baking for the church.

"Our church was very important to Phyllis, and Phyllis was very important to us," Ross said during an interview last week. "We're family."

Schneck was shot and killed Jan. 8 while waiting to meet U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords at a Congress on Your Corner event. Five others were killed and 13 were injured in the shooting, including Giffords, who remains in critical condition at University Medical Center.

Giffords' family members were among the hundreds who gathered at Northminster Saturday to pay their respects and remember Schneck, all part of the very fabric Ross evoked in his eulogy.

At the front of the church were Schneck's three adult children: Betty Jean Offutt, of Colorado; Phyllis Rautenberg, of California; and Ernest Schneck Jr., of New Jersey.

All three last spoke to their mother on the Thursday before the shooting. Rautenberg, a musician who plays French horn, had chatted about some family pictures her mother had sent. They also talked about a recital planned for that Saturday, which she managed to partly perform despite her mother's death. Ernie Jr. told his mother he and his son would be visiting for a week, starting this weekend. Offutt said they just chatted. They had spent the holidays together.

"We always end with 'I love you,' thank God," Offutt said.

Schneck was an avid crafter. She prepared boxes of handmade crafts for her children and grandchildren. The boxes came with dish towels for all seasons and afghans, but she didn't give them away until the intended recipient married. She was working on a box for her only great-grandchild when she died.

Numerous friends from her crafting and quilting groups attended the service. Friends from church, and friends from stitching. Earlier in the week, Diane Shackelford remembered how Schneck knit 53 sweaters one year for students at nearby Cragin Elementary School. She was concerned the kids would get cold.

"She was constantly working on those sweaters," Shackelford said.

Also in the crowd were Ben and Cathy Klein, for whom Schneck made New York Giants and Pittsburgh Steelers aprons.

Ben Klein, a postal worker, said Schneck was like an "adoptive grandmother" to him. He had become friends with Schneck and her late husband, Ernest, about six years ago. The two shared a love for the Giants, and after Ernest died, Klein was given his Giants jacket.

Schneck and Klein would stay close. She would go to his post office, and at her sight he would always announce, "That's my angel."

Also toward the front was Dee Dee Hilliker, Schneck's hairstylist. Schneck would have her hair washed and styled every Friday at 9:30 a.m.

"I will never book another appointment at 9:30 on Fridays in honor of her," Hilliker said.

The service was powerful. Ross asked those in attendance to remember all of the victims of the shooting. As Christians, Ross said, they believe Schneck is in heaven with her late husband. But that doesn't make her absence any easier to deal with. As the service closed, Ross led a prayer that spiraled outward from the shooting victims and their families to the city itself. He even prayed for the accused shooter and his family.

Then bagpipes played "Amazing Grace," and as the music faded, the sound of muffled tears filled the church.

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

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

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