Phyllis Schneck

Phyllis Schneck was known for her baked macaroni and cheese and her elaborate holiday dinners.

The 79-year-old homemaker created quilts for charity and volunteered weekly at her church.

Schneck also had a sense of humor, collecting ceramic snails, since her last name is the equivalent in German.

"She would give people the shirt off her back," said her daughter, 57-year-old Betty-Jean Offutt of Colorado, who also described her mother as a "frustrated librarian."

Schneck even cataloged some two decades' worth of National Geographic magazines and organized them by the Dewey Decimal System, Offutt recalled.

She wasn't, however, known to be particularly politically active.

No one knows for sure why she headed to Safeway on Saturday morning, but it seems clear she went to see U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, especially since the Safeway wasn't her regular store.

A Republican, Schneck did tell friends and family that she ended up participating in a conference call with Giffords during the election - and liked what she heard.

So when Offutt heard about the shooting, at first she wasn't particularly worried. She started getting nervous as the day wore on and she couldn't reach her mother. Her concern grew when she put the address into an online map and realized it was just a few miles from her mother's Foothills-area home.

Offutt was on the phone with her brother in New Jersey when an officer came to his door to tell him.

She said it would be just like her mother to want to meet the woman she'd spoken with on the phone a few months back.

Offutt came back for Thanksgiving and for Christmas - something that brings some gratitude. "Thank God I had that time," she said.

Offutt, weary from a 12-hour drive to Tucson, said there's no way to make sense of the unfathomable. "It was a worthless and useless act," she said. "It was senseless and hateful."

Meanwhile, 39-year-old postal worker Ben Klein found out late Saturday that the woman he called his "adoptive grandmother" was one of the victims.

It was about six years ago when Klein struck up a friendship with Schneck's husband, Ernest, a sheet-metal worker.

A customer at the post office, Ernest saw Klein's New York Giants lanyard and they struck up a conversation about sports and all things New Jersey. A friendship developed.

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About four years ago, Phyllis came to visit, telling him she had a gift. Before Ernie had died of cancer, he said he wanted Ben to have his Giants jacket.

"Here I was, this tough New Jersey guy, and I just started crying right there," he said. He exchanged numbers with Phyllis, and the two were in contact from that day forward. "She was like a family member," he said. "She was just sort of like an angel."

Phyllis didn't have family in town, so she sort of adopted Ernie and his wife, Cathy. Meanwhile, Ben would jokingly call her before Giants' football games, calling her his good luck charm.

He couldn't recall ever talking politics with Schneck.

When Klein got the word, he said, he was numb. "It's senseless. You hear about things like this, but it never occurs to you it could happen to someone you know and love."

For the second time, Schneck made him cry. He woke up at 3 a.m., bawling.

Pastor Andrew Ross of Northminster Presbyterian Church called Schneck "a woman who was full of life. She had a sharp, fun sense of humor, and she really lived her faith."

Sunday's services were devoted to her memory. "It is a heavy time for all of us, so it was just one of those moments when it was important for us all to be together, so we could thank God for her faith and her spirit."

Contact reporter Rhonda Bodfield at or 573-4243.