Ethan Schafer, November 21, 1975–August 8, 2015

It is with a profound sense of loss that we pass along news that Ethan Schafer died on Saturday August 8, 2015 following a major cardiac event. Ethan, 39, husband to Kelly and father to Andy (6) and Adam (3), was a Pemi camper, counselor, and dedicated alum.

We will write more about Ethan and the wide-reaching, sustaining effect he had on family, friends, colleagues, and the camp world, but here is a glimpse of Ethan’s relationship with Pemi….

Ethan’s first summer at Camp Pemigewassett was as a ten-year old in 1986. He went on to spend six summers as a fully-engaged Pemi camper, exploring all facets of Pemi’s diverse program. In 1991, Bean Soup honored him with the Camper of the Year Award, shared with Danny Kusik. The following was read aloud to the gathered camp community and published in the bound version of the Soup:

This award is going to two Pemi campers. They have both given this camp so much that it seems hard to think of this place without thinking of them. They are both leaders in their division, and are respected for the friendship they give to those in their cabin and all the many others who are around them. Both love camp and realize that it has been an important part of their lives. They have come to camp year after year, where they have settled on the soccer field, baseball diamond, and tennis court. They have won victories that have inspired themselves and others. They have shared loss and been able to bounce back with enthusiasm and energy. In every way, these two campers represent what a true Pemi camper should be. They are the 1991 Pemi kids. 

Ethan with Tyler Casertano, 1998

Ethan with Tyler Casertano, 1998

In 1993, Ethan transitioned to the Pemi staff and quickly became one of Pemi’s best counselors. He spent the majority of his time with the youngest boys, demonstrating an uncanny patience and rapport with youth. In 1996, Ethan was voted by his peers as the winner of the Joe Campbell Award – which bears this text:

Inscribed heron is the name of the Pemi counselor who most fully embodies those qualities which made Joe Campbell one of the best-loved counselors in Pemi history – integrity, generosity, happiness, enthusiasm, modesty, and an unsurpassed ability to give laughter to all those who knew him – qualities by which he contributed immeasurably to the success of every Pemi season of which he was a part.

As a child psychologist, Ethan continued to support and mentor Pemi counselors by leading pre-season staff training workshops. In August of 2015, Ethan was to assume a seat on Camp Pemigewassett’s board of directors.

Calling hours will be from 5-8 pm on Wednesday, August 12 at Billow Funeral Home, located at 85 North Miller Rd. in Fairlawn, Ohio. Ethan’s funeral service will take place at 10 am on Thursday August 13 at Faith Lutheran Church, 2726 West Market St., also in Fairlawn. It will be followed by a private burial service.

Education was of the highest priority to Ethan. His family asks that, in lieu of flowers or similar gifts, friends, family, and anyone else that knew and loved him consider donating to The Schafer Children’s College Fund that has been set up to support Andy and Adam.

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We invite you to share your memories of Ethan—whether in short line or detailed story—in the comments section below. For those of you who subscribe to Pemi’s blog and, as such, receive this in your inbox, please visit this post in order to leave a comment. Thank you.

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19 thoughts on “Ethan Schafer, November 21, 1975–August 8, 2015

  1. This is heartbreaking. Ethan was my counselor for J2 (1995), J4(1996), and (I believe) L4 (1998), and to this day, he will always be remembered by me as the superhero that he truly was. In terms of Pemi, he definitely holds a “legend” status for those of us that had the privilege to have him as part of our lives. I’ll also remember his love for baseball, the Indians, and all things Cleveland. He will be missed and always remembered.

    • Like so many of Ethan’s friends, I struggle to comprehend and digest the news of his sudden and premature passing. We will look forward to spending time with Andy and Adam up at Camp when they join the ranks in Juniorville in just a few years.

      I will never forget watching Ethan coach and manage our 13-and-Under Baseball team at Tecumseh some 20 years ago. Through artful and ingenious deployment of his personnel, through his mastery of “small ball” technique, and chiefly through his robust support of his players, Ethan orchestrated a stunning triumph. Then and there, I had an inkling that Ethan would make himself an inspiring teaching career, if he chose, for he demonstrated clarity, caring, firmness, humor, and unquestioned support of his boys, whether on his team, in his cabin, no matter the venue.

      Since his days as a camper and counselor, I have missed Ethan’s immediate presence at Camp, but his work with the ACA and as a very effective therapist nurtured the born teacher within him, and none of us who know him will ever forget him.

      I send love and prayers out to all family members and friends, recalling the great JOY that Ethan infused into every exchange and every event during his short time with us.

  2. Ethan was a stand up guy for the many years I enjoyed Ethan’s company as a camper and counselor at Pemi. All the campers loved his intelligent personality and fun loving way about him. My Prayers go to him and his family. What an enormous loss.

    With memory,
    Richard Coles

  3. Ethan was an inspiring individual who had a gift for listening and communicating to help make each of us feel a part of a community. our family knew him from University School where he excelled at helping boys to help themselves through the loving process of growing up. I was lucky to connect with Ethan post PEMI and meet for lunch here in CLE when we had time. his enthusiasm, his love of life and the people in it were traits that i admired and will miss dearly.

  4. Oh, this hurts; this hurts bad. And who better to explain why than Ethan Schafer, PhD: “Why is camp so good for children? …because good camps are like good families.” Ethan made camp his family, and – simply by my good fortune to be the same age as him – me one of his camp brothers. We were campers together, we were ACs together, we were junior camp counselors together. Camp brotherhood with him was never something I earned, but something I enjoyed every moment of.

    I mourn this loss first and foremost for his family (especially his two boys), second for camp, and third for me. This is a life cut short – and I am crushed thinking of all the many good things he still had to do that will now be left undone. But I do not mourn the loss of what he would become: the most amazing thing about Ethan was how clearly he knew who he was and how comfortable he was being himself.

    If you knew him, you knew his laugh. It goes beyond memory for me, as I expect it does for you too – I think he ingrained it within us. I can hear that maniacal sound now as clearly as if he were right here with me; I expect I will always be able to hear it.

    He laughed with abandon and he laughed to be inclusive. He laughed as only someone who knows himself can. He loved those around him, and he made it impossible not to love him back, all while still being so uniquely and specifically himself. I’ll miss you, buddy; I looked up to you every day I spent with you. I just hope the memory of you can make me a little better, and thus help offset a tiny bit the stunning loss your absence represents.

    Ben Olding
    (’89,’93-’94,’96,’98,’03)

  5. I was blessed to have Ethan in my cabin and on our teams throughout my years as a Pemi camper, as well as as a fellow counselor one year. He was a wonderful baseball and soccer teammate – a dependable and talented lefty and an awesome cheerleader. In our cabin, his dry humor (he from the Midwest and I from the East Coast, we’d rib each other), good cheer, enthusiasm, and caring made us all a better group. I’m so glad he continued to give his gifts back to Pemi in the following years, and join the rest of the Pemi community in missing him greatly.

  6. I so enjoyed Ethan as a camper the summers of 1986 and 1987 that I suggested “Ethan” would be a good name for our first born son. While my Ethan wasn’t named after Ethan Schafer directly, he is Ethan now because a 10 year old Ethan Schafer made a positive and memorable impact on me, his counselor.

  7. Ethan was a terrific human being, that left an impact on the lives of everyone he met, lasting long after the years have passed. While I have while I have not spoke to him in a long time, two memories stand out to me.

    I laugh everytime I think of this, working as a waiter, Ethan was the head waiter and over slept. In his haste to get to the mess hall, he failed to put on his pants and showed up in just his underwear.

    I remember one year when I had a broken arm, I was staying in the infirmary and Ethan needed to stay up all night for a cat scan the next morning. We watched movies, shared our love for Michigan Football and laughed as he became deliriously tired.

  8. At various times, Ethan served as my head waiter, my division head, but most of all, my friend. He taught me how to be a better counselor, both through example, and through many thoughtful conversations. More importantly, I believed I was a better counselor, because Ethan said so. He connected with so many boys on the shores of Lower Baker as a camper, counselor, friend, coworker, mentor and leader, and all of us are better for what Ethan has done and said. Ethan, may your full belly laugh live in our hearts forever.

  9. So sad to hear this news, my most sincere condolences to Ethan’s family. I was a fellow camper with Ethan, and I too went on to be on the staff of the camp for a couple of years. Ethan was such a great person, epitomizing in so many ways what we all strive to do and to be. He is in so many of my memories of Pemi, memories which are among the fondest I have.

  10. Indescribable shock and grief prevent me from being very coherent here. Apologies.

    Eight years separated my camper and staff careers, so my first year-and-a-half on staff were a bit of a reacclimation. My relationship with Ethan was instrumental in making me feel as if I belonged at Pemi again. We bonded initially over psyching each other up for Tecumseh, and we became closer friends when I visited him in the infirmary after he had broken his nose stopping a baseball (typical). I thoughtlessly tried to cheer him up by bantering, but his induced laughter brought sharp pain. Being Ethan, however, he treasured laughing so much that he couldn’t stop no matter how hard he tried. (“Hahaha–ooooooo, no, that hurts!–hahaha–ooo, Rob, stop!–hahaha . . .”)

    I find, after struggling for the past twelve hours to express myself, that I am not up to the task, so I will desist. Ethan, we miss you. We grieve for your family and ourselves. We are deprived of the friendship of an exceptional individual, but we are grateful we have crossed your path in life.

  11. My love, support and prayer go out to his family.

    Like so many stories that were shared, I was one of the lucky ones to be made fun of by Ethan Schafer. And it’s one of the best things that ever happened to me and some of my happiest memories of camp and all time. It’s difficult to imagine a 10-year-old considering a counselor a true friend, but he was… and I’ll miss him very much.

    I first met Ethan in the second week of camp in 1998, when all of the campers were placed at new dining tables for the week, to socialize with new friends and assistant counselors outside of their cabins. I remember seeing my name placed at Lower 4 and feeling a little intimidated because Ethan was already one of the most legendary, most loved counselors at camp.
    After goading the entire table to reprise a controversial cheer that most of the directors couldn’t stand – half the camp screamed “Duck Season!” and the other half screamed “Rabbit Season!” (A cheer that was adapted from Bugs Bunny) – we all felt pretty bonded. He then started a discussion on college football. He asked me, “You don’t know what the Rose Bowl is?! What are you, a communist?” and laughed his infectious, warm, unforgettable laugh. And so our friendship began. I was periodically known as “commie” that season, from campers at our table and his cabin, and it always brought me a warm smile and a sense of awesome. Ethan had an intrinsic sense of uplifting.

    Towards the end of summer and after enough “smack talk” I could tolerate, I publically challenged him in the mess hall to a swim race. I was a gifted swimmer at a young age. Everyone cheered as I was finally testing his chops and his antics. We met after Free Swim, with the evening golden sun lighting up our pond and battlefield. “Take your mark, go!” – his arms swung around like a smoking engine and splashed waves of water. “I don’t think I ever swam so fast in my life,” he told me. He touched me out by one and a half strokes. As soon as we came up for air, we both started hysterically laughing. And the counselors and campers standing on the dock were laughing and applauding too.

    The stakes for losing was to make an announcement in the mess hall that he typed on the computer in the Senior Lodge. This was a well thought out plan, as most of Ethan’s shenanigans were. But he gave me a chance to opt out. He felt like this time he might be taking things too far. I nodded and smiled, and thanked him for letting me slither out of the deal.

    That night at dinner, I rose up during mess hall announcements and read, “I, Jason Kaplowitz, lost to Ethan Schaeffer in a heated battle of swimming. I am ridiculous. And I worship the ground he walks on.” The camp roared with laughter, cheer and applause. Ethan’s face was bright, smiling, and red from laughter. He chased me down after flag lowering, still laughing and a little embarrassed, “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have made you do that.” I said, “You didn’t. You gave me a chance to opt out.” It was the best race, with the best stakes, I have ever swum.

    You made me better, Ethan. You made all of us better. I’ll miss you terribly. Rest in peace. And thanks so much.

  12. Ethan Schafer will always be one of my personal heroes. He was a counselor in the junior camp at Camp Pemigewassett when I arrived in J1 as an 8 year old and he immediately made camp feel welcoming, fun and exciting. I looked up to him with wide eyes and like so many others, it felt like Ethan and I had a strong connection. As an 8 or 9 year old, my Mount Rushmore would’ve looked something like this: Pedro Martinez, Billie Jo Armstrong, Raphael (The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle) and Ethan Schafer.

    Bean Soup gave him the platform to act as the talk show host of camp and he was absolutely hilarious every week. He had an infectious laugh that would bring the whole camp to near tears. Much like Bill Hader or other SNL greats, when Ethan broke character and started laughing, it was impossible not to laugh along with him. I prayed every week that he would mention my name during Bean Soup, because somehow, even when he was making fun of you, it never felt mean spirited.

    To me Ethan is a perfect incarnation of the Pemi Kid. Here was a jock who was not just good at sports but also inclusive, caring, clever and funny. He was immensely popular, but used that influence to teach and inspire. I think the only time I ever questioned the wisdom of Robert Grabill, was each year when I found out that he hadn’t placed me in Ethan’s cabin.

    At the time it was always so hard to explain to non-camp friends why I loved camp THAT much. Years later it’s clear. Yes, Pemi was great because of it’s activities, natural beauty, facilities, etc. But the real reason why camp was so amazing was the people and the friendships that were formed during the summer. The best part of Pemi is the people and Ethan was the best Pemi people. Rest in peace.

  13. That laugh, that smile, that magnetism, and oh, that laugh! The last few days have been ones of sad reflection and utter shock. Ever since I heard the news, I have found myself hugging my children that much tighter, thinking of Ethan’s sons who are the same age as my daughters. As a father, I am crushed that his boys have lost such a role model at such a young age. My thoughts and deepest condolences go to his wife and family.

    I had the true pleasure of spending several summers with Ethan at Pemi, first as a fellow camper and then as a staff member. Rather than repeat what others have so eloquently written, I will simply reconfirm absolutely everything already shared. Ethan truly did have a gift of sarcasm without cynicism and humor without being hurtful. You wanted to be included in his jokes (or be the butt of them if you were lucky). You wanted to be on the inside of his pranks. You wanted to just be part of the passion and joy he brought to all that he touched. And, as others have said, you couldn’t help but watch in awe and aspire to be as true, as genuine, and as comfortable as Ethan always seemed to be in his own skin.

    It is frankly impossible to process a world where Ethan isn’t laughing, teaching, and inspiring.

    Ethan, I’m certain that when I gather my life’s memories, camp ones will ‘be with the rest’, and those memories of you will be some of the very brightest. Thank you for sharing your spark with us.

    Ian Barkin
    (87-91, 93, 94, 98)

  14. Ethan brought a lot of joy to my life and I will cherish my memories of him. But what I keep coming back to over this past week is Ethan the educator and the fact that he was one of the people who taught me how to teach, not only by modeling thoughtfulness, passion, and respect, but by the work he did with the staff during multiple preseasons. The expertise, the advice, the scenarios, and the enthusiasm that he generously shared, year upon year, have fundamentally shaped me as an educator and I will be forever in his debt.

  15. I was Ethan’s (or Eeffan as Sebastion Iselin used to call him) counselor in the Summer of 1989 or he was my counselor. Not sure. U-3 that year was a great group of Pemi kids with just enough mischief in all of them to make it a summer to remember. Gnarly Neil Black was the asst counselor but he was often on trips so Ethan was the true AC. Ethan was a leader then, often pulling me aside and helping me lead the boys — telling me when someone need a Tom Sr like “I’m so disappointed talk” and when someone needed a pat on the back or when to just shake my head and laugh at Ripple’s antics.
    The 13s that year were an athletic bunch and many 13s post Tecumseh day were upset that the other age groups did not fare as well as they did. Ethan had none of it. While I prepared some version of a Tom / Al kind of talk that I used to hear in the early 80s, Ethan passionately explained to the other 13s that this is just a great opportunity and think how well we will do against Tecumseh next time. He said, “we will win it when we are Seniors and how cool will that be?” The mood changed instantly. I have barely seen him since that summer, but it is clear that the maturity, laugh and impish twinkle in his eye never left him. Rest easy Ethan. Your friend, Burkie

  16. I remember meeting Ethan during visits to Pemi from 1988-91. I also remember him from the 105th reunion. I didn’t know him that well, but he was a very nice person. I am saddened by this loss. We all should be thankful for what we have. Let’s remember Ethan for how he lived.

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