John Schaefer, a member of three halls of fame, is being remembered by friends and family on Sunday as a fighter. He fought to bring glory to the many sports teams he played for and he fought for his country. He also fought off cancer for 13 years before losing that battle on Jan. 4 at age 75.
Known as a fierce competitor, Schaefer shined in baseball and basketball. In 2009 he, along with his twin brother Joe, were inducted into the Western New York Baseball Hall of Fame.
Canisius College welcomed him into its Hall of Fame in 1992. A year later he was enshrined by St. Mary’s High School.
“His one trait that stands out to me is he lived by the Marine Corps motto Semper Fidelis - honor, valor, fidelity,” Joe Schaefer said. “He was always loyal to his family, friends, teammates. That’s what defined him. He competed at the fiercest level, but he’d be the first one off the bench to shake an opponent’s hand.”
Schaefer excelled as an outfielder for the Griffs from 1958-1960. His best year was 1959 when he batted .419, earning Eastern Regional All-American honors from the NCAA.
Schaefer was one of the first athletic standouts at the newly opened St. Mary’s High School on Laverack Avenue. Before graduating in 1956 he was twice named All-Catholic in baseball and basketball.
Dick Wojciechowski started his coaching career at St. Mary’s in 1954, the year the Schaefer twins were juniors. He said he never had to give either one of them a pep talk. “They were the most competitive kids I ever coached, without a doubt,” he said. “Almost to a fault. Between the two of them, I think they knocked out four first basemen at Neumann.”
After his athletic career Schaefer served as a U.S. Marine Corps captain and company commander from 1960-1963. He served several tours around the world, including Okinawa, Japan.
In 1984 Schaefer was cited for his heroism for his life-saving efforts to rescue a 13-year-old boy trapped at the opening to a storm sewer pipe in Como Park during heavy rains. In the 1960s he was water skiing with his brother-in-law when they saw a man in the water and were able to pull him into their boat and take him to shore.
Professionally Schaefer worked for the New York State Parole Department from 1966 to 1998.
He followed all local sports teams, and in particular was a huge Yankees fan. He also coached many youth sports teams and enjoyed hunting and fishing.
He is survived by his wife of 52 years Ann (Maute), their five children, Eileen (Jerge), Maureen, Michael, Cheryl (Coppola) and Mark, along with 11 grandchildren. He is also survived by his brothers Joe and Bob and sister Ann (Heidle).