Governor Schaefer left money to Ellicott City church

Former governor also left money to Columbia minister who worked for him

  • Rev. Luther Starnes now has time to relax with his 2000 Jaguar parked outside his former church, Gary Memorial United Methodist Church in Ellicott City. A former parishioner came up with the vanity license plate suggestion. Rev. Starnes has fond memories of his close friend the late William Donald Schaefer who remembered Rev. Starnes in his will.
Rev. Luther Starnes now has time to relax with his 2000 Jaguar… (Photo by Phil Grout, Patuxent…)
May 26, 2011

Though he never made a big deal of the connection during his lifetime, former Gov. William Donald Schaefer acknowledged the importance of his years as a parishioner at the Gary Memorial United Methodist Church in Ellicott City by leaving $10,000 to the church in his final will.

Schaefer also left $5,000 to the Rev. Luther Starnes, of Columbia, who worked under Schaefer for years in various government positions and was pastor of Gary Memorial during the years Schaefer attended services there — and the former governor's personal minister until the time of his death.

Schaefer's will was recently made public following his April 18 death.

Starnes, who also gave a eulogy at Schaefer's funeral, said he was shocked by the generous gestures, in part because Schaefer was very humble about his affiliation with Gary Memorial, a small granite church that dates to 1979 and is nestled inside the Patapsco Valley State Park.

"It wasn't where anyone could see what a religious guy he was, going to church, but he loved the people," Starnes said. "The public never knew he was down there in the park for church, because we didn't make a big deal of it and he didn't either. We just loved to have him."

Between 80 and 90 parishioners normally attend Sunday services at Gary Memorial, and the community is very close-knit, said the Rev. Timothy Kromer, the current pastor. Many of the parishioners remember Schaefer as one of their own, he said.

"They were all very fond of the time he spent with our congregation," he said.

Schaefer "rarely missed a service" during a period of about six years in the late 1990s and early 2000s, before his health kept him from traveling away from his home at the Charlestown retirement community in Catonsville, Starnes said.

Sen. Jim Robey, a friend of Schaefer's who was baptized and married at Gary Memorial and has attended services there his entire life, said the gifts show "the other side" of a man who was sometimes perceived as vocal and demanding.

"He was just a low-key, average person attending services," said the Howard County Democrat and former county executive and police chief. "No show-offs, no speeches, he just sat there and listened, and would nod his head every so often to the sermon."

When Schaefer first started attending services, he would quietly sit in the back pew. But after a couple months, he took up a new position in the third pew from the front, Robey said.

Schaefer wouldn't sing, but always held the hymnal book open in his lap, Robey said. After services, Schaefer would stay and have coffee and donuts with other parishioners, Robey said, and would always discreetly put a donation in the basket.

In fact, even before he was a parishioner at Gary Memorial, Schaefer used to send checks to Starnes, usually in strange amounts like $110.20, Robey said.

"I'm not surprised he left something for the church" in his will, Robey said. "I was just shocked by the amount."

According to Kromer, the church council and its finance committee will meet to determine how the funds will be spent.

"We're still in the shocked and surprised stage right now," he said.

Likewise, Starnes said he is unsure what he will do with the $5,000 that Schaefer left specifically to him, but will likely donate it to "some worthwhile thing, maybe at the church or with kids."

Starnes served as secretary of human resources under Schaefer, and also as the unofficial "secretary of hard luck," he said, which had him responding often to everyday residents who asked the governor for help. When he visited Schaefer two days before Schaefer's death, the former governor squeezed his hand in silence, he said.

"I was so proud that he ended up calling me his minister at the end of it all," Starnes said.

Robey said Starnes' inclusion in Schaefer's will showed the level of mutual respect the two men had for each other.

"Luther got a lot of difficult assignments from the governor, responding to letters that governor wouldn't just pitch into the basket," he said. "They both cared about people, and about making things better for people."

In part as a way to reciprocate the appreciation Schaefer has shown the church, the church is holding a service on June 26 to dedicate Schaefer's favorite pew in his honor.

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