FORT MYERS, Fla.- Tributes are coming in for 62-year-old-Rev. George Schaefer, the long-time director of the Fort Myers Rescue Mission. Family and friends say that Schaefer has been diagnosed with inoperable liver cancer, and will move to a hospice soon. As of Friday, Schaefer was being treated at Health Park Hospital. He was too ill to speak with WINK News in person.
"He transformed lives. That's the best thing you can say about George," said Rev. David Light, the assistant director at the rescue mission. "He believed that people should get help, should turn to Christianity, but also help themselves. He demands that the men at the mission get jobs and pay for their room and board, up to $50 a week. They can keep any money they make, above the 50 dollars. We do not want the men to be laying around, getting lazy. We need them to find jobs, and they have to show a job sheet every week. George believes that finding God and staying sober will lead a man to a better life."
Schaefer knew that from personal experience. He drifted across the country as a teen-ager and young adult. He arrived in Ft. Myers in 1974, and got help at the rescue mission. He broke off his use of chemicals, found Christianity, and later was ordained as a minister. He rose to become the director of the rescue mission, now located off Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd, just west of the FleaMasters Flea Market. The mission has beds for up to 65 men. Thousands have gotten help at the mission over the decades that Schaefer has been there.
"He really cares for people," said Jerome McFarland, a mission resident. "He has been a wonderful mentor, a great leader. He encouraged me to seek the ministry, and I am doing that."
Peter Gagnon, another mission resident, told WINK News: "I am sad, really sad to hear about Rev. Schaefer. We all will miss him, of course. He helped a lot of people."
"Filling his chair as director will be a very big job for anyone. His influence in the community brought the mission a lot of respect," said Rev. Light.