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Shafer made room in her heart, home for children

April 29, 2007|By MARLO BARNHART

Editor's note: Each Sunday, The Herald-Mail publishes "A Life Remembered." This continuing series takes a look back - through the eyes of family, friends, co-workers and others - at a member of the community who died recently. Today's "A Life Remembered" is about Velma Millard Shafer, who died April 16 at the age of 98. Her obituary appeared in the April 18 editions of The Morning Herald and The Daily Mail.

Raising two daughters, working as a missionary with her husband in South Africa and teaching school for more than 30 years would fill any ordinary woman's life.

But not Velma M. Shafer, who also managed to foster nearly 70 children during nearly all of her 70 years of married life.

Velma died April 16 at the age of 98 in the Mount Aetna home she had shared and helped build with her late husband, Carl, and more recently with her eldest daughter, Sandra L. Martin.

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Sandra is the director of Adventist Community Services, a post her late father held for 19 years and where her mother volunteered for 17 years.

"When dad was 92, he said he needed a rest, and I said I'd take over and finish out his time," Sandra said.

That was 10 years ago, and Sandra still is at the helm of the charitable agency.

Jim Hoffer, Velma's pastor for seven years, said she came to church faithfully until recently.

"She didn't show her age," Hoffer said. "Velma had such great hospitality, and was still cooking and entertaining when she was way up in years."

Velma met Carl while she was a student at Union College in Lincoln, Neb. He was a hardworking farm boy from Kansas and soon after they married, the couple began teaching together in a two-room school in Kansas, Sandra said.

After Carl earned his degree, the couple moved around the country, serving at a number of Seventh-day Adventist academies and schools.

"Then, they felt the Lord's call to serve in the mission field," Sandra said. So they sold their home, said goodbye to their families and sailed out of New Orleans on a freighter bound for South Africa.

It was in South Africa that Velma and Carl first adopted Sandra, and later Carla.

"I remember very little about South Africa," Sandra said. Vineyards and orchards behind their home are her only memories. She was 3 when the family returned to the United States.

The doctors thought it was best for Velma to come home because of her health, so after about four years in South Africa and with their new family, the Shafers boarded the Queen Mary for the trip home, and took up their work at the Atlanta Academy in Georgia.

The Shafers arrived in Hagerstown in 1956. Carl became superintendent of Mount Aetna Academy, and Velma began teaching school. They built a home in Mount Aetna.

"My mom devoted her life to us," Sandra said. But she added that there still was room in her mother's heart and her home for the 40 children she fostered in Washington County and 29 others around the world.

In 1981, the Shafers were named Outstanding Foster Parents of the Year for Washington County.

Sandra said many of those foster children stayed in touch with Velma through the years. A number of former students did as well.

One student her mother taught back in Iowa in a one-room school later became a vice president of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

"That student, Francis Wernick, used to come here for visits with my mother," Sandra said. "More than 20 years ago on one of his visits, my mother asked him if he would perform her funeral, and he said he would."

On April 20 at 11 a.m. at the Seventh-day Adventist Church on Robinwood Drive, Francis Wernick spoke at Velma's funeral.

He fulfilled the promise made so many years ago to his favorite schoolteacher.

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