Deborah A. Shifler

August 13, 2011|By JANET HEIM |
  • Debbie and Steve Shifler pose for this church directory photo taken in 2009.
Submitted Photo

Deborah "Debbie" Shifler is remembered by her family for always putting others first.

"She put herself at the bottom of the pole," said Steven "Steve" Shifler, her husband of almost 30 years. "She was last on the list for aspirin, last on the list for a new pair of shoes."

That never changed despite her yearlong battle with cancer.

"Whether she was laying in a hospital bed or the recliner, she was planning what she was going to do for someone else," said daughter Amanda Shifler of Hagerstown.

Born and raised in Boonsboro, Debbie's faith was nurtured at Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church in Boonsboro, where she was baptized, confirmed and married. She served as vice president of the church council and, in the past several years, had taken over the social ministry committee and reinvigorated it, Steve said.

Debbie volunteered herself and inspired church members to participate in the South County CROP walk, and volunteered at Trinity's food pantry, the REACH cold weather shelter and Habitat for Humanity of Washington County.

She and Steve helped build a Habitat house in Smithsburg in the summer of 2010. Debbie also was involved with the Washington County Conference of Lutheran Churches.

"She functioned as a spark plug and a visionary. She was absolutely certain our congregation needed to be reaching out beyond ourselves to other people. She modeled that and lived what she believed," said Pastor Joe Donovan of Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church in Boonsboro, who presided at the couple's wedding.

Pastor Joe, as he is known to his congregation, said Debbie was convinced she was going to beat cancer and refused to let it slow down her mission in life of outreach to others. Even when she was in pain or not feeling well after treatments, Debbie would make it to church council meetings and worship until she no longer could.

Her next goal was to get the South County churches together to start a Micah's Backpack project, which provides students in need with food to take home for the weekend.

"She's been a worker ever since I met her in high school. Work was the most important thing besides Trinity," said Steve, who added that she never sought recognition for her volunteer efforts.

The couple, who both are Boonsboro natives, met in chorus class during Debbie's freshman year at Boonsboro High School. Steve was two years older and graduated in 1978, followed by Debbie in 1980. They married on Aug. 1, 1981.

"We were kind of joined at the hip most of the time before that," Steve said.

What would have been their 30th anniversary now marks another day — Debbie's viewing at the funeral home.

Debbie grew up on Ford Avenue and talked about sledding down the hill of that street in the winter, Amanda said. Her parents then moved to Mill Point Road.

Steve was confirmed at Trinity Lutheran Church in Hagerstown, but transferred his church membership to Trinity in Boonsboro after he married Debbie. They lived in Boonsboro until 2003, the year Amanda graduated from their alma mater, then moved to Falling Waters, W.Va.

"We moved to Falling Waters, but kept our Maryland roots," Steve said.

For about half of their marriage, Debbie worked two jobs, not always because they needed the money, but because she liked to work, Steve said. They purchased Hub City Liquors from Steve's father and owned the business for at least 10 years. Debbie most recently worked at Weis Markets in Ranson, W.Va.

Debbie was a "neat freak" and everything had its place. Her family knew the fun didn't start until the work was done.

"It didn't happen often, but when she left her hair down, she was the life of the party," Steve said.

"She was the life of Christmas and Dallas Cowboys football games," said Amanda, who added that her mother was "naive and cheesy all on top of each other. Put it all together and she was a riot."

Debbie didn't care if she received gifts at Christmas, but enjoyed decorating and the tradition of driving around to see Christmas lights.

Amanda said Debbie put even the care of animals ahead of herself, including two cats and a dog at home. Several summers ago, she found homes for nine stray cats.

Debbie loved to watch birds and, in the summer, would take her coffee out on the deck of her home. In cold weather, she would watch from inside. She shared that love with her 3-year-old granddaughter, Shaylynn Beauford, who called her MawMaw.

"I know she loved my daughter more than life itself," Amanda said. "It kept her going."

It was pain in her shoulder and under her armpit last July that prompted Debbie to seek medical treatment. At the time, she was caring for her mother, who was recovering from a car accident, and Debbie thought she had pulled a muscle.

An X-ray found a spot on one of her lungs and a large mass on her right kidney. Radiation and chemotherapy treatments began immediately. Debbie never got sick or lost her appetite, and the family was hopeful when the lung mass started shrinking.

Then, it was discovered the cancer had spread to her lymph nodes, then to her liver. Debbie sought treatment with a doctor in Frederick, Md.

"Once it was in the liver, they threw everything in the book at her from February to June, but there was nothing else they could do," Steve said. "The doctor never lost hope because she never lost hope. She was positive up until her last breath."

Debbie was the second of four children and the oldest daughter. Her family was close and Debbie's siblings would go to her for advice, Steve said.

Her youngest brother, Mark Semler, spoke at her funeral service, describing her as a "Mother hen," especially for him, making sure he got through their parents' divorce when he was young. She was a cheerleader, not just for the family, but for their friends as well, a competitor who liked to win, especially in poker and bowling, a hard worker, loving wife and partner, caring mother, concerned friend, selfless and always his big sister.

After the death of Debbie's paternal grandmother, who was described as the "glue" of the family, Debbie stepped into that role.

"I always wondered what would happen if ... I thought everything would stop," Amanda said. "Her life wasn't meant to end because she had more stuff to do.

"She was just a very strong person. She could do it all on her own if she had to. She was the glue for everything."

Amanda and her father are struggling with how to move forward without Debbie's physical presence in their lives.

"Everything in the house — we see her," Steve said.

"She'd say, 'Let it go. Suck it up,'" Amanda said, referring to her mother's advice.

Amanda is trying to find comfort in the special memories, including that of her mother singing Shaylynn's favorite song "This Little Light of Mine" to her, along with blowing out a finger "candle."

"She just enjoyed doing the Lord's work," Steve said. "Family, God and neighbors — that's my trinity when it comes to Deb."


Editor's note: Each Sunday, The Herald-Mail runs "A Life Remembered." Each story in 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 Deborah A. Shifler, who died July 27 at the age of 48. Her obituary was published in the July 29 edition of The Herald-Mail.

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