The heartache of a family, the Terre Haute Fire Department and much of the community was laid bare Saturday as hundreds turned out to memorialize the life of John Schoffstall.
Schoffstall, a THFD firefighter and paramedic, died 4:10 a.m. April 12 in Union Hospital from COVID-19 complications. He was 41.
Saturday’s public memorial service was the culmination of a week-long outpouring of support for Schoffstall, who’s been described as being an exemplary family man, consummate fire service professional and hero.
Schoffstall was a nearly 12-year member of the Terre Haute Fire Department. He served on Station 5’s C shift as its support and rescue truck driver. He had previous fire service experience at New Goshen Fire and Rescue and Newport Chemical Depot.
Attendees began showing up hours before the service’s 11 a.m. start time.
By service’s start, marked fire protection vehicles from near 20 departments and hundreds of cars were parked door-to-door across both West Vigo High School’s parking lots.
Social distancing recommendations as they are, none of the attendees were allowed to leave their cars and were made to listen to the service over the public address system or via a livestream provided by several local media outlets.
Pastor Chris Wilbur, first to the microphone Saturday, said the mass outpouring of love and support in the wake of Schoffstall’s passing is indicative of the many lives he touched.
“Today we honor and remember the life of John Schoffstall,” Wilbur said choking back tears. “We know that John touched many lives for 41 years as a son, a husband, father, friend, co-worker, coach and firefighter.
“Each person touched by John is feeling tremendous loss today.”
Wilbur later read letters from Schoffstall’s sister, Kim Kane, and teen daughter, Jaidyn Schoffstall.
He also shared a letter from Schoffstall’s wife, Jennifer Dugger Schoffstall, in which she recounted the two’s meeting, falling in love, proposal, marriage and adventures as a growing family.
“For the last 20 years you’ve been my best friend, my soul mate, my life partner my everything” wrote Jennifer Schoffstall. “... I’m so blessed for our time together, I wish we had more.
“But there is a bigger plan and I’m not in control. John you were so kind, gentle, loving, giving, joking, fun, loving man and there isn’t another one like you.”
Schoffstall’s son Jake Schoffstall then took to the podium, sharing stories of he and his father’s hunting exploits, lamenting their not getting to travel the world and take exotic game together.
Terre Haute Mayor Duke Bennett eulogized Schoffstall, offering the fallen firefighter as an example others should follow.
“[Schoffstall’s] sense of humor and positive attitude impacted all those that had the opportunity to meet him,” Bennett said. “He will be greatly missed by his family, friends and his brothers and sisters of the Terre Haute Fire Department and all our community.
“Let us hold John up as an example of how we should live our own lives; with courage, compassion sacrifice and love.”
Terre Haute Fire Chief Jeff Fisher said there are undoubtedly difficult days ahead for the Schoffstall family and the Terre Haute Fire Department.
“The next few days, weeks and months will be difficult,” Fisher said. “There will be times when someone will say something, someone will do something, and it will remind you of John.
“Continue to carry on his name and his memory will live on in each and every story.”
Fisher said Schoffstall exemplified all that’s admirable in a person who dedicates themselves to fire service.
“John was one of those firefighters that any chief would be honored to have on his department,” Fisher said.
“Rex, Trish, you raised a truly remarkable man. The courage, respect and dedication he displayed is proof of his character, and that is a reflection of you.”
Rex Schoffstall later took to the podium to ask for continued prayers. He disclosed that his wife and John Schoffstall’s mother, Trish Schoffstall, has tested positive for COVID-19.
“What I’d like for everyone to do,” Rex Schoffstall said, “is please pray for Trish. She needs it so bad and I don’t think I can go through another one of these.”
After the memorial service, which also included comments from the Indiana State Fire Marshal, Joel Thacker, and EMS Director, Kraig Kinney, a processional formed that at times stretched from the west side of the Wabash River bridge to the high school.
Schoffstall was laid to rest in Pleasantview Cemetery.
Reporter Alex Modesitt can be reached at 812-231-4232 or at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @TribStarAlex