Ty and Terri Schenzel: Laying a Foundation of Hope
I was privileged to write this Metro Magazine (http://www.spiritofomaha.com/Metro-Magazine/The-Magazine/) piece to commemorate the lives and works of the late Ty and Terri Schenzel as part of the pub’s Journeys series. The new issue is themed Loving Legacies: Love that Lingers, Love that Lasts. Anyone that knew the Schenzels will tell you that the couple embodied love. Upon reading this story a friend of the Schenzels, named Ivy Jackson Ginn, posted, “Our best sentiments can never summate how much we loved and adored the Schenzels. Every day brings a new memory filled with laughter and fullness of life. They are irreplaceable and greatly loved by everyone they came in contact with. May each word bring joy and comfort over all who read them.” #carryingthebaton
Ty and Terri Schenzel: Laying a Foundation of Hope
Faith, Hope, Love, A Legacy
©by Leo Adam Biga
Appearing in the February-March-April 2016 issue of Metro Magazine (http://www.spiritofomaha.com/Metro-Magazine/The-Magazine/)
Where Love Resides
inspiring • compassionate • caring • loving • unconditional • dedicated • committed
When the shocking news of Ty and Terri Schenzel’s August 20 fatal automobile accident spread, it was as if the thousands whose lives they touched let out a collective gasp. Many questioned how this could occur to an admired couple whose gifts for engagement, invitation, acceptance and frivolity endeared them to many, A sentiment often expressed upon their passing is that they had the ability to make people feel a part of them even upon meeting for the first time.
This was not supposed to be how things ended for this golden, well-yoked pair, both popular pastors whose love affair began in seminary and never wavered in 30 years together. It seemed a cruel, premature exit for a duo who created a youth serving center and a marriage healing ministry founded and named after their core belief – Hope.
“When something like this happens there’s always questions like why and how could this happen,” says friend and fellow pastor Lincoln Murdoch. “They were getting ready to move into probably the sweetest time in their lives in ministry. These are questions that are never answered, especially when you consider how many marriages they would have impacted and saved through their ministry, and that makes it hard. But as I said at their funeral, we’re going to turn our why into thank you for knowing them, for being in our lives, for the influence they had on us and on so many others. We find some comfort when we go there with gratefulness.”
There is gratitude for all the work the Schenzels did at Trinity Church, where Ty was a youth minister, and the house of worship it transitioned into, Waypoint, where he was an associate pastor.
A ministry he and Terri developed out of Trinity led to their founding the Hope Center for Kids in North Omaha. There they leave behind not only a brick and mortar symbol of their community-based work but a thriving organization giving more and more at-risk youth the skills, services and resources needed for success.
At the October 2 annual Hope gala held in the CenturyLink Center Grand Ballroom, nearly 1,200 people attended and more than $600,000 was raised. It was direct confirmation of how far the Schenzels took what began as a vague dream in 1998. A video tribute and remarks by emcees and hosts paid homage to the Schenzels.
An earlier, much larger outpouring of love happened during the August 26 memorial service at Countryside Community Church, where 3,000-plus gathered to mourn their deaths and celebrate their lives. A pageant of people eulogized the Schenzels on that emotional occasion, when the loss was still fresh and raw. Speakers included the couple’s children, Emily, Annie, Tyler and Turner, along with old friends and colleagues.
In addition to their four children the Schenzels left behind two young grandchildren, with a third on the way. They left behind, too, scores of people they ministered to, worshiped with, counseled and advised. Their shared passion was helping people improve themselves and lead better lives.
‘They always had groups in their home they were leading, doing Bible studies with, mentoring,” Murdoch says. “You can’t just do that, you’ve got to have a gift to pull that off.”
Their legacy may also live on in the manuscripts each Schenzel was working on at the time of their deaths. The family is exploring their publication. Additionally, Ty left behind dozens of leather-bound journals he kept that could be a primer for faith, family and marriage.
The legacies left in the wake of their passing extend to countless friendships that came easily to the extroverted, fun-loving couple.
“I just miss the joy-filled friendship and the spontaneity of connecting,” Murdoch says, “and it was a real friendship formed over 35 years. They’re kind of rare nowadays and you don’t replace those.”
He referred to the times he and his wife spent with the Schenzels as “laughter therapy.”
“People loved being around them because within two minutes you were laughing. We loved getting together with them because if we were going through a hard time in ministry or in life we’d engage with them and laugh for a couple hours and feel a whole lot better by the end of the evening.”
Despite all the friendships they cultivated and the 24-7 demands of serving others, the three pillars of faith, marriage and family always came first for the Schenzels. That legacy lives on not only in the individuals they led to be born-again Christians, but in the way they raised their children and in the youth, family and marriage building work they did.
Murdoch always knew their wide impact but he was taken aback by the throng that came for their memorial. He was even more impressed by the fact they reached so many but still made family their priority.
“Yeah, really amazing, their influence was so wide. My wife and I were like, ‘Man, how did they have time to do that? How did they touch so many lives in the amount of years they had?’ They had this huge reach and yet amazingly enough they were able to give their family the best of themselves and everybody else got what was left over. But there was a lot left over. They were so engaged with their children, they spoke love and worth into their lives all the time.
“They had their values and priorities straight and they kept them straight. That’s a pretty rare thing nowadays. Even for well-intended people it’s tough to balance, especially in ministry because your job is never over. It can be like this black hole that never ends. But they were able to draw the boundaries they needed in their life. Great role models that way.”
The hurt of losing a couple that gave so much and had so much left to give runs deep but what consoles those who knew and loved the Schenzels is the assurance that they maximized their time on Earth.
Ivy Jackson was an original Hope staffer but she went back with the Schenzels before that – to when Ty did youth ministry at Trinity. If you knew one Schenzel, you knew the other. You became like family. She says their impact on her reflects how transformational a relationship with them could be.
“Everything Ty and Terri did, they were all in. You didn’t get half of them, you didn’t get a third of them, you got everything they were,” Jackson says. “Their legacy is that when you do find that thing you know you’ve been specifically made for – that’s something Ty was very big on – you go in completely 100 percent and you do it well. Everything they did, they did well. They loved well, they ministered well, they laughed well. They did everything with all of their heart.
“They were all about what legacy will you leave in everything you do –when you kiss your children at night or talk to your spouse after a long day at work or engage with the checkout clerk at the grocery store.”
Because the Schenzels didn’t skimp on life, it makes their loss easier to accept, Jackson says.
“When you see everything they’d done up to this point you think to yourself, It’s OK they’re gone because you didn’t see any holes in their lives. You couldn’t look back over their life together with regrets like, Oh, I wish Ty and Terri had a a better relationship with their kids or patched up that thing with so-and-so. They never left anything undone. So even though it’s hard to see them go and not be here…we know they lived life to the fullest. They could look at each other and say, ‘We did well.” I think that’s the legacy they leave to us – do it well, You love your children well, love your spouse well, and that’s what they did.”
The late couple’s eldest child, Emily Lanphier, agrees, saying, “They modeled well what it is to have a good life.”
“My parents were not perfect,” Lanphier adds, “but just authentically committed to their family. There wasn’t any double standard – like what you saw from the pulpit is what we experienced our whole life. There was a total authenticity and congruence. I think that is what made them so beloved because people sensed that when they met them. They were so genuine. Who they were is who they were to any person.”
Lincoln Murdoch says, “They were not pretentious, they were not overly spiritual in a religious kind of way and they were open with their lives, their marriage, their failures. They didn’t try to make you think they were something they weren’t and that’s endearing to anybody.”
Not long after being introduced to Ty Schenzel Level 3 Communication founder Mike Frank helped buy the former Boys and Girls Club building on North 20th Street as the Hope Center home. He only knew the Schenzels socially at first but then he got to experience their caring. That’s when he caught their vision.
“Ty was completely sincere, completely real,” Frank says. “He was guileless. And he was kind of geeky. He wasn’t like this really cool guy. But his heart was really for the underdog, the disadvantaged and the hopeless. Terri just had a passion for living. She had a deep love for Ty and she was going to do everything she could to add to it. That was very contagious – that enthusiasm, that excitement.
“We became really close friends. Ty buried my youngest daughter and married my eldest daughter. He led my best friend to the Lord. Our lives were intertwined pretty deeply. When I was around Ty he made me be better because he was so in love with his wife and with Jesus. He was so passionate about the disadvantaged and so excited to serve and he called me up to be a better man.”
He says he carries with him the Schenzels’ example of “how to walk the talk.”
Emily Lanphier says her parents exemplified good living to everyone they came in contact with and that extended to her and her siblings.
“Their example of getting life right was such a gift to us because I think most people are trying to figure out how to do that, and we kind of know how that works. Not that life is perfect, we still have life issues, marriage is work and it takes a whole lot of effort. But it feels like we started out 10 steps ahead of everyone else in life just because of the kind of love we received growing up. All four of us are confident, we know who we are, we’re happy individuals.”
Nick Reuting and his wife Andria came under the Schenzels’ influence through the Hope Filled Marriage workshops Ty and Terri were making their ministry focus after stepping away from the Hope Center. Like everyone who came near their orbit, the Reutings got swept up in it.
“The image I’m left with is walking into their home, getting a hug from Ty, getting a hug from Terri, and the first things out of their mouth were, ‘How’s your heart, how’s your marriage?.’They were constant givers. They wanted to make sure you were all right, your marriage was all right. When you had a success there’d be such a joy in their faces,” Reuting says.
“They showed an example of what a healthy marriage looks like and what healthy commitment to work, to marriage and to faith looks like and how to balance that. They both freely admitted their own faults, which made it easier to accept that OK, I can make a mistake and it’s not the end of the world – everything can be worked out.”
Reuting and others have picked up where the Schenzels left off to continue the Hope Filled Marriage series.
He says he will miss the “warm loving feeling” that came with their radical hospitality.
“And I’m going to miss Terri’s cooking as well. She made a lot of lunches for me.”
Putting marriage and family first
Nurturing came naturally to the Schenzels, who never left any doubt they loved their kids.
“Even through our growing up we each had different times where we weren’t perfect kids and their loving commitment was so unconditional,” says Emily Lanphier. “They cared more about being connected to us as mom and dad than they did about us making the right choice. Our heart connection with them was really important.”
She says even with her parents’ busy schedules she and her siblings never felt neglected or shortchanged.
“They were incredibly intentional in making time for family. Sundays after church my mom would do lunch. There were different points during the week when we knew we were going to see them. They were really good at that.”
The kids maintained that closeness with them even in adulthood.
“When we had free time we would all want to spend it with our parents.
Like they were our friends, too. They loved being grandparents. My mom was actually present for the birth of both of my children. My dad was there with the second baby. That’s the kind of relationship we had. They were some of the most busy people I knew but my mom spent every Wednesday with me and the kids.
“I’m so grateful I got to know them as adults. When I’d see my mom she’d confide if she was struggling with something. She was so honest.
If she and my dad had a disagreement she’d acknowledge it without bashing him. They let you know life is messy. They would always say how hard they had to work on their marriage because they were so emotional, and my dad’s emotions would affect my mom, and her emotions would affect him, and they had to work through that.”
The vulnerability and transparency that friend and fellow minister Ron Dotzler referred to in an Omaha World-Herald commentary “was refreshing to see,” Lanphier says, “because it gives you a realistic perspective for relationships. It’s not like you’re perfect together and you never have any fights. No, you’re going to have to be so committed and love each other so much that you’re going to be willing to go through anything together.”
Lanphier admired that her parents made a rock solid commitment to staying together.
“When they were dating my dad said he told my mom, ‘Just so you know, if we decide to get married divorce will never be an option.’ And so they settled that even before they were engaged. They were like, We’re all in or we’re not going to do it.”
Ivy Jackson says the Schenzels embodied better than anyone she knows the basic values and principles for right living. She says their lives demonstrated that doing the right thing is both simple and hard.
“In my little circle when we talk about Ty and Terri it’s funny because all of the things we say sound like cliches, although they are hard to follow because they require intention and work. Ty and Terri almost seemed cheesy because they were so cliche but they had the fundamentals down and they did them well. That’s who they were. If they went down a list of morals, fundamentals, codes of how you live your life, they checked the box good. They were an inspiration.”
Jackson draws on that inspiration daily.
“Every day I wake up I am literally a changed person because I knew them. I cannot wait to do well, to love well. and I literally do that. Upon their passing I feel like that’s what I’m doing – I’m entering into what that meant in every sermon Ty said and what he did.”
Nick Reuting says Ty had a way of connecting with others.
“I thought of Ty as the best heart engineer you could think of. He could build a bridge from his heart to your heart quicker than anybody I’ve ever seen. There was immediate connection and give and take.”
Lincoln Murdoch says Terri had her own way of connecting.
“She loved to teach, she loved mentoring younger women. I think the ladies immediately felt this was a woman they could trust to open up their hearts to and that Terri would be a confidante.”
mentors • friends • parents • pastors • good shepherds
Good times and bad times
Not everything was hearts and roses for the Schenzels and the people they served.
Pastor Ed King was at Hope when “Ty didn’t know what he was doing but he knew he was supposed to do it.” They learned an inner city calling will have casualties when gangs rule some streets.
It angered the Schenzels so many lives were lost to gun violence and the metro seemed indifferent to it or tolerant of it.
“They felt the community needed to take more ownership in the inner city and what happens there,” daughter Emily Lanphier says. “They felt like this is our city, we should all be really upset that this is happening and do something to change it.”
Some kids the Schenzels served were lost in the carnage.
Fittingly for a mission called Hope, Schenzel held hope the center positively changed lives.
“My dad always said he dreamed about a day when it was not just funerals but weddings, graduations, kids going to college and on mission trips all over the world, which did happen before he died. It’s so great to know he saw that in his lifetime – those tangible expressions of the difference the Hope Center made,” Lanphier says.
“The longer the Hope Employment and Learning Academy was around, more and more kids were graduating high school and going to college. That was huge for him.”
Ed King says the good experiences far outweighed the bad.
“Over 20 plus years of friendship we got a chance to experience a lot – from some of our kids who didn’t make it, going to court, going to jail, presiding over their funerals. Ty always would tell the kids the day was going to come when we’re going to perform your guys weddings and that most definitely came to pass – we had the privilege of co-officiating the wedding of a former Hope youth.”
A father’s heart, a mother’s heart
Lincoln Murdoch says the Schenzels’ “huge hearts as parents bled out all over the place, so when they were called to North Omaha they saw and loved these kids as their own and the kids felt it. Something that made their ministry so powerful is they genuinely embraced those kids and had them to their home. Parenting the next generation was very powerful in their hearts. Ty was a great spiritual surrogate father to a lot of guys. Terri was phenomenal from the maternal side. She was a parent to anybody who hung around them at all.”
It wasn’t only adults who sang the Schenzels praises at the gala. In a video kids delivered personal tributes about the difference Hope’s made in their lives. Kids went table to table to testify to their experience. Most powerfully, a group on stage took turns flipping over cards in sync with a singer-guitarist’s performance of “Beautiful Things.” Kid by kid, card by card, the messages transitioned from where they were (“stressed out,” depressed,” “angry and alone,” struggling in school”) to where they’ve come – “I look forward to my future,” “I make my parents proud,” “I get better grades,” “I have really good friends,” “I am more happy,” “I have less pain and sorrow.” Then all the kids held up cards that read, “Thanks for giving us Hope.”
Lanphier says the fact her parents regarded Hope youth as their own made it even tougher when the streets claimed some of them.
“There were a few kids they had relationships with who got shot in gang activity and that always devastated them. The funerals were always really hard on them.”
She says those tragedies reinforced their commitment to the mission.
“My dad would say, ‘This is why we’re doing what we’re doing, this cannot continue.'”
Lanphier didn’t want to get the kind of news her folks got when people they cared about died. But she was the first of her siblings to learn her parents had lost their lives in a crash that also took the life of a family friend and of the driver of the truck that collided with their vehicle,
Authorities at the scene searched for hours to find identification in the remains of the fire that ignited after the head-on impact.
Emily recalls the horror of hearing the unimaginable:
“At 2:15 in the morning I heard a knock on my door. It freaked me out because my husband was away on a camping trip and I was home alone with my kids. My phone was on silent and I picked up and saw that the pastors at Waypoint. Matthew and Amanda (Anderson), were calling me. Amanda said, ‘Emily, come to the front door, we’re here.’ I was like, ‘What’s wrong?’ and she said, ‘You just need to come down.’ So I got dressed knowing something was really wrong.
“I opened the front door and there’s a police officer with Matthew and Amanda standing beside him. I thought, This is like in the movies, this is going to be really bad news.’ They came in and I was told by the officer what happened. A nightmare. And then I had to tell my siblings. It’s the worst, the worst. It’s bad to know but then when you have to tell people that’s like a whole other level of pain. I remember thinking, I cannot believe these words are coming out of my mouth.”
She prolonged sharing the news as long as possible.
“I actually waited to tell them. I decided to let them sleep because our lives were ruined and what difference would a few hours make.”
After the blur of memorial services and condolences, she posted an online remembrance of her parents that read in part:
“it is such a comfort to know their impact as i journey through this tunnel of grief. There are some moments I want to call them so bad and I feel like I might die from sadness but I keep digging and allowing myself to grieve and heal because I want to be the kind of parents they were.”
She says what “they put in me” provided the resiliency needed to work through the tragedy. She confides that in the immediate aftermath of her loss she didn’t feel so resilient until her training and kicked in.
“I remember thinking, Oh, my God, someone’s going to have to take care of my kids, my grief is incapacitating. And then all of a sudden I remembered, Are you kidding? I know exactly how I’m going to get through this – because everything I need to deal with this they’ve already given me. They prepared me my whole life how to be strong and to let my faith be the bedrock of who I am.”
She also learned from her folks it’s OK to feel your feelings and, if needed, to have a professional guide you through them.
“My parents were both highly emotional but they weren’t sufferers. They dealt with life and if they needed to get counseling they got counseling. It’s OK to be sad, it’s’ OK to need help.”
More profoundly yet, she and her siblings are all believers who know to call on their Higher Power for healing,
“Because this is the most pain I’ve ever felt in my life, I know what to do and I can handle this because I have the Lord inside me.”
Moving on and carrying the torch
Lincoln Murdoch has a perspective on the tragedy that took Emily’s parents and his good friends just as they were transitioning from the Hope Center to their Hope Filled Marriage ministry and taking time out for themselves, too.
“It was almost like they put in 17 hard years at the Hope Center and the Lord said, Why don’t you take two or three months off, travel around, enjoy each other, and then I’m going to call you home. We just didn’t know what that would be.”
At their funeral he brandished a baton at the altar to symbolize taking on the vision of hope the Schenzels set forth.
“Being a runner I thought, Well, they left a big gap and they carried the baton and now somebody needs to pick it up. I challenged everybody there to take part of the baton Ty and Terri carried and let’s keep this vision going. It was a call for people to get involved.”
That call has resonated with friends and strangers as Murdoch and others have taken to carrying batons in races and other venues to bring awareness to the Hope Center mission.
“I had no idea the baton theme would kind of get a life of its own.”
It’s not so different than when the Schenzels left suburbia for the inner city on faith alone to plant seeds they never imagined would grow into such strong roots. What began with Ty and Terri as Johnny Appleseeds and Pied Pipers now has an army of soldiers following their lead in helping people bloom.
integrity • character • purpose-driven • faith-centered • family-focused • fun-loving