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Published: Wednesday, 4/30/2003

Firefighter was a tough teacher, creative cook

James P. Schnabel, a retired Toledo firefighter and a fire science teacher at Owens Community College, died of what family members said was a heart attack at his home yesterday morning. He was 69.

Family members said Mr. Schnabel didn't mince words but was known for going out of his way for his family and friends. He made his living fighting fires while enjoying cooking and woodworking.

After retiring from the fire department in 1987, he went on to train many new cadets at Owens.

“He was a man who liked to see the job done right,” said Mary Schnabel, his wife of 20 years. “When he would teach the new recruits, he was kind of tough. But when they got out of his class, they knew how to do their jobs.”

Mrs. Schnabel said her husband was tough because he knew that mistakes could be the difference in someone living and being hurt or dying.

“The young ones really didn't like it at first, but a couple of years later they would admit that they learned a lot,” Mrs. Schnabel said. “He was tough, but fair. They knew what they were learning could make all the difference in the world.”

Mr. Schnabel, a graduate of Libbey High School, also was known for his cooking, his wife said. She joked about his pot luck soups that he would make from a variety of leftovers.

“He could clean out a refrigerator,” Mrs. Schnabel said.

Mr. Schnabel also made stews and main dish recipes not only for the fire department but his Ashland Avenue Baptist Church congregation as well. Mr. Schnabel held various positions in the church, from chairman of the executive committee, deacon board, and chairman of the state youth convention when it was in Toledo in 1976.

“He would treat your children like they were his own,” Mrs. Schnabel said. “He was very involved when his kids were active, especially with Little League baseball.”

Mrs. Schnabel said her husband was especially fond of his work with the Zebonia Shrine and its effort to help children. He was past president of the Stewards unit of the Shrine and served as a Potentate aide.

Before he became a firefighter, Mr. Schnabel served six years in the Army, from 1956 to 1962. He spent a year in Greenland, which changed his attitude about winters, his wife said.

“We spend our winters in Florida because of Greenland,” Mrs. Schnabel said with a smile. “He said no one lasted very long outside in Greenland. It was one of those experiences that just stayed with him.”

Linda Cunning, a daughter-in-law, called Mr. Schnabel a family man who always looked upon her as his own.

“He always wanted to be there for me,” Ms. Cunning said. “It was part of his nature to want to rescue you. He had lots of friends because he treated them the same way. He was just a fantastic person.”

Surviving are his wife, Mary; daughter, Susan Williams; sons, James and Kenneth; stepson, Donald Johnson; stepdaughters, Peggy Vogel and Linda Cunning; sister, Beverly Swy; nine grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.

Services will be at 10:30 a.m. Friday in the Boyer-VanWormer-Scott Funeral Home, 5055 Secor Rd., where the body will be after 2 p.m. tomorrow.

The family requests tributes to Ashland Avenue Baptist Church or the Shrine Hospitals.



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