By Keith Gushard
UNION TOWNSHIP —
UNION TOWNSHIP — The grave of former Pennsylvania Gov. Raymond P. Shafer of Meadville was targeted by vandals who did damage at St. John’s Community Church of God and St. John’s Cemetery in Union Township over the weekend.
“We’re horrified,” Diane Shafer Domnick, Shafer’s daughter, said in an interview at The Meadville Tribune on Monday afternoon.
St. John’s is an isolated church located along Mercer Pike in a rural area of south-central Crawford County. The church and cemetery, about four miles south of Meadville, are located across from each other in the 7400 block of Mercer Pike.
The red brick church building of St. John’s was painted with graffiti, while the ground over the former governor’s grave was disturbed. Domnick confirmed to the Tribune that someone had dug down several feet to the burial vault, which contains a casket with the governor’s remains.
Stone work on the Shafer family monument in the cemetery was damaged and painted with graffiti, Domnick said. The grave headstone of Domnick’s mother, former Pennsylvania first lady Jane Shafer, also was disturbed, she said.
“It was desecrated,” a visibly shaken Domnick said quietly during the interview. “We’re working with Waid Funeral Home to get it repaired.”
Pennsylvania State Police at Meadville are investigating the vandalism incident which took place sometime Saturday night or Sunday morning, according to a news release. That news release was issued Sunday by state police, but the release didn’t indicate the vandalism had included the former governor’s grave site.
Crawford County District Attorney Francis Schultz confirmed Monday there had been vandalism at the church and there was an ongoing investigation, but he declined to comment on any specifics of the case.
Domnick said she was devastated after learning of the incident via a phone call about 10:30 a.m. Sunday from a parishioner of the church.
The Shafer family has deep roots to St. John, with Shafer ancestors helping to found it. The Rev. David Philip Shafer, the former governor’s father and Domnick’s grandfather, was its pastor at one time.
“It’s horrible to think that people were going to worship when they had to look at this,” Domnick said of the vandalism.
She quietly declined to specify what was written on the church and monument.
“I will not tell you anything that was written, except my father’s accomplishments were targeted,” she said.
Attorney Chuck Swick, a Shafer family friend and still an active partner in the Shafer Law Firm of Meadville, said he was surprised by the vandalism directed at the gravesite when informed by a reporter on Monday.
Domnick said she, her brother, Phil, and other family members are at a loss as to why it may have been done.
“We don’t know the purpose other than to gain notoriety without blame,” she said. “It had to be a group (because of the amount of damage). We’re very confident they (state police) will find out who did this.”
Persons with information about the incident are asked to contact state police at Meadville at 332-6911.
Former Gov. Shafer's life filled with heroism, leadership
Former Gov. Raymond P. Shafer of Meadville — born in New Castle in 1917 and moving with his family to Meadville when he was a teen — had numerous accomplishments in his long life. He died Dec. 12, 2006, in Meadville at age 89.
He was a 1938 magna cum laude graduate of Allegheny College of Meadville with bachelor of science degrees in history and political science and earned his law degree in 1941 from Yale University.
He was a highly decorated World War II veteran having been commissioned a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy in December 1941. He served as captain of PT 359 in the Pacific Theater of Operations from 1942 to 1944, receiving the Purple Heart, Bronze Star and the Commendation for Meritorious Service. The most notable fact was that he took Gen. Douglas MacArthur “back” to Corregidor, at the entrance to Manila Bay, during the Philippine Invasion on PT 359. It was a strategic Pacific war site MacArthur had earlier abandoned, but with the famous words “I shall return.”
Shafer was honorably discharged as lieutenant commander in 1946 and served in the Naval Reserves.
Shafer’s political career began in 1948 when he was elected Crawford County District Attorney. He was elected a Pennsylvania state senator in 1958 and then in 1962 was elected lieutenant governor, with William Scranton elected as governor. In 1966, Shafer successfully ran for governor, taking office in January 1967 and serving until 1971.
Shafer continued on in public life following his service as governor in many ways. He served, for example, as chairman of the National Committee on Drug Abuse under former President Richard Nixon in 1972 and as chief counsel to Vice President Nelson A. Rockefeller from 1974 to 1975. He later was chairman of the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations from 1982 to 1992.
He also served as president of Allegheny College in 1985-86 and as a trustee of the college for 40 years.