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Endowed Fund Remembers Young Chef's Pride and Passion

Gary and Marlene Schafer with their son

Marlene and Gary Schafer with their son, Eric, at a culinary competition. The Schafers have established an endowed fund in memory of their son to assist Macomb Culinary Arts students and faculty with the costs of competing locally, nationally and internationally.

Eric Schafer may have entered the culinary field by chance, but he would ultimately bring to it the pride and passion of a Michelin-starred chef. There would be culinary classes, sous chef jobs, silver medals and certification, as well as the friendly takeover of his mom's kitchen. All this would occur after an executive chef saw much potential in Eric and promoted him from dishwasher to cook at the assisted living facility they worked at, and then he suggested the novice take culinary arts classes at Macomb.

"We checked into Macomb's program when he decided to attend and found that it was highly regarded," says Gary Schafer, on behalf of himself and his wife, Marlene. After that, they had many chances to judge for themselves.

"Marlene was always interested in what Eric was learning to enhance her cooking," shares Gary. "Eric cooked meals for Christmas and other events, and the guests always raved about how good the meal was. He always talked very fondly about [the culinary faculty] and he always impressed potential employers when asked to show his skills."

While working at the Loon River Café in Sterling Heights, Eric's professor and boss Chef Ray Hollingsworth encouraged him to join the American Culinary Federation and earn culinarian certification. After that, he began competing and won silver medals at his first two events, a rare accomplishment for a beginner. Sadly, his life was cut short in 2015 at the age of 29 when he lost a ten-year battle with opioid addiction.

Eric's parents have since placed one of his silver medals in a shadowbox with his favorite knife, drawing comfort and strength from the joy they knew their son derived from his culinary adventures. With that in mind, they have established an endowed fund in memory of their son. The Eric Michael Schafer Memorial Endowed Fund for Culinary Arts Competition supports Macomb Culinary Arts students and faculty engaged in culinary competitions locally, nationally and internationally, including the International Culinary Olympics in Germany next year.

"We both believe that the passion Macomb's culinary program gave Eric helped him through the toughest of times and was important in his fight for recovery," Gary says. "Culinary gave Eric hope and confidence in himself, which is so important for recovery, and he was always able to find work in established restaurants because of the skills Macomb taught him."

Like their son, both Schafers are Macomb alumni, as are their other grown children, Keith and Rachel. But it's the high regard with which Eric held the faculty and students of Macomb's Culinary Arts program that drew them back to the College. And then they discovered that regard was mutual.

"We were overwhelmed with joy and pride," Gary says, after being shown the patch bearing Eric's likeness that the culinary team will wear on the sleeves of their chef's whites when they compete in Germany next fall. Eric is going with them after all.

To learn more about ways you can support Macomb students, like the Schafers did, contact Brianna Bentley at foundation@macomb.edu or (586) 445-7302.