Friendship, Love, & A Will That Won’t Quit

Cherie, Maria, Val, Patti in Karlsruhe (circa 1975-76)

When I was in high school in Karlsruhe, Germany, I had several great gal pals but my best friend was Patti Schnitzer. I adored her! (She’s on the far right in this old photo.) We were inseparable and had so much fun together, culminating with a trip around Europe after I graduated high school (oh, the stories I could tell!) Though our lives soon took us to different places (except for those few years we were in Austin at the same time), we have managed to stay in touch. Yes, sometimes it’s months between reconnecting, but it’s just as easy to get back in synch as it was all those years ago, whether over email or on the phone.

I’ve had several people ask me about Patti since I joined Facebook, but she hasn’t jumped on the social media bandwagon and so she’s not so easy to track down. I asked her recently if I could post an article online and she said it was OK. I want to let people who knew Patti years ago know that she could use our support. Even if you didn’t know her back then (KAHS Class of ’77), maybe her story will move you and you’ll want to help as well.

I recently received an email from Patti’s husband, John, letting me know that her father had passed away in Tucson the day before. I immediately called her because I knew what a loss this would be, as close as she and her dad were. When I first reached out to her by email and asked her to call, she said she’d get in touch with me later that day and would bring me up to speed on her dad and also fill me in on what was going on with John (sending me immediately into worry mode). Patti called that evening and told me about her dad’s rapid decline since his cancer diagnosis in January, and plans for her dad, Colonel Schnitzer, to be interred at Arlington National Cemetery where her mother was previously laid to rest. Then she asked me whether John had said anything to me about what was going on with him, but he only told me about Patti’s dad.

John Bowders is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met and might very well be at the top of the list. He and Patti have been married 23 years and I was often struck by how well suited they were, and how fortunate they clearly knew themselves to be. For the last several years they’ve been living in Missouri, where John is a university engineering professor. Patti continues her work in epidemiology and together (brainiac lovebirds),  they’ve built a wonderful life.

John and Patti celebrate 23 years of wedded bliss!

It’s because of John’s encouragement that I started riding a bike years ago and why I rode in the first Livestrong Ride for the Roses. John and Patti have been riding around the U.S. and Europe for the entirety of their marriage, with 100 miles a day being par for the course (something I never achieved). Most years I get postcards during the summer when they’re riding through the mountains in Italy, big grins on their faces, skinny Minnie bodies seemingly immune to the rigors of the trek. I keep those postcards on my wall for months!

At the end of last September, Patti and John were riding in the hills of West Virginia, which you may be aware are quite steep. Patti and a friend were riding a bit behind John but soon came upon him laid out on the road, battered and unconscious. No one really knows what happened because there was no apparent cause for the accident, but he was obviously in very bad shape. He broke multiple bones including several vertebrae and is now a paraplegic. He has no recollection of the first two weeks post-accident.

It’s hard to convey how shocked I was to hear what had happened, and how blown away I am by what’s followed.

As challenging as this has been, John has made remarkable progress due greatly to the wonderful support he received at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, Patti’s hyper-vigilance, and John’s own indomitable will. You can surely imagine what a blow this has been, though John doesn’t really look at it that way. His attitude is amazingly upbeat, as is Patti’s, and they’re simply grateful that they still have each other. And while they are fortunate that they had good health insurance, it’s not enough to cover the huge costs.

John Bowders, happy to be back on a bike!

John continues to need rehabilitation and therapy (and always will) and so a cyclist friend of his started a fundraising campaign through HelpHOPELive that I hope you’ll consider giving a tax-deductible donation to. There are wonderful blog posts from Patti (click “Updates” near the top) and lots of photos showing John’s progress. And what you can’t miss in those photos is his unstoppable smile! Cycling continues to remain a huge love for John and it’s inspired him to get back on a bike that has been customized to his needs, some of which you’ll see him enjoying on the website. You can also sign the Guestbook and give a shout out to the both of them.

John’s spirit truly is remarkable and he’s a great inspiration to us all, as is Patti. Karlsruhe Knights, please share this article so that Patti’s old friends can help support her through this challenge. Even if you can’t afford to give money right now, I’m sure she’d love to hear from you on the site, as would John.

Everyone else, your loving support is most welcome as well…as are your prayers for continued healing.


©Maria K. Benning, M.Ed.

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