by Adventist Today News Team
Richard Schaefer is the 2012 Citizen of the Year picked by the Chamber of Commerce in Loma Linda, California, a suburb of San Bernardino and home of the health sciences university sponsored by the Seventh-day Adventist Church. He is the author of 15 books “detailing the history of the town, the university and the medical school,” reports the Riverside Press-Enterprise, “including an 800-page unabridged history of Loma Linda … to be published later this year.”
Schaefer is 70 and has lived his entire life in this Southern California town. He was born in the old Sanitarium on the hill, received his elementary and secondary education from Loma Linda Academy, graduated from La Sierra University in 1966 and almost immediately was hired to work in the public relations office at Loma Linda University. He was “the public voice of the institution or 34 of its most eventful years” and is still telling the story of this unique community.
He was the media spokesperson in 1984 when the world discovered the medical school due to the transplant of a baboon heart into the chest of a newborn “who became known as Baby Fae.” He handled 1,500 media inquiries a day for a while. “My first day with Baby Fae was 36 hours long,” he remembers. This experimental surgery paved the way for the first successful transplant of a human heart into a newborn a year later and hundreds more since.
For 22 years Schaefer served on the board of the Loma Linda Chamber of Commerce and chaired the group from 2008 through 2010. “He knows the history of not just the medical center, but the entire city, way back to the 1800s,” chamber CEO Phil Carlisle is quoted. But Schaefer confesses, “I didn’t like history when I was in high school and college.” He found Loma Linda’s history “compelling” when he was asked to organize the institution’s 100th anniversary in 2005.
Most recently the New York Times and hundreds of other newspapers published a story about the outcry in Loma Linda when the city council voted a building permit for a local unit of the famed, international McDonald’s fast-food chain. Noted for unhealthy food, the intrusion of this contemporary “blight” on what the Times and others called “the healthiest community in America” was cause for reaction.
Loma Linda is no longer a town where the majority of the residents are Adventists. The local post office has begun delivering mail on Saturdays for the first time in nearly a century. Hamburgers and French fries will now be purveyed openly. Schaefer is honored for reminding the community of its heritage, but as one observer points out, “it remains for the Adventists who came here with a vision for healthy living and careers of compassion to demonstrate how to live in a 21st-century, secular context without losing their passion.”