A Tribute to Gabriel Gifford Scheller

Fall 06 007

Gabriel Gifford Scheller was born in Neptune, NJ, on November 27, 1984. He was the delight of his family’s life from his earliest days on earth, and welcomed a brother into his heart when he was two-and-a-half years old.

At age four his neurologist suggested IQ testing to get him into kindergarten early because he was so bright. His parents complied and were a bit stunned at the results. He was published for the first time that year in Highlights for Children magazine. He wrote this poem about being a different color than his family:

” A rock is a rock.

You don’t get different;

you just stay the way you are.”

Gabriel performed in his first play in 1st grade at Antrim Elementary School in Point Pleasant Beach, NJ. The play was “The Little Red Hen.” It was an after-lunch classroom performance that his mother missed because she had fallen asleep with Gabe’s little brother. He never let her forget it. There would be many other plays, most of them at Trinity Bible Church, under the direction of Angela Derby and Cherie Carl. Gabe’s comedic gifts were first exercised formally at TBC.

In second grade, he and his family moved to the ethnically diverse city of Long Branch, NJ, and Gabe entered the Gifted and Talented magnet program the following year. He was published in Focus on the Family’s Clubhouse Junior magazine sometime after that. (This work is temporarily MIA.)

He began playing the clarinet and then the saxophone in 3rd grade at the behest of his parents … and always insisted he would never thank them for the privilege. This discipline afforded him the opportunity to perform with the Long Branch High School Marching Band at 1-2 Yankees playoff games, a world series game and a Yankees ticker-tape parade.

Beginning in elementary school and into high school, Gabe played baseball with little success, but much enjoyment.

His creative gifts were extensive. From early childhood into adulthood, he made cards and gifts for his family. His cards were always brimming with wit and humor. His artistic creations were elaborate, such as a lifelike origami replica of his dad and a polymer baby Jesus that adorns our family creche. He also wrote and performed many skits and began writing a novel while still in high school.

Gabriel’s generosity came naturally and began early. He began working at 14 years old, and delighted in purchasing deeply thoughtful gifts for the people he loved.

From the middle of 5th grade through 8th grade, Gabe was homeschooled along with his brother and we enjoyed many off-season trips together as a family. He also spent many hours working with his dad and grandpa renovating their rental properties. We called it wood shop. He spent the summer before his freshman year of college working for his grandfather as an iron worker tying steel on a major railroad bridge project in Newark, NJ.

Gabriel was a varsity scholar in high school and was inducted into the National Honor Society as a junior. He needed a sponsor and chose Reverend Elmer Jackson, president of West Side Christian Academy and summer camp in Redbank, NJ. Reverend Jackson strode regally to the stage in in his purple and gold kente cloth attire at the induction ceremony. Gabe followed and thought it would be funny to purposely fall down the steps as he exited the stage. He got a lot of laughs, a sprained ankle and a stern lecture from mom.

In his recommendation letter, Reverend Jackson said this about Gabriel:

“Gabe never complains, he accepts challenges readily and undertakes his assignments with an infectious enthusiasm. During our after-school homework club, Gabe has demonstrated great capacity to explain academic concepts to our students. He demonstrates the needed patience required for our special students while he works in class or during play breaks. His service has been deeply appreciated here. Gabe is one of the finest young men that I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. His work ethic is inspiring. Our organization and students (who actually stand up and cheer, if they get the chance, when Gabe arrives) are the better because of him.”

During the summers that Gabe volunteered, Bruce Springsteen took Reverend Jackson’s small group of campers to lunch and then into his studio to record some songs. Gabriel participated in two of these recording sessions. (The recordings are also MIA.)

As a high school senior in California, Gabe began working at Boomers Amusement Park in Irvine. He returned to this job when he was home from college on summer and winter breaks (except for the summer when he taught film at Camp Winnebago in Fayette, Maine). He interned at the TV Guide Network during his summers at home.

At Wheaton College, Gabe was well known for his infectious personality and creativity. He recruited friends to perform in his films, wrote and performed a thoughtful rap for a chapel service and competed in the annual talent show. As a sophomore, when his friends were caught in the infamous televised girls’ soccer game streaking incident, Gabe willingly confessed his supporting role. He used his creative gifts to provocatively challenge racial apathy and injustice in this community. As a member of GUP (Global Urban Perspectives), Gabe found friendship, camaraderie and an outlet for his passion.

One professor wrote this in an email: “[Gabe] was one of my most creative and talented students. I thought of him often and wondered what he would do with his many interests.  We shared many discussions in my office of his hopes and disappointments, and, as you know, he was a young man that had far more going for him than he could understand at the moment.  I’m saddened that we do not get to see the outcome of maturation. I was confident that passing through this particular stage of questioning and struggling, he would flourish, not in spite of, but because of the fortitude and pursuit required.”

After graduation, Gabriel worked as a manager at Boomers and then briefly as a car salesman. In February, he went to work for his dad at AllBrand Windows and sold 65 windows to his first customer. On March 22, he performed with great success at the Belly Room at the world-famous Comedy Store in LA. The club management did not believe that Gabe had never before performed stand-up comedy professionally. He was in final rounds of consideration for an upcoming season of MTV’s The Real World and will appear in an episode of MTV’s Next this summer.

Gabe’s gifts and accomplishments extend far beyond this summary and begin and end with his love for others, as evidenced by this music review that was published in the Asbury Park Presswhen he was 13 years old:

It Will Survive! Gettin’ jiggy with that ’70s music

“‘ We are Family,’ ‘Play that Funky Music,’ ‘Macho Man,’ and the ‘Hustle.’

These songs were the ‘Macarenas’ of the 70s. On ‘Pure Disco 2,’ there is a truckload of ‘I loved this song when I wa your age’ music.

I was at The Wiz with my mom and my brother. My mom was checking out the CDs while I was playing a kickin’ game of MDR on Playstation there.

My little brother came running over and said, ‘Gabe, guess what? Mom is buying ‘Pure Disco 2.’

I have to say that I was kind of shocked. I know my mom is weird, but this was pretty extreme even for her.

‘Well,’ I thought, ‘here comes another one of her dumb CDs.’

We got home and my mom put ‘Pure Disco 2’ in the CD player right away.

‘I Will Survive’ started playing and she went nuts. She started dancing like only my mom can, yelling and singing with the song.

I thought it was really stupid at first, but then I thought it looked kind of fun to dance like that.

Soon I joined her and we were dancing together. The music finished and I was out of breath, but it was a lot of fun.

Anyway, the CD was really cool. It has a lot of keep-your-feet-moving kind of music, which surprised me.

I recommend ‘Pure Disco 2’ to anyone who likes to dance. It is really a bust-a-move kind of CD.”

Update 5/8/03:

I neglected to expound upon a defining element of Gabe’s life. He was a Christian. As an infant, he was dedicated to the Lord by his parents. He made a private confession of faith as a child and later chose to be baptized by immersion at Trinity Bible Church. In high school, he was a member of the Long Branch chapter of Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and was the student leader of the club in his senior junior year.

On the day Gabriel died, he made a public profession of his love for Jesus when a woman came into his workplace to evangelize the sales team. Rob Speight, the former TBC pastor who married Gabe’s parents and dedicated him to the Lord, flew to the service in NJ from Chicago (along with his wife Chris) and prayed the final burial prayer committing Gabe’s body to the ground and his spirit to our Lord.


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11 Comments on “A Tribute to Gabriel Gifford Scheller

  1. Thanks Chris for making mention of Gabe’s dramatic roots at Trinity. I have such fond memories of him hanging upside down on a couch saying his lines. He always came up with a “better way” to make things even more comedic! I am going to see Angela this week end in North Carolina, I know we will spend time talking of Gabe!

  2. Dear Cherie,

    I think I missed you at the service and am sorry for it. I was overwhelmed.

    Thanks for loving Gabe and giving us such wonderful memories.

    Please give our love to the Derby family. They know…

  3. Dear Chris,
    I love reading your posts and articles here. I do feel sad, but also encouraged. I especially love getting to know the Gabe I wasn’t able to know. I can only remember Gabe as that little adorable boy who came and played with Frank when he too was a little adorable boy. WOW … 22 years ago!!!???
    I continue to struggle to write something of importance to you, Jeff, and Michael that will somehow encourage you. It hasn’t happened yet. But … you write and encourage me. Thank you.
    All I can think about when I read from your website is what a GREAT Mom you are, and what a GREAT family Gabe had. You guys are a blessing.
    Thank you for putting aside time for us when you were in NJ.
    You are ALWAYS in our prayers, and we look forward to seeing you again.
    Please give Michael a BIG HUG from us.
    We love you,
    Liza and Jim (and Frank too)

  4. Dear Liza,

    I think you said all that needs to be said. I am encouraged to know we are loved. It was good to reconnect and we look forward to picking up where we left off when we get back to NJ … for good I hope.

    I took down today’s post because I didn’t like it—it’s the journalist/editor in me. It was too sketchy. I’ll address PTSD and spiritual abuse another time. We definitely all suffered, but I thought we were beginning to recover. As I said to a friend, I thought we were coming up from grief, and instead we’re descending further into it. One good that has come from this tragedy is the reconnections with old friends.

    I’ll hug Mike for you. He’s doing really well.

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  8. Hi Mrs Scheller,

    I am truly sorry for your loss. Death by suicide seems so much more painfull than other kinds of deaths. Please know that you and your family are in my prayers. May God bring healing and comfort as only He can.

  9. Thanks so much for your kind thoughts and for the prayers Kaydia. We really appreciate them. Blessings to you~

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