Rochester author inspires community through writing, activism

ROCHESTER, NY (WROC) — Kathy Schaefer is many things: a beloved mother, a former high school teacher, a philanthropist and a community activist. But most may know her of her as an author.

Schaefer started writing when she was just 15-years-old and never stopped.

“I wrote short stories that I used to read to the neighborhood kids and then when I went to college and I took a lot of creative writing classes,” Schaefer explained.

At Nazareth College, Schaefer was taken under the wing of Author in Residence, Charles Mills. Mills told Schaefer she had a lot of talent as a writer and would be published one day.

But instead of pursuing writing, Schaefer’s mother told her she should start student teaching.

“The minute I stepped in front of a class, I fell in love with it. I knew it was my vocation and what I was supposed to do,” Schaefer said.

Schaefer ended up teaching at Gates Chili High School for 33 years, but throughout her time there, she never stopped writing.

“I wrote with the kids, I published the school literary magazine, I wrote on my own, and then when I turned 40, I decided that I better write a book or I would never do it,” Schaefer said.

Schaefer started by writing romance novels because she liked that they were empowering of women and had redeeming endings. She wrote for five years, sending out manuscripts for three of them.

“I have a whole folder full of rejections that I take when I give motivational speeches, tons of rejections, and I had just about giving up and Harlequin bought my first book,” Schaefer said.

Since then, Schaefer has published 91 books and novellas under her pseudo name, Katherine Shay. Her book ‘America’s Bravest,’ which was independently published, was a New York Times Best Seller in 2013.

“Most of my books deal with contemporary issues. I write about women and domestic violence, I write about date rape, I write about what happens after a divorce to women, I write about the death of a spouse,” Schaefer said. “I take issues that are important to me and important to society and I integrate them in my work.”

Schaefer also wrote a lot of books about firefighters who were impacted by 9/11.

“I rode the trucks with the Rochester Fire Department and I ate at their station houses and I went to their homes and visited them and they used to go into the night, telling me about how they were burned and what that was like, or how they felt after 911,” Schaefer said.

Patricia Marx, Schaefer’s younger sister, said she is one of her biggest fans. The two went to Nazareth together and Marx said she has nearly all of her sister’s books by her.

“I went to all of her book signings when she first got published by Harlequin. She always said that she and I were different flowers from the same garden, and I went to all for book signings when she first started,” Marx said.

Schaefer said over the years, she’s had a lot of reviews and responses from people who say they have been inspired by her books.

For example, she wrote one book about a boy who identified as gay and his relationship with his family.

“There were hundreds of reviews online about ‘thank you for writing this book.’ I’m going to give it to my mother, I wish you were my mother, it’s about time somebody showed who we really are,” Schaefer said.

But while writing is a passion of Schaefer’s, it’s what she can found doing when she’s not putting pen to paper that has really inspired her community.

“She has worked in the battered woman shelter for like 11 years,” Marx said. “Ella She always works for her church de ella when they do the food drive for years. When she taught at Gates Chili, she was so devoted to those kids.”

While teaching at Gates Chili High School, Schaefer ran a program called ‘Prime Time,’ which was an after-prom activity, lasting into the morning.

“It was sober activities so that kids wouldn’t go out and drink after the senior ball,” Schaefer said. “They would come to our party where we had food and beverage and entertainment. We had a singing group, we had palm reader, we had a magician, we had the gyms were open for sports.”

Schaefer also spends a lot of her time at soup kitchens and working with groups like Foodlink to hand out food at her church.

“In December, we had 215 cars that we gave food to, which amounts to like 500 people easy because a lot of them have large families,” Schaefer said.

She’s also the co-chair of the Ministry of Outreach and Justice at Community Christian Church, where she facilitates activities for the community, including purchasing and donating gifts to those at Open Door Mission.

For a decade, Schaefer also volunteered as a camp counselor for Junior Camp Good Days, helping families who have a loved one with cancer.

“I had a little three-year-old girl one year with cancer and it was hard,” Schaefer said. “I told the director that I didn’t think I could do Junior Good Days because it would be too hard and he said, ‘No, I could.’ So I did that for 10 years.”

Schaefer’s desire to give back began in her childhood, when she grew up poor. Now that she is in a position where she can give to others, that’s exactly what she wants to do.

“I firmly believe that it’s our purpose on earth to help people who are less fortunate than we are. It’s one of my core values,” Schaefer said.

Marx said her sister is a “gem” and “like a diamond in the rough” who goes above and beyond for those around her.

“Cathy is so generous. That just her,” Marx said. “Kathy would do anything for me. She’d drop everything if I needed her, and I will say she has done that.”

For all Schaefer does, News 8 recognized her as one of its “Remarkable Women” finalists.

“I think being who I am and being called Remarkable is wonderful. I can’t say that I would have said that, but I know I have been a success, so I am very happy and I think it’s a great honor to be nominated,” Schaefer said.

She added that she hopes her story helps inspire others in the community to give back.

Schaefer has been married to her husband for 50 years and has a son, daughter and one grandchild. Her son de ella pursued writing and just finished his first book de ella, while her daughter de ella is a teacher.

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