“In the last couple weeks, when he couldn't get out of bed anymore, we'd push their beds together in the middle of the room,” said Pat Cornelius, the couple's niece. “… So they literally held hands for the last week of their life.”

WOOSTER — After more than 64 years of marriage, Bill and Nancy Schafrath died within five hours of each other on Christmas Eve, holding hands until the end.

“In the last couple weeks, when he couldn't get out of bed anymore, we'd push their beds together in the middle of the room,” said Pat Cornelius, the couple's niece. “… So they literally held hands for the last week of their life.”

Bill, 88, died in the 7 a.m. hour, and Nancy, 85, died after 11 a.m., both at Brookdale Senior Living in Wooster, where they lived for the past year.

“It's almost like they decided that if one went, the other would go, too,” nephew John Moritz said. “Somehow they knew.”

Amber Maier, executive director of Brookdale in Wooster, said the facility has never had a married couple die so closely to one another.

The couple did not have any children, “so they were exceptionally close to each other,” Cornelius said. But Bill was one of 12 siblings, so they had many nieces and nephews, who, along with about 200 other family members and friends gathered for the couple's funeral Mass on Thursday morning at St. Mary Catholic Church, where they attended church for their entire married life.

“Certainly for me, as I imagine for most of you, this is a first — a Mass where we are burying a married couple together, who died on the same day of natural causes,” the Rev. Richard Samide said during his homily.

Although Bill and Nancy Schafrath did not have any children, they shared their love with their large extended family, and with the numerous community organizations where they volunteered, Samide said.

In addition to their involvement at St. Mary's, Bill, a U.S. Army veteran who served in Korea from 1951-1953, was a member of the Knights of Columbus, Wooster Elks, Massillon Moose Lodge, VFW of Canal Fulton and American Legion Post 68 of Wooster. He also was a member of the Bricklayers and Masonry and Plasterers International Union of America, and made a career as a bricklayer, mostly with Bogner Construction.

Nancy started as a teller at Wayne Savings Community Bank, and over her 35 year career, worked her way up to first vice president and manager of the bank's Cleveland Road branch. Outside of work, she was a member of the Quota Club, Friends and Neighbors of Every Women's House, Loyal Order of Moose 135 and a volunteer for Friendtique and People to People Ministries.

The couple loved to play cards and spend time outdoors, including spending winters in the Tampa Bay area of Florida.

Moritz described his Aunt Nancy as “extremely outgoing, bubbly and energetic.”

“[She] liked to joke around a lot [and was a] fun-loving lady who everybody liked and liked to be around,” he said.

Bill loved to garden and took great pride in the yard of the couple's home on Ashwood Drive on the west side of Wooster.

“He grew his own tomatoes and liked to cook. He was a cook in the Army, and so he did all the cooking for them. And he loved taking care of his beautiful home and garden outside,” Cornelius said. “Everything was meticulous all the time.”

And especially over the last few years of their lives, Cornelius added, Bill and Nancy Schafrath wanted to spend all of their time together.

“I've been their family caregiver for the last couple of years, and they would not go any place without each other,” she said. “I'd have to take Bill to the dentist, Nancy wanted to go. … So there was always three of us in the room, because they always were together.”

It was an act of mercy that they were able to be with each other at the end of their lives, too. Samide said

“Surely Jesus knew their faith,” Samide said. “And so when he decided to call them home, how merciful that he call them together, so they only had to spend a couple hours apart until they were back together again.”

Reporter Jack Rooney can be reached at 330-287-1645 or jrooney@the-daily-record.com. He is on Twitter at twitter.com/RooneyReports.