For more than 30 years, the Rev. Frederick McElderry, known by many as “Pastor Fred,” shared not only his faith, but also his passion for music, movies and sports with congregants at St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church in West Hempstead. Whether it was through Harry Potter references or sports analogies, McElderry found a way to connect with worshipers in his sermons.
Fifteen years after being diagnosed with colorectal cancer, McElderry died on March 4, at age 65.
Born in Fairbanks, Alaska, in 1954, McElderry grew up in St. Paul, Minn., and moved to Syosset in 1980. He and Amy Tecklenberg were married later that year.
McElderry was known for finding ways to connect with people of all ages, but especially children. He has influenced many people over the years, including the Rev. William Gohl, of the Delaware-Maryland Synod in Baltimore. Gohl grew up in West Hempstead, was a member of the St. Andrew’s congregation and was ordained at the church 20 years ago.
“He taught me to have a sense of humor, and he humbled me from time to time,” said Gohl, who last spoke to McElderry in February. “Even though I’ve lived in Baltimore over the past 20 years, he’s stayed in touch with me to share words of encouragement.
“He was a part of every community association, and reminded us that we can be connected to all parts of the community,” Gohl added. “He was a man well worth knowing.”
McElderry underwent his first surgery shortly after the cancer was diagnosed in 2005, but it returned in 2013. After a second operation, surgeons said he had a 50 percent chance of living for five years. He was forced to relinquish his duties as pastor last year as his condition worsened.
“His work is going to continue on,” said the Rev. John Jurik, the interim pastor at St. Andrew’s. “Even though he died, his influence will still be felt for a long time to come.”
McElderry often shared the story of his cancer with his congregants and others who had other diseases. Susan Carentz, of New Hyde Park, said he mentored her for nearly 20 years.
“We both battled cancer, and he was the first person to call me up when I got diagnosed,” Carentz recalled. “He said, ‘Let’s go for a hamburger and have a talk.’ He was very down-to-earth, and he was willing to share his story with anyone he came across.”
In recent years, McElderry led diakonia classes — a Christian education program — at Long Island City’s Trinity Lutheran Church on Saturday mornings. Churchgoer Lois Jenkins said she attended often, and that she was moved by McElderry’s willingness to share his story.
“He was always full of joy and hope,” Jenkins recalled. “He was very spiritual, open, funny, receptive and wanted us to ask lots of questions. We’re so fortunate to have him as part of our journey in faith.”
McElderry also shared his story as a participant in recreational activities. He was a walker at both West Hempstead High School’s and H. Frank Carey High School’s Relay for Life, and gave motivational speeches to the participants. “He was always honest about the ups and downs that he went through,” said Donna Dill, a congregant of St. Andrew’s for the past 12 years.
Dill said that McElderry, who was also a saxophonist, performed “God Bless America” during the seventh-inning stretch at several Long Island Ducks games with her daughter, Sarah. In 2015, Dill and McElderry took part in a four-day youth convention in Detroit with six high-school students from the church, working on community service projects and worship groups at Ford Field, home of the Detroit Lions.
“To this day, the kids still talk about what a great experience that was,” Dill said. “While they knew each other from church, they really became close and texted each other constantly and kept in touch.”
Christine Blake-Jeremias, another St. Andrew’s congregant, said she got to know McElderry 12 years ago through her son, Daniel, who attended the church’s Little Saints Preschool. Blake-Jeremias said that McElderry went to Broadway shows with her family, played music with her son, and hosted Scout Sundays with Boy Scout Troop 93 in Franklin Square, where Blake-Jeremias is the assistant scoutmaster.
“He was someone who loved children, and he made church welcoming for everyone,” she said. “He did sermons about “The Lord of the Rings,” because he loved movies . . . and he always looked for God in the movies.”
Dawn Feeley met McElderry 19 years ago, when she joined the church. He met with her at her house, and encouraged her to get involved in church activities. Feeley has run the church’s Vacation Bible School for the past 13 years.
“Many of the kids that aren’t a part of the church come back to volunteer for community-service hours,” Feeley said. “This year was the first year without him, but we’re hoping to continue that mission, because Pastor Fred loved the program so much. He never had any children of his own, so these were his kids.”
McElderry wife, Amy, died in 2013. He is survived by his mother, Charlene McElderry, of Fort Walton Beach, Fla.; and two brothers, Mark, of Knoxville, Tenn., and Curtis, of St. Paul, Minn.