Chris Caskey, The Union Democrat

Even as they mourned the loss of Wolfgang and LaDonn Krismanits, friends and family members recalled a giving couple and a man who would do anything he could to help someone who needed it.

"He was a pillar of the community," his son Stephen Krismanits said this morning. "Every dime he made … he gave back to the community."

The longtime pastor of Sonora's downtown Red Church and his wife were killed Tuesday afternoon in a car accident near Hollister.

During his career in Sonora, the Rev. Krismanits, known in the community as Father Wolf, he guided the Red Church through a theological change and fought to make the church accessible to the needy.

Chris Luckie, who served with Krismanits for two years on the board of Mother Lode Christian School, recalled a time when she met someone who had recently been released from jail.

Luckie said the man was clearly dealing with addiction and wanted to get clean, but didn't have the means - or even a vehicle - to get into a program.

"I told him, 'Go to Father Wolf and he will help you. I don't know how, but he will find a way to help you out,'" she said. "He went up there and it helped get him clean."

While serving on the school board, Luckie also remembers LaDonn Krismanits regularly volunteering. The Krismanitses also operated the St. James food pantry, which serves thousands of people a month.

"They were always there for everybody and reached out to everybody," she said. "This community lost a tremendous gift."

Wolfgang Krismanits was installed as rector at the church in February 1989, coming to Sonora with LaDonn by way of Illinois, Kentucky and Nevada.

The two met while working as counselors at St. Jude's Ranch for Children in Boulder City, Nev., in 1980 and married soon after before he attended theological seminary. They had three children - Paul, Stephen and Sonja.

While in Sonora, Krismanits butted heads with the city when his church tried in 2006 to offer a 24-hour prayer space for residents, many of them homeless. When people regularly used the space to keep warm overnight, the city stopped the activity because the church was not up to code for overnight occupancy.

The struggle led to Lighthouse Ministries, which worked to establish a shelter for local needy.

He also oversaw the Snell Street church's move from the Episcopal Church to the Anglican Church in 2007 over a theological rift that involved a debate over homosexuality.

Candles were lit this morning in front of the church in memory of the Krismanitses.

Parishioners Rich Enis and Danel Hickey sat on the steps recalling the couple who they say had helped them out during "hard times." Enis said they helped pay utility bills when they were in a rough patch.

"Father Wolf was the friendliest person in the world," said Enis, who also said the pastor was going to officiate his wedding to Hickey in the coming months.

"He did so much for the people of this community. I just hope he didn't suffer," Enis said.

Stephen Krismanits said Tuesday that his father was getting ready to go back to work in the wake of open-heart surgery and was visiting the surgeon this week. LaDonn went along on the trip to do some "sightseeing" in Carmel, he said.

Stephen, who said he has had his own legal struggles, said his father supported him through hard times and would have "given the shirt off his back" to help someone in need.

"They didn't deserve this," he said. "At least they went together. They couldn't have gone on apart."