Memories 5/24/05 - Current

Below are memories posted after Mr. Shafer’s death on May 24, 2005.  To make this easier to read we have split up the posting between “Memories I” and “Memories II”

David Sundelson
Berkeley, California 94705
How sad that Mr. Shafer died last night (I think he would have preferred the blunt verb to any euphemism). He taught me that there were such things as good writing and thinking and theater and that all were available to me. These lessons are a great gift. So are indelible memories of play rehearsals: I'll never forget learning how to stand like an 18th-century gentleman for She Stoops to Conquer, or Mr. Shafer's inventive catalogue of insults for every lapse in stage performance. Rest in peace, Mr. Shafer.

Carol Billings
Ann Arbor, MI
Dick and I taught at Huron High School from the day of its first class. During those Huron years I and many others cherished Dick for his wit and humor as well as his erudition. Particularly remarkable was that Dick was so well liked by students, especially those who needed the most help. This gentle, generous gentleman was recognized by all of us at Huron for his warmth and kindness as well as his wit which could, if the occasion called for it, be acerbic. After we both retired, Dick and I kept in touch. My most vibrant memory of Dick is seeing him walking his beloved Jigger and then Webster in all kinds of weather. How I shall miss our conversations!

Kerstin Sutherland Stempel '56
Los Angeles, CA
I was scared to death of Dick in 10th grade English but gradually learned to appreciate him as a teacher and friend through the plays and opperettas that he directed. When I first moved back to England after graduation in '56, we met one day for lunch in London. Since then we have kept in constant contact through Christmas cards/letters and personal notes. He bought my husband's first book and read it thoroughly. He caught two errors that all Tom's PhD advisors and editors missed. I was not surprised. He also said that he enjoyed it which meant a lot. I saw him in Ann Arbor when I returned for reunions and he was always unfailingly a gentleman and delightful companion for a meal. I will greatly miss our annual exchanges of funny cards and comments on plays seen. More recently included were our dealings with our respective failing of health that comes with age. I just reread his December letter and he was so hopeful at that time that all was going to be well. Jigger and Webster kept him going I am sure. Tom and I will morn his passing.

Robert Sloan
Petoskey, Mi
Mr. Shafer had a life after U-high. My junior or senior year at Huron (class of '73) I took a lit class from him, and when he saw my name, I think he had hopes that I'd be a little more like my siblings Herb and Ann than I turned out to be. Needless to say, teaching a required English class in Ann Arbor's public high schools was a far cry from teaching the, shall we way, "more receptive" study body at U-high. I have no idea whether he considered that job a necessary burden to draw a paycheck or found the occasion diamond in the rough that made it more worthwhile for him than I think it probably was.

Diane Woods
Ann Arbor, MI
I remember how Mr. Shafer directed us in the play "The Enchanted" class of '67. He directed us in a very compassionate way and encouraged us to stretch our wings. His direction, I will never forget. I have been performing for children for over 20 years and continue to perform in large groups. I was very shy in high school, but being in that play, helped me to overcome many experiences of stage fright. I have also been involved in many high school plays and community theatre over the years in the Dexter area. I will always remember Mr. Shafer as "The Encourager". I will miss him and feel he is up in heaven, encouraging again!

Patty Hall Laswick '55
Shippenville, PA
It is with a heavy heart over my old friend’s passing that I write these words. I developed respect and admiration for Dick Shafer through taking his demanding English class and especially through the various theater productions that he directed and that I was involved in -- operettas, the Christmas play, class plays. Of note was his willingness to direct a summer theater production of one-act plays in 1954, which a number of students from the various U High classes participated in; proceeds went to the U High activity fund. A lasting friendship with Dick developed through these fifty years. After graduation, we kept in contact with holidays greetings, occasional phone calls, newspaper articles sent to me when he saw a topic he knew would be of interest . When I’d be in town, I’d often be invited to his home to share a nice meal. In the early 60’s, I lived in New York City and recall driving him to the ship Queen Mary when he and a friend were about to embark for Europe. A high point was being allowed to tour the ship before leaving. In graduate school in Ann Arbor, his hospitality continued. And later, when I moved for a teaching position in Pennsylvania, my husband and I shared good times when he would stop at our home for the night on his way to visit friends out east. I remember our meaningful conversations, pleasant meals, seeing a play, playing Scrabble, and our hike in the fall in the beautiful nearby Cook Forest, with its magnificent old growth trees. As the years went on, Dick remained active with the alumni files and I would often call him to chat and to ask questions about an classmate’s address. After the class of ‘55 reunion in 2000, he voluntarily edited (and rewrote) several dozen updated class bios for the newsletter. He faithfully attended various class reunions, including the all-school one in 1988 and my class of 55’s in 2000. He was planning to attend our forthcoming 50th year reunion this June, but, sadly, that was not to be. He cared wonderfully for his little dog Jigger. Toward the end of Jigger’s life, about a year and a half ago, Dick would lovingly drive him to the vet nearly every day for his treatments. In the very last weeks, I called him often. Through his exhausting chemotherapy, as his strength ebbed, he still walked and cared for his current dog Webster to the best of his ability. Eventually chemotherapy was no longer an option. As we know, he then entered a hospice. He was still able to accept visitors and calls until a few days before his death. Goodbye, old friend. May you rest in peace.

Damon (Bud) Woods, 1969
Pleasanton, CA
I recall Mr. Schafer as a kind, gentle teacher with a good sense of humor. I pray that he is at peace now, and as to his legacy- just like Mr. Holland (the movie) , his legacy is the students he touched and inspired. God Bless you, Mr. Schafer!

Michael McVaugh
Chapel Hill, NC
Everybody who reads this will have shared the same general impact Mr. Shafer had on me, but I dare say we all felt that impact in different ways and remember it encapsulated in different episodes. In my case, 10th -grade English (1954), my most vivid memories are: diagramming sentences (that’s when it dawned on me that language had structure and order); learning how to keep a checkbook and read the stock-market quotations (no, I promise you, that was part of the class--and very useful it has been, too!); and reading I, Claudius for an assignment and writing a paper on it. I was utterly swept away by that book, ready to accept that it really was by Claudius and not Robert Graves (Mr. Shafer disabused me of that idea, very kindly), and I’m prepared to believe that that experience is what launched my interest in the ancient world, in a Latin-language civilization, and in history, because (alas) it certainly wasn’t US History the next year that made me a professional historian. Above all, through these devices and no doubt many others I can’t remember, Mr. Shafer taught me indirectly to care almost obsessively about the English language. Every week, as I tackle the TLS Crossword Puzzle, he’s looking over my shoulder--and we mostly solve it.

Michael Firestone
Okemos, Michigan
I intended to write to Mr. Shafer, but I now read that he died while I was out of the state. I so enjoyed working with him at U-High (I was class of 1966). He directed plays that I acted in, and supervised the yearbook when I was editor. His love of theater motivated me to major in Theater at U of M (B.A.) and MSU (M.A.). During my college career, I used to visit his home on Lutz, with my friend Jim Huntington, and we would play the Avalon Hill boardgame of "Shakespeare." Of course Mr. Shafer always won. I think he really enjoyed our coming back to see him after graduation.

Julian Cook
Denver, CO
I was terribly sad learning of Mr. Shafer's death. Thinking about him since the announcement of the scholarship, and reading the reflections of others, brought back a flood of memories, and a deep sense of loss. Though I felt close to him in high school and even through college, and we kept in touch for several years, I regret that I did not hold up my end of the correspondence and we fell out of touch in the last several years. But the impact that he had on me was enormous and still endures. He was clearly one of the very best and most influential teachers I ever had, and there were many, through high schoool, college, and graduate schools. Some people were intimidated by him; I wasn't, but I sure took his thunderous criticisms (always constructive) very seriously. He challenged me to always aspire to excellence and never be satisfied with mediocrity. He taught me how to think critically and explore possibilities and be imaginative. He gave me the opportunity to become a different person (on stage) and to achieve things I (and others) didn't think I could. He instilled in me a love of theater, and though I ultimately didn't pursue that career, despite his prodding, I still love returning to the Stratford Festival in Canada, to which he introduced me. As a dedicated and passionate educator, he was a role model for me in my career (for a time I was a principal of an elementary school as well as a teacher of teenagers). I certainly owe him a great debt for all that he gave me during those important years at U High.

Margaret Stevens
Eastbourne, East Sussex, GB
I first met Dick at Fortnum & Mason in Picadilly London in the summer of 1952. He had come for his first to England to attend a literature course at Oxford University. Marion McKinney had persuaded him to do so and introduced us by letter. Until the last few years Dick came to England annually, always including a visit to his beloved Stratford-on-Avon, the home of Shakespeare. He chose London as his main base, the centre of theatre land and for easier travel to other areas. When I retired to Sussex in 1976, he came to know the delights of this county. I drove him around over the years and had short breaks together. He formed friendships wherever he went and visited many of my friends. I knew his family too with visits both sides of the Atlantic. I shall miss him greatly, but I am privileged to have many fond memories of friendship, always with such a very special and delightful person. I last heard from Dick by letter and phone for my March birthday - the last words being "Don't worry".
(PS. I was an exchange teacher 1947/48 in Toronto, Canada, and came to know Marion & Hope Chipman through a World War II connection - they sponsored me from the moment I landed in New York Harbour on 14th August 1947.)

Bobbi (Bailey) Karpinski
San Diego, CA, US
I am so sorry to hear of Mr. Shafer's death. We were traveling and did not get our mailed notice until today. Mr. Shafer was very special to me. He furthered my dream of becoming a speech and drama teacher as well as an actor and director in community theater for over 40 years! He and I kept in contact every year since I graduated from U High. I am so glad I was able to see him again in April of 2004. It was such a joy spending time with him and being privy to his wit and humor in person, as I had been by letter every year. I will truly miss him. When I was in his drama classes my last two years in high school, I took careful notes. I used many of these notes when I taught speech and drama. I loved following the theatre in New York and London which was inspired by the test Mr. Shafer gave us every Tuesday on the theatre section of the New York Times. I took the Times for many years just to follow the theatre section. In our letters, we both would share with the other, the best plays we had seen that year! I will contiue my letters to Mr. Shafer through meditation with him. He was such an inspiration to me and I will never forget him! Fondly, Bobbi (Bailey)Karpinski Class of 1962

Sarah Lesher-Alfonso (1967)
Dallas, TX, US
If I could, I would wave a magic wand and get everyone who has contributed to the scholarship fund to add a remembrance to the memories page. We all have special memories of this unique individual. Have you ever met anyone like him? Most people are unique in their own way but he had a special quality. I remember after I wrote a book report on Crime and Punishment, his asking me in class what the theme was--my little undeveloped lame brain couldn't come up with the concept for what it was about--I think I responded, "Crime doesn't pay." I really hated that word, "theme". Omigod. Scared me to death. Three little words were all I uttered after reading that classic novel. But he still liked me. Don't know why except he knew I had a total fascination for movie stars, especially the ones from the 1930's and 1940's...and Hayley Mills! He'd send me newspaper clippings on her, and it was really special when he was traveling in England and he'd cut one out and send it to me. He cared about stuff you wouldn't think he would care about and he remembered things about people you wouldn't think he would remember. After he retired he loved talking about former students and he never said a disparaging word about anyone. What a great guy. I feel so lucky I kept him a central character in my life.

Susan A. Ivory (1962)
Southampton, New York, US
Mr. Shafer's 10th grade English class was legendary. The fear and trepidation we experienced seem inconceivable to me now, but he had a reputation that struck fear in all of us. Heaven help the unprepared student. And those book reports, well, there was simply no way to fake your way through those. If you were foolish enough to chew gum in his class...well, I don't even need to finish that sentence. Christmas of my sophomore year, I'd baked holiday cookies and festive breads to give to my teachers on the last day of class before vacation. When it was time to give my gift to Mr. Shafer, I almost chickened out. I didn't know how he'd react, and I was still afraid of him. But I thought, Well, I made this for him, so I'm going to give it to him. I was astounded by his reaction. Never have I seen someone respond so wonderfully. His face absolutely lit up as he laughed, then he smiled his lopsided smile and expressed such sweet gratitude for my gift (hey, it was only baked goods), I was stunned. That's when I realized what a tender human being he really was. Yes, he was tough in class, but he was a marshmallow underneath. In addition to 10th grade English, I was in several plays he directed, and I took Drama Class from him in 12th grade (oh, we had a few clashes then...I was in my rebellious stage and was no longer afraid of him). Being in a play he directed was very different from being a student in his classroom. He understood the fragility of an actor's creative spirit, he knew what courage it took to be onstage, to perform, and he nurtured us with sensitivity and insight. His classroom tactics made us disciplined students, but his directorial skills allowed us to soar with creativity and confidence. After graduation, we remained in touch. His letters were wonderful and witty. I still have them. My letters to him always took hours to write. I never managed to stop thinking of him as my English teacher, and since I didn't want to disappoint him with sloppy writing, I would write, rewrite, proofread and then proof again. In my mind's eye, his red pencil will always be poised to make a correction. Thank you, Mr. Shafer. God bless.

George Sparrow (1956)
Chelsea, Mi, US
I came back from my first semester at Knox where I partiicpated in theatre and wanted to show Dick what I had experienced. we went down to the theatre and he sat in the front tow while I ran through a few lines and moments from several plays. He was getting bored but did not wish to show it (as was his wont) so I picked up the scene from Richard the III where he goes in to his 'winter of our discontent) - I waxed eloquent and really got in to the scene, limp and all (with hunchback)- I practically was gnawing the scenery- I was so caught up in what I was doing that I did not notice that he had gotten out of his seat (where he had put his feet up on the back of the seat in front of him (an indication that he was enjoying himself) and had come down to the front of the stage- I had just finished the soliliquy and I was still in the scene- when I was startled by his yelling, "that’s the way to do it! " This was followed was a round of applause from him - the compliment of a lifetime.

Bev Houk Royal
We all remember significant events. For me, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963 was the most memorable and vivid memory for me. I was in our 10th grade English class with Mr. Shafer studying Shakespeare. Mr. Shafer was the person who shared with us that the President had been shot. His quiet presence seemed to assure us that all would be well. Mr. Shafer will truly be missed by many, many people.

Anne Wing Petters
Raleigh,North Carolina
I am so sorry to learn of Mr. Shafer's ilness and death. Richard Shafer was a wonderful human being, and he was an awesome teacher. Without question, Mr. Shafer was one of the most demanding and rewarding teachers I was lucky enough to experience throughout my formal education. During Mr. Shafer's 10th grade English class as well as through my work behind the scenes during the plays, I finally learned that doing and being your best was not only possible, it was expected. Nothing less than that would do, and I still prize the pink cards that I earned from Mr. Shafer for those reasons. I had managed to drift through lots of class time before that without being pushed or pushing myself to work that hard. I know that I was able to share some of those same high expectations with my own middle and high school students throughout my teaching career, and I also set those same high standards for my four sons. I am so grateful that I had such a wonderful example of fine teaching to follow. I know that I was never so well organized or so completely well prepared as Mr. Shafer always was when he came to class, but I really tried. Years after I had them in class, many of my own students admitted that even though they thought I was terribly demanding when I taught them, they were finally mature enough to appreciate what I had tried to do, and that they really did appreciate my efforts. Lo and behold, I actually had expected them to learn and to be able to share their knowledge about the material covered in class. I had demanded that they think critically and well, learn and apply English grammer really well, write really well, and speak English very well, even on their feet during those dreaded public speaking assignments. It is part of the same legacy Mr. Shafer gave to me, and I am delighted to have been able pass it on. Mr. Shafer will be missed by us all, and he will always be an invaluable part of our U High life and beyond.

Jini Leeds Clare
At first, we felt fear and intimidation. Then, as young men and women, we began to understand Mr. Shafer’?s devotion to teaching and his love for his students, literature, and the theatre. Soon, he taught us to love Shakespeare and to appreciate the ancient Greeks. He encouraged us to write succinctly and to speak comfortably in public. And, as the years passed, Mr. Shafer taught us even more. From him, we learned that lofty goals can be reached through self-discipline and that lifetime friendships can be maintained through loyalty to a school that exists only in our memories. Mr. Shafer, we will always remember you with respect and affection. We recall your professional guidance to the Nunc Dimittis editorial staff as you and Irene Tejada worked as yearbook advisers. We fondly reminisce about the theatrical productions in Schorling Auditorium that were such an important part of our lives –? “?Dino,”? “?Antigone,”? “?Madwoman of Chaillot.”? We savor your many postcards from England and Christmas letters describing your trips to London and Stratford-on-Avon. We are thankful for the many issues of the U. High newsletter that you edited to keep us in touch with one another and to keep our school alive. And most of all, we are grateful for your friendship. Thank you for coming to our reunions, our weddings, the funerals of our parents, and to our homes for dinner. With love and devotion we must sadly say, “?Goodnight, Sweet Prince. May flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.”? ~~ Jini Leeds Clare U. High Class of 1962