ATHENS - Jerry J. Schaffer, 80, beloved husband of Robin (nee Bowe) for 44 years. Loving father of Kathryn Schaffer (Erik Nichols) of Chicago and Jeremy (Abby) Schaffer of Athens. Devoted grandfather of Clara Nichols and Emma and Cooper Schaffer.
Jerry is survived by a sister, Joan (the late Jack) York; brothers-in-law Bill Hoelker and Dave Thomas; and sister-in-law Barb Schaffer. He was preceded in death by his sisters, Judy Thomas and Jean Hoelker; and brother, Joseph Schaffer, all of Cincinnati. A long-time resident of Athens, he died in his home on Thursday, Feb. 20, 2020, in the company of family and close friends. He was 80 years old.
Born into a musical family, Jerry lived life with a beat in his step. At home and at work, with old friends and new acquaintances, he lived and loved generously, connecting with people from every background through art, music, humor, compassion, and his exuberant love of life. No matter the situation, he was sure to remark "there's a song for that!" Even at the very end, when he lost the ability to walk, he never stopped dancing.
Schaffer was one of five children born to Joseph and Loretta Schaffer, of Cincinnati. After graduating from Elder High School in Cincinnati, he attended St. Gregory's Seminary and Mt. St. Mary's seminary, later achieving a Masters in Education from Xavier University.
In his early work as a priest and high school teacher, his involvement in impoverished neighborhoods in Cincinnati led him to a concerted engagement with the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. He worked under Jesse Jackson and alongside Rev. Otis Moss as part of the Operation Breadbasket project launched by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He also worked closely with Cincinnati-based Civil Rights and peace activist Rev. Maurice McCrackin.
Through the late 1960s and into the 1970s, Schaffer led community initiatives to fight hunger, poverty, and injustice in Cincinnati and beyond, including the Cincinnati Hunger Coalition, the Hunger Coalition of Ohio, and later the Appalachian People's Action Committee. He moved to Southeastern Ohio in the 1970s to pursue a career in mental health and social work, taking a position as the Director of the Southern Tri-County Community Board of Mental Health in 1974.
He married Robin Windsor Bowe in 1975, and raised two children with Robin as active members of the Athens community. In 1990, he obtained clinical licensure to become a geriatric mental health counselor for the last years of his career. Committed to supporting dignity and resilience through the power of direct human connection, he continued to volunteer with the Red Cross well into his retirement, providing mental health services to families stranded in hurricane crisis centers.
Beginning with a family variety act ("The Schafferettes") in his childhood, and ending with open mic nights at local Athens bars, Jerry was a performing musician his entire life. He played piano and washboard, as well as playing drums in several Athens-based rock bands.
He was also an accomplished painter, and his watercolor and acrylic paintings (many of Athens scenes) are in homes and businesses around the region. He loved travel, opera music, boating with Robin on the Ohio River, practicing Spanish, and goofing around with his grandkids. His favorite way to celebrate everyday life was with a Jack Daniels on the rocks, enjoyed by the fire.
Ever giving, Jerry planned a final bequeathal to the medical science and education programs at Ohio University. The family will announce a memorial party at a future time. Donations in Jerry's honor may be sent to the Red Cross.
To plant trees in memory, please visit our Sympathy Store
Published by The Athens Messenger from Feb. 24 to Feb. 26, 2020.