In honor of what would have been Sheila Schafer’s birthday, today I want to share my personal memories of her, a bright spirit of this world who departed a little over a year ago.
That said, it is so very challenging to capture Sheila’s essence. She exuded joy. I’ll share some of my memories and, to that, add some links to stories written by others about her.
Like any good North Dakotan, I heard about Harold and Sheila when I was growing up. Much later in life I came to know her personally through my husband, Jim Fuglie, who’d been friends with her for decades and who’d worked for Harold.
Sheila loved Medora like no other and this time of the year, she’d be happily packing up her car for her move from her Bismarck condo to her Medora house, where she would spend the summer attending the musical as often as she could manage, hosting an endless line of company and walking around town greeting visitors with her cheerful, “Hi nice people!” There is good reason she was known by all as the First Lady of Medora.
She threw the most wonderful parties and was always eager to learn new things. Very late in life, she made up her mind to finish the college degree she had started 60 years or more ago, and she was the oldest graduate of Bismarck State College. Many of us attended commencement that year in the Civic Center and were so proud of her.
One day she called me and asked me to come over to her condo. I did, and when I got there, she asked me to teach her how to text with her phone. She was a quick study and so very grateful. Another time, when she was a BSC student, she asked me to come over and help her do some research for a term paper she was writing on bison. Books were always scattered about her houses, and one winter, she set her mind to reading all of William Shakespeare’s works — and she did it!
Sheila made the most delicious homemade buns and generously shared her recipe. She also wrote beautiful notes, thousands and thousands of these. Although she lived with many serious health issues, she had perhaps the most joie de vivre of anyone I’ve ever known. She told everyone that she would wake up in the morning, look in the mirror and clap for herself that she was alive another day.
She loved our mutual friend, Clay Jenkinson, and always made sure she invited all of her friends to his events. At the book launch for his newly published “For the Love of North Dakota,” she arrived looking, as always, stunning, in a print dress that was covered with impressions of New York Times headlines and stories. A woman chatting with her expressed her admiration for the dress. Sheila disappeared and we were all looking around for her. Out she came from the women’s restroom with wearing just her winter coat and, with great drama, handed that dress to that woman! This was the essence of her, and good friends learned to be careful when admiring her possessions.
She was a widow for a very long time, and we would tease her that many men would be delighted to be her new mate. Her response was to cackle and tell us, “I was married to Santa Claus (Harold), so why on earth would I want to remarry Never!”
My husband and Sheila had a very special relationship. Once I teased her that he had more pictures of her on his dresser than of me. She just laughed and gave him a big hug.
When Jim’s mother died, Sheila called and said that she wanted to give us some trees for our yard in his mother’s honor, and she came over the day these were delivered, so excited to watch the planting. ur aspen and crabapple trees thrive to this day, and when I look at these trees, I smile and think of Sheila and, of course, my mother-in-law.
Today, she would be driving into Theodore Roosevelt National Park, and, as had been her tradition for many a year, climbing Buck Hill to survey the Bad Lands she loved so much.
Here is a video of Sheila on the Friends of Theodore Roosevelt web page, talking about the Park.
And here are some more articles about her, as well as a blog that my husband wrote about her.