Social work pioneer inducted into Hall of FameWritten by Patrick Timmis | | email@example.com
Charlotte Shaffer is slowing down.
The Toledo woman who co-founded the Area Office on Aging once balanced forging a path for Toledo social work with the presidency of an international women’s service organization, Quota International.
Later, she was vice chairman for her Lutheran denomination’s Northwest Ohio synod.
Today, at 85, all she can manage is full-time volunteer work for Olivet Lutheran Church, the Area Office on Aging (AOoA) and The Salvation Army.
“When I was in the Community Planning Council, I could do four meetings a day,” she said. “I can’t do over two right now.”
For her years of service, Shaffer was one of 19 Ohioans recently inducted into the Ohio Senior Citizens Hall of Fame by the Ohio Department of Aging in Columbus.
Inclusion is based on achievements and contributions toward the benefit of humankind after age 60, or for a continuation of efforts begun before that age.
Shaffer, an only child born in 1926 in North Toledo, was raised during the Great Depression.
“I suppose our lives were different than young people growing up today,” she said.
Her mother served as a church volunteer and her father worked at a meatpacking plant.
“I was fortunate my father always worked,” she said. “But I didn’t know how fortunate I was.”
Early in high school, Shaffer knew she wanted to work with people in need. Upon graduation from Whitney High School in 1944, she took a job at Lutheran Community House helping at-risk children and decided to study social work at the then-Toledo University.
“I can remember my father questioning me, ‘Why would you want to go to college? Why would you want to get a job?’” she said. “I like challenges. I like to start programs.”
At college, Charlotte met a science student named Harold Shaffer. After graduate school — she at University of Michigan and Case Western for social work, he at Toledo for biology — the couple married and settled in Toledo.
Harold became a professor at their alma mater, where he would teach for 40 years — the last 10 for free when the university ran out of money to pay him.
“[He stayed] because he loved it, and students wanted him to,” Charlotte said.
After Harold died in 2005, she found letters from grateful students tucked between the pages of old textbooks in his library.
“Students loved him, just loved him, because he was so good, and they liked how he taught,” she said.
The Shaffers never had children; instead, the community became her family, Charlotte said.
Her first position after school was director of the Toledo Volunteer Bureau. Organized, structured volunteerism was a new concept in the ’50s, she said, as was a woman at the helm.
“I believe in this community,” she said. “I wanted to do things with it, not for it. I wanted to be a part of this community.”
Around her was a diverse group of citizen leaders from all walks of life, rooted in solid, active families.
“There were some very strong people whose children aren’t here any more, or grandchildren,” she said.
Former colleague Billie Johnson said Charlotte taught her to work with eclectic groups.
“She just taught me to get along with people and engage others,” she said.
Charlotte moved next to the Toledo Council of Social Agencies — now the Community Planning Council — where she would work for 40 years.
Of all her projects there, the dearest to her is the AOoA, which she founded with Johnson, the current president and CEO, after several years laboring for state and federal support. Today, the AOoA serves 2,200 seniors in Northwest Ohio.
“That’s my baby,” she said. “That’s mine.”
Charlotte officially retired in 1992, but has worked as a volunteer for the past 19 years. She’s worked so hard for so long, she suspects she missed some enjoyment along the way.
“I loved every minute of it, but there were lots and lots of minutes,” she said.
But she’s not second-guessing her choices.
“It’s my way of life,” she said — a life led hand-in-hand with Harold, who volunteered at St. Vincent’s Hospital and the Red Cross after leaving UT as professor emeritus.
“I had the support of my husband to do all these things,” she said. “I’m not sure every husband would have had his wife out there doing everything.”
The community has supported her as well. Charlotte is one of three people to be made an honorary member of the Junior League of Toledo, a women’s service organization.
To Charlotte, the concept of community remains vital and full of potential for Toledo.
“We can’t live alone,” she said. “We can’t be isolated. … This is a good community, and I know as well as anybody the strengths and weaknesses of it. I don’t think there’s any difference now in the need to be involved, the need to respect people.”
Part of her contribution has been preparing others to take her place.
“She is someone who has served as a mentor and a guide for others who were coming up in the field,” said Pam Howell-Beach, executive director of the Stranahan Foundation.
Her last gift to the community will come at her death, when UT will establish an endowed chair in the Shaffers’ name in the Department of Biological Sciences.
“You can see I’ve been busy,” she said. “You probably think ‘Doesn’t that lady ever stay home?’ But I’ve slowed down some. It’s been a wonderful life.” O