Cecelia M. Shafer

Cecelia M. Shafer

KNOX — Cecelia Shafer gave cards and conversation — for any occasion and anyone dear — and didn’t expect anything in return.

Her blue eyes and smile greeted customers of The Altamont Supermarket, acquaintances at the Knox Volunteer Fire Company Ladies’ Auxiliary, or members of St. Lucy’s Church in Altamont.

“Ceil’s life was about people,” her family wrote in a tribute.

“Her sweet smile and talkative manner combined with her habit for committing random acts of kindness endeared her to those whose lives she touched, no matter how briefly,” her family wrote.

Cecelia Marya Shafer died on Tuesday, March 11, 2014 at the Daughters of Sarah Nursing Center. She was 89.

Standing at her ironing board in her daughter’s living room, Mrs. Shafer watched life play out through a picture window.

She was constantly thinking about and interested in other people, and she could read them from a distance, said her daughter, Dawn Shafer.

The only daughter of Polish immigrants in Schenectady, Mrs. Shafer smiled and talked with almost anyone she encountered.

“I really think she had to have been born with it,” her youngest child, Ms. Shafer, said of her mother’s gregarious nature. “I think…she had those skills when she went to the country, and that’s what helped her adapt and survive in a foreign environment.”

She was born on Sept. 8, 1924 to Paul and Josephine (née Pogroszewski) Bieleski and grew up in a Polish Catholic community in the Mont Pleasant neighborhood of Schenectady. She was the youngest of seven siblings, with six older brothers.

“She always said her father absolutely adored her,” Ms. Shafer said. “She always felt very loved by her father and mother, and maybe that’s why she was so good with us.”

Polish was her first language. First in St. Adalbert’s grammar school, then in St. Joseph’s Academy, Mrs. Shafer enjoyed studying math and English. She debated, read Polish poetry, and participated in public speaking in school. Throughout her life, Mrs. Shafer wrote with a spelling dictionary at hand, insistent on not making a mistake.

“My mom taught me more grammar than I learned in school,” said Ms. Shafer, who graduated from The College of Saint Rose.

Mrs. Shafer graduated as the salutatorian of her high school class and was offered a scholarship to attend Saint Rose in Albany. She didn’t take it.

“She decided she would rather go out into the workforce and make a living and become independent,” her daughter said.

After disliking work as an operator at a phone company, a young Mrs. Shafer answered an ad for a bookkeeper at the Amsterdam Dairy. There, she met Howard W. Shafer, who hauled and tested milk for dairies and lived on a farm in Knox.

“She said that was what she was meant to do because that’s where she met my dad,” Ms. Shafer said. They were married on Sept. 19, 1943, “in the rectory of St. Joseph’s Church,” her daughter said. “My mom was Catholic, and my dad was not, so they could not be married in the church itself.”

Her father disliked Mrs. Shafer marrying outside of her religion, her daughter said, but Mrs. Shafer said she was in love. She called Mr. Shafer her soul mate.

“She always kept her faith in her heart,” her daughter said.

Mr. Shafer worked as a road maintenance foreman with the New York State Thruway Authority, starting in the late 1950s; he died in January 2000.

Mrs. Shafer moved to her husband’s home on Township Road — a property known for its distinctive red barn which he painted with white stripes — where she would live the rest of her life. She went from being able to walk to the grocery store and take a bus, to living in the country, taking care of their home, and not being able to drive for the first several years. At first, she didn’t know anyone, her daughter said.

Following her mother-in-law’s social visits to neighbors, relatives, and friends, Mrs. Shafer listened to people talk and learned about “who was who, and what to ask,” her daughter said.

“Maybe it was her social skills that helped her to adapt,” said Dawn Shafer.

Mrs. Shafer took a lot of pride in keeping her home in Knox clean and pretty. She liked having everything in place.

“She said that, growing up, her family didn’t have a lot, and she liked nice things, and she just wanted to work hard so she could have nice things,” her daughter recalled. “My grandfather, her father, owned some property in one of the nicer parts of Schenectady. He would always say, ‘One day, I’m going to build us a really nice house there.”

Mrs. Shafer worked at The Altamont Supermarket for almost a decade and, later, took temporary clerk jobs with the state. She cleaned houses for several families over two decades until her husband became sick in 1999. She enjoyed cleaning and became an adjunct member of the families for which she worked, Ms. Shafer said, giving their children Christmas and birthday presents.

Ironing was effortless and an art form for Mrs. Shafer.

“She would take something and hang it up, and it was like she had created a painting,” she said. “The body was the canvas you would put her artwork on.”

Ms. Shafer said her mother saw her children’s successes as her own. She was able to pick up a conversation about a new sweater, or the weather, but also to console someone. She had a calm voice.

“Whenever anything went right in my life, she was the first person I wanted to tell,” said Ms. Shafer.

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Cecelia Shafer is survived by her three children, Howard A. Shafer and his wife, Susan (née Giebitz), of Selkirk, Roger Shafer and his wife, Luanne (née Webert) of Monroe in Orange County, and Dawn Shafer of Albany; her grandchildren, Cherie Shafer Hornsby and her husband, Scott, of Shaker Heights, Ohio, Michael Shafer and his wife, Tiffany (née Leam), of Schenectady, Jessyca Shafer and her fiancé, Christopher Snellinger, of Albany, and Hillari, Maryssa, and Jakob Patschureck of Albany.  She is also survived by her great-grandchildren, Sloane Hornsby, Ivy Hornsby, and Jennifer Shafer; her brother-in-law, Raymond Shafer; her sisters-in-law, Shirley Shafer and Corinne Blake; and several nieces and nephews. 

In addition to her parents and husband, her brothers — John Bieleski, Casimir Bieleski, Peter Bieleski, Chester Bieleski, and Bernard Bieleski, and August Blake — died before her.

Calling hours will be held on Friday, March 14, from 5 to 8 p.m. at the Fredendall Funeral Home, 199 Main Street in Altamont. A service to celebrate her life will be held at 10:30 am on Saturday, March 15, at the funeral home with Pastor Wendy Cook. Interment will be in Memory Gardens Cemetery in Albany.

Memorial contributions may be made to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, 501 St. Jude Place, Memphis, TN  38105.

— Marcello Iaia

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