Obituary: Jerome A. Schaffer / Constant adventurer, free spirit, store Santa
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The difference between Jay Schaffer and so many of us is a matter of wills.
Instead of writing a bucket list he would never complete, he quit his day job in his 30s to live it. Adopting a noncommittal lifestyle, he took on seasonal work to explore the world.
"We all want to do things and some of us are perhaps too hesitant, too cautious," said his lifelong friend, Jerry Fuchs, 70, of Atlanta. "Jay had the ability to take those risks."
The adventure Mr. Schaffer called life ended Dec. 31. He was 70 and suffered from a rare neuro-degenerative disease.
His essence lives on in a memoir, "Stepping Out of the Parade," published on his travels in 2006. It details how he ran with the bulls in Spain, biked across America, attended the Olympic Games in Lake Placid and Salt Lake, stocked medicine cabinets at a hospital in Israel, lazed on nearly 50 Caribbean islands and flew over an erupting volcano in Iceland shooting pictures alongside a National Geographic photographer.
The means to achieve these dreams are just as interesting. He was a jitney driver during the Olympics, a tour director in Washington, D.C., a gift shop employee in St. Johns, a guard at archaeological sites near the Grand Canyon and Santa Claus at Kauffman's and later Macy's for 30 years.
Despite a nomadic lifestyle, some things, such as his faith and the Wilkins address that served as home-base, remained constant.
"He was really, for all of his wandering and wildness, very devoted to his family," said his sister, Judith Webber, 72, of Philadelphia.
Mr. Schaffer grew up in Carrick and studied business at Duquesne University, where he joined the rifle club and served as an officer of the American Marketing Association.
Upon graduation, he trained for the Peace Corps, but was not accepted, Ms. Webber said.
"It was because he loved to travel but he loved to be on his own," she said. "To him traveling was a freedom of spirit and he would lose that spirit in the Peace Corps because it was regimented." The same reasoning could be applied to his decision to never marry or have children.
He worked as a computer operator for the IRS in Martinsburg, W.Va., for more than a decade. When he couldn't get time off to commemorate the American bicentennial in 1976 by riding his bike across the country alongside covered wagons, he quit and his adventure began.
His friend Bill Buettner, 70, of Allison Park, said Mr. Schaffer started the cycling trek with an associate. She wanted to see how fast she could complete the journey and did so in a month. He took three.
In his typical travel style, he followed his own path -- veering whenever he pleased -- and was taken in by the locals.
"He traveled close to the earth and close to the people with very little money and very little possessions," Ms. Webber said. "My brother was an adventurer."
The path less pedaled wasn't perfect.
Travel provided a means to escape and when his illness began to affect his motor skills and cause dementia, he had trouble letting go of his lifestyle.
"When you're stressed or depressed you just deal with it," she said. "He never had to deal with it. He just hopped on a plane and got away."
She said his last trip, where he crossed the border from Lebanon into Syria a few years ago, was ill-advised, but he was too stubborn to listen.
Moving to a senior community nine months ago and giving up his job as Santa were difficult for him.
"He liked that because he was a kid at heart," Mr. Buettner said.
Mr. Schaffer is survived by Ms. Webber and her family.
Funeral services were held Friday.
First Published January 5, 2013 12:00 am