By JANET HEIM
9:07 PM EST, January 8, 2011
If a sport involved a ball, Joe Shaffer liked watching it.
In his younger days, Joe did more than just watch the ball. The left-handed hurler known as “Lefty” pitched for Hagerstown High School until his graduation in 1934.
During his senior year, Joe’s team played the University of Maryland’s freshman team, with Joe pitching, and were headed for a win until the last inning. Joe was offered a scholarship, which he turned down, a decision he later regretted, said his wife, Charlotte.
He played in local leagues until he was picked up by a Detroit Tigers farm team in Pennsylvania. Joe had a brief call-up to the big leagues and remembered beating the New York Yankees 1-0 and seeing Babe Ruth, friend Jim Lobley said.
Joe quit after about a year to marry his first wife, Jane, in 1937. They had a son and a daughter and three grandchildren.
He was instrumental in starting Federal Little League and coached American and Federal Little League teams for 15 years.
Joe was on the Washington County Youth Commission and coached in the Hagerstown Junior Basketball League, serving for two terms as league president. He was inducted into the Washington County Sports Hall of Fame in 1996.
Joan Gardner of Newark, Del., remembers her father’s commitment to sports and athletics, although she didn’t share the same gift of athleticism. Instead, he supported her in other ways and was proud that she went to college and was successful professionally.
“For me, he was a great coach on a personal level ... He was very supportive. We stayed close until the end,” said Joan, who moved to Delaware after college.
She said they had a Sunday morning ritual — a 9:30 a.m. phone call.
“It didn’t matter where he was or where I was, even if we were traveling,” Joan said. “We connected, just reviewing the week.”
Joe was employed by Potomac Edison for 10 years, then worked for 35 years as a lineman supervisor for Chesapeake & Potomac, retiring in 1980.
After Jane’s death in 1974, Joe was a widower for 15 years before marrying Charlotte Clemson of Walkersville, Md., who was 22 years younger than he was. They were married 22 years and lived in Arborgate in Hagerstown.
“He always said, ‘It took me 15 years to find you,’” Charlotte said.
Joe had four stepgrandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
Charlotte, who had two grown sons, also worked for C&P, but they did not know each other through work. Instead, they met on a bus trip, with travel being a shared interest.
“He was always a young-spirited person,” Charlotte said. “He always gravitated to younger ideas.”
“He used to kid he was retired longer than he worked,” said Charlotte’s son Robert Clemson.
Joe’s interest in travel began at an early age. Both of his parents came to the United States from Hungary, his father arriving in 1902 and his mother in 1909.
They left behind two older daughters. Their three younger children were born in the United States. Joe, the youngest, was born on Valentine’s Day in 1915.
When Joe was 9, the family returned to Hungary for the wedding of one of their older daughters, with the intention of staying. Within three to four weeks, the family was back on a boat to the U.S. after the younger children protested the decision to stay in Hungary.
“They had dirt floors and no electricity,” Charlotte said. “The kids put up a fuss and they came back to the U.S.”
Charlotte said Joe recalled everyone on the ship going up to watch as they sailed past the Statue of Liberty in 1924.
Known for his gift of storytelling, Joe told the family about how when he and his mother went through Ellis Island, they saw people standing behind a fence, immigrants who had been rejected and would have to return to their home countries.
When Joe was stamped, he thought it meant he had been rejected and started screaming. But the stamp meant he had passed.
Joe and Charlotte relived that 1924 trip by sailing the same route on the Queen Mary, which took them five days.
A family visit to Ellis Island also was a highlight for Joe. Charlotte said they found the schematic of the Aquitania, the ship on which he sailed in 1924.
Charlotte did some research on the Internet through the Ellis Island website and got copies of the immigration documents, which showed the family’s last name was spelled Safar when they entered the U.S., but was changed to Shaffer.
Joe’s father, Frank, worked for the cement plant in Security and Joe never lived far from that area, Charlotte said.
When Joe retired in 1980, he joined the Hagerstown YMCA and became part of a social network of regular exercisers there.
“He loved those fellas at the Y,” Charlotte said. “He made a lot of friends.”
When Joe no longer could drive because of macular degeneration, Charlotte would drive him there and he often would get a ride back with one of his buddies, often Jim Lobley, chairman of the board and recently retired CEO of Hagerstown Kitchens.
Joe walked on the treadmill five to six days a week, followed by a session with weights. He continued that routine until about two years ago.
“If you told him he was lifting the weights wrong, he’d look at you and ask how old you were,” Jim said with a laugh.
Jim said there were men who exercised at the YMCA whether they were in the mood or not, knowing they would face Joe’s wrath if they didn’t.
“He inspired people to work out. He was a great guy,” Jim said. “The guys at the Y didn’t like him. They loved him.”
Both stepsons sought Joe’s advice before making job changes. Charlotte said Joe gave good advice, but it was up to the individual what they wanted to do with it.
Robert said Joe was a confidant for many people and that many friends’ secrets went to the grave with him.
A bout with shingles three years ago was the beginning of Joe’s downward health and he never quite recovered, Charlotte said. Charlotte said she promised she would take care of him at home as long as she could, a promise she was able to keep with the help of Hospice of Washington County and Adult Day Care Services.
“I always felt Joe made me a better person,” Charlotte said. “He always made me step back and look at things another way.”
Copyright © 2013, Herald Mail