SIDNEY — Francis “Jerry” Schaffner, long-time secretary of the Shelby County Agricultural Society and manager of the Shelby County Fair, has died.
The 73-year-old Schaffner succumbed to internal bleeding and complications from a January tumor-removal surgery and passed away Monday, March 11, at Wilson Hospital.
He had been an employee of Sidney Tire for 56 years and had been fair board secretary since 1987.
On Friday, he will take one last tour of the fairgrounds he so loved.
Although full funeral plans were not complete at press time, Jason Schaffner, Jerry’s youngest son, said Monday that he thought visitation would be at Adams Funeral Home and the funeral service in the beige building on the fairgrounds.
“Then we’ll take him around the fairgrounds one last time in the hearse,” Jason said.
It will be a fitting end to an illustrious career. Jerry had been inducted into the Shelby County 4-H Hall of Fame in 2018, was named Secretary of the Year by the Greater Ohio Showman’s Association in 2013 and received the President’s Award from the Buckeye Farm Antiques Inc. in 2018.
“His passion for the fair, the kids and love of the county has got to be first and foremost,” said fair board President Jeremy Reese. “Literally, as soon as we ended one fair, he started on the next one, to make it better, make it bigger. He was always three steps ahead.”
During his tenure, Jerry oversaw the construction of the fair office and utility building, the current hog barn, a new restroom structure, the horse barn, and the 1,500-seat grandstand. He doubled the camping area and upgraded landscaping on the fairgrounds. He instituted the free entertainment tent.
His involvement with the county fair predated his fair board work, however. As a teen, growing up in Houston, he raised and showed dairy cattle and was the founding member of the Shelby County Rabbit Breeders.
He kept a 1959 photo hanging in his office, a picture of him with a steer he had entered in the junior fair that year.
His support of the junior fair never wavered.
“Whenever we needed something, he was the first one to jump,” said Judy Gaerke, of the Shelby County 4-H office. “Not only did he take care of all of the senior fair, he was such a proponent for all of the youth, not only at the fair, but for all activities throughout the year. He always had a smile to give. He was like a stepgrandfather to a lot of people.”
He became a father and grandfather figure to many of the people who knew him best.
“He treated me like a grandpa would. He bossed me around,” said Carol Pierce, a Sidney Daily News media consultant who worked closely with Schaffner in developing the annual fair book and the fair’s website.
“I lost my dad a year and a half ago. I lost my other dad, today,” said Sidney Tire owner Jeff Pollard. “Jerry was like my second dad.”
When the Pollard family bought Chiles Tire in 1987, Jerry had already been working there for almost 25 years. He had got the job when he was 18, right after graduation from Houston High School. It was the only job he ever held.
“He loved the tire store business,” Pollard said. Jerry was the service manager when Pollard’s father ran the business. Eventually, Jerry managed R&R Tire and co-managed Best One Tire, all owned by the Pollards.
“Jerry knew everyone. That was his strength. He had a memory like an elephant. He would remember everything,” Pollard said. “We would always play jokes on each other.”
Jerry was known for his jokes.
“A lot of them were ornery,” Pollard said. “He would get me all the time, and I would get him all the time, too. He loved jokes.”
Gaerke said that his daily visit to the Extension Office always included a joke.
“He would always make sure the day started in a good way,” she added.
“He had a kid heart. He was playful,” noted Pierce.
For instance, Jerry enjoyed kiddy cones from Dairy Queen and breakfasted frequently at Clancy’s.
“He always came in with a smile and was in a good mood. The area of the restaurant he sat in always got a little bit rowdier with his jokes and his funny stories every day,” said retired Clancy’s manager Gary Strasser. “If you wanted to know anything about any fair in the state, he could tell you.”
That was because his favorite pasttime was visiting other county fairs. A basketball standout in high school, in his later years, Jerry enjoyed pitching horseshoes and later still, playing cards with his friends. He also liked playing the lottery and appeared on the Ohio Lottery’s Cash Explosion television game show in 2016. But what he liked most of all to do was go to the fair.
“He had a lifetime of love with the fairgrounds,” said County Commissioner Tony Bornhorst, who is active in the Shelby County Pork Producers. “He gave his all, no doubt about that. He was just always there, always seeing if he could do things better for people to enjoy the fair. I always enjoyed our conversations. He had one-on-one relationships with everybody out there.”
“He always represented the fair, 24/7. He either had a (fair) hat or a shirt on. If you could have the epitome of the fair, it’s him. He never quit working on the fair. You’ll never get someone who loved the fair like him,” Pierce said.
His son, Jason, remembered that during the fair, if he wanted to get his dad’s attention, calling out “Dad,” wouldn’t get a response.
“You had to call him Jerry. He had the gift of gab, the gift of personality. People listened to him. I don’t think the city, county or the fair know how much he did for them. It wasn’t about how much he could make. It was how many lives he could touch,” Jason said.
“He touched many, many hearts,” Gaerke said. Reese and Pollard also appreciated Jerry’s unfailing honesty.
“He was a straight shooter,” Reese said.
Pollard noted that the most important thing he learned from his father and from his “second father” was that honesty is the best policy.
“Jerry Schaffner was what made the Shelby County Fair great,” said Shelby County Sheriff John Lenhart. “He was always postive and was a super nice guy. He’ll be missed.”
Reese said it would be hard to even begin to figure out what the fair board will miss the most.
“Jerry impacted so many lives, it would be hard to measure that. Countless times, you’d walk into the office and he’d be talking with a rep from another fair or a vendor. He was always out there keeping it going smooth. I don’t know anybody that knew Jerry that wasn’t a personal friend of his,” Reese said.
“He was a good guy, and his wife was a wonderful person, too,” Pierce said. Pat, Jerry’s high-school sweetheart, died in 2017. They had been married for almost 53 years. They raised three sons, Jason, Brian, both of Sidney, and Kevin, of Houston. Kevin now serves on the fair board.
“The amount of people in my lifetime that I’ve come across that have said, ‘You look like, you sound like, you act like your dad,’ is countless. Or others that say, ‘You’re a Schaffner,” just because they knew dad. (He) should still be here for a lot more years, but the man upstairs has his reasons for taking the ones we love, and I’d say Mom was telling Him to bring Dad up so they can continue what they started back in high school,” said Kevin in a Facebook post.
Gaerke noted that Jerry, himself, didn’t realize how much he meant to so many people.
“It’s amazing how one person can have such an impact and not know it. It’s hard to put into words,” she said. And then she did:
“Jerry Schaffner was a great man.”
Reach the writer at 937-538-4824.