Schaffer’s Valentine Ball
Marilyn and Frank Schaffer, now both in their early 80s, married 63 years and the parents of five successful sons and 11 grandchildren, have lived on the Peninsula for more than 51 of those years, all of which are major accomplishments.
And soon, another kudo will be heaped on their overflowing life for their service to Bravo and other support groups as the Norris Center for the Performing Arts honors them with the Kenneth T. Norris “Key to Our Heart Award” at its 21st annual Valentine Ball, Sunday, Feb. 14, at the Terranea Resort.
Marilyn was a member of the Norris Board of Trustees for six years, and Frank is co-founder and financial supporter of Cabaret Jazz, now in its 10th year. In addition to Bravo, the couple has been longtime supporters of Encore Circle and Chorusliners at the Center.
Even the Forum and outdoor Terrace at the Harlene J. Norris Pavilion bear their name, thanks to a generous gift from their sons toward the building of the Pavilion, according to the couple.
The Schaffers recently recounted their life journey during an interview in their Palos Verdes Estates home of 25 years, which boasts a broad view of the coastline and is surrounded by lush landscaping. Their living room is naturally filled with photos of their large family, one section devoted exclusively to five separate wedding pictures perched proudly on a corner grand piano.
In a phrase, they are enjoying a very comfortable retirement.
But all was not comfort and joy as they were growing up and moving through the years.
According to Frank, both were children of the Depression, and both were born in boroughs of New York City. “I was born in the Bronx,” explained Marilyn. “And my father sold things from a cart,” added Frank, who noted that several relatives lived with the family as he was growing up.”
Marilyn and Frank met at a dance in 1944, they said. She was 17 and he was 18. But World War II found him in France where he served in the Counter Intelligence Corps in Germany, he noted. As good fortune would have it, “I happened to be in Paris when the war ended,” he said with a broad smile.
And Marilyn was waiting for him back in the States. Their marriage took place in New York City in 1946—she was 19 and he was 20. Now discharged from service, Frank found himself taking advantage of the GI Bill of Rights.
Marilyn, who had started her college days at then City College (now University) of New York while Frank was overseas, said she had wanted to be a nurse. “But my family discouraged me. They said I’d just be scrubbing floors.” So she set out to obtain a degree in accounting. Once married, however, “I stopped college and found a job to help Frank through school. We lived in a tiny apartment in the city, but we could walk to Central Park and the museums [for amusement].”
But their confined circumstances didn’t last, because Frank received a degree in special education in 1950 from New York University. Fortunately for him, he said, there were lots of such jobs available all over the country. And he chose one in San Diego County in the small community of Lakeside, where they stayed for three years.
“We were promised a house,” Marilyn said, which was a great incentive after their tiny city digs. And so it was that the couple moved to California soon after graduation. “Our house with one bedroom was in the middle of an avocado orchard,” Frank explained. “And I was pregnant with our first child,” Marilyn added.
Among Frank’s other career moves during his long career in education was one to Porterville where he was principal at Porterville State Hospital for three years. “I took a state Civil Service test as a reading specialist, came in first, so we moved there. But I am first of all a teacher, and felt the need to leave administration,” he explained. “We also wanted to return to family and friends in the southern part of the state.”
And so he contacted the California Teachers Association and, in 1957, obtained a job as a reading specialist at Miraleste Elementary School in the Palos Verdes Unified School District. Not long after, he found himself working at other schools in the district, but, he said, “We still owned a home in Anaheim, so I commuted from there for three years.”
Not satisfied with this arrangement, Frank explained, “I got to school early every morning to check the real estate ads. One morning I found a house for sale only two blocks from where I was teaching. I found the owner in her bathrobe. She showed me the house, and I put $500 down, dependent on Marilyn’s approval.”
Marilyn approved. They bought a 1,200 square-foot home in the Grandview Area of the Peninsula in 1959. The growing family now boasted five sons, and Frank remained with the district until 1975.
During that period, he said he did after-school tutoring, and also found himself an adjunct professor at a branch of Pepperdine University, which, at the time had quarters in Malaga Cove. “I was teaching students how to teach reading,” he explained, “and one day a student suggested I put my lectures in written form. She complained that I talked too fast and she couldn’t read my writing on the board.”
Her idea struck a chord with the couple. So. during Christmas vacation in 1973, Frank said he wrote a 100-page booklet called “Fun and Games With Reading,” had 1,000 printed, and Marilyn took the bundle to a California Teachers’ Association meeting at the Biltmore Hotel. “She called to tell me they’d sold out,” Frank said. And Frank Schaffer Publications was launched.
“I instinctively knew about marketing,” Frank said, “and Marilyn took over the business side.” As the company grew, it moved to several different locations in the South Bay, he added. By 1994, Frank Schaffer Publications had 100 employees, and, he noted with understandable pride, “We were the most successful publisher in the country of supplementary publications for teachers.”
Such success brought a suitor. The Toronto Star bought the company in 1994, Frank said. It was subsequently sold to McGraw-Hill.
The sale freed that Schaffers to pursue their personal interests. In addition to travel and their involvement with the Norris support groups, Frank has continued his passion for photography, foreign cinema, and “all music, especially jazz.”
Marilyn, of course, is a world traveler as well. Bridge, needlework and reading are her other hobbies. Both say they enjoy “pampering their grandchildren.”
Three of the couple’s five sons and their families live in Orange County; their winemaker son and his family live in Los Olivos, and yet another son in France.
And now as the Valentine Ball approaches, Marilyn and Frank Schaffer are looking forward to being reunited at the big event with all their children, their spouses and grandchildren—“all but the two-year-old,” he said.
As for their party garb. Marilyn said she’s admired a friend’s dress, so “I’m getting the same thing in mauve.” Frank acknowledged he just “might get another tuxedo.”
Seems the right thing to do.
Tickets for the Valentine Ball, this year entitled “Monte Carlo Madness,” are $185 each, and can be obtained by calling Myla Azer at 310-483-9248.