When someone first suggested he become historian for the town of Rotterdam, Jim Schaefer admits he never balked at the idea.
"I always had a feel for the history of this area, and my father was very active in all kinds of things,” said Schaefer. “I inherited a lot of knowledge from him, and it felt kind of natural for me to say yes.”
Schaefer's father was atmospheric scientist Vincent Shaefer, an assistant to 1932 Nobel Prize winner Irving Langmuir at what is now called GE Global Research. Also the nephew of master home builder and Adirondack advocate Paul Schaefer, Jim Schaefer was named town historian earlier this month. He replaces John Woodward, the former long-time Schenectady County Clerk who had taken over the position in January of 2017. Woodward, who will remain deputy historian for Schenectady County, resigned from his town position to devote more time as chairman of the Rotterdam Bicentennial Committee.
"Dr. Schaefer has been one of our most active members in our citizen's bicentennnial committee," said Woodward, who is spearheading the group planning the 200th anniversary celebration of the formation of the town of Rotterdam. "He has a comprehensive knowledge of Rotterdam history and will be a great asset to the town and the historic community. We are fortunate to have him in this position."
Schaefer said he was happy to join the bicentennial committee when Woodward asked him earlier this year, and is looking forward to his new position as town historian. While he has spent most of his life in the academic world, he and his wife, Kim, currently run an estate sale business.
"History has always been interesting to me, and I'm looking forward to getting my head around this job and learning what my responsibilities are," said Schaefer. "This town is very important to me. I'm living in the house I grew up in. I also need to get to know all the existing files, do my own research, and then start a history blog about Rotterdam and hopefully pump those out once a week."
A Rotterdam native, Schaefer is a high school graduate of Christian Brothers Academy. He headed west to the University of Montana in Missoula to get a degree in anthropology, and then earned his masters and doctorate in cultural anthropology at SUNY-Buffalo.
"I started at Montana majoring in forestry, but then I switched majors to anthropology," said Schaefer, whose entire family are avid skiers. "I spent most of my life in the academic world, and I became an expert in alcoholism, creating abuse prevention programs at SUNY Central, and teaching anthropology at Union College. One of the things I want to research now is the history of bars and speakeasies in the town of Rotterdam."
Schaefer also had long stints with his alma mater in Montana and with the University of Minnesota. He worked part-time at Union College from 1994-2014, teaching courses on applied anthropology and North American Indians.
"I moved back here after my parents passed away," said Schaefer, who also taught for a year in India as a Senior Fulbright Lecturer. "I loved the Northwest because I was out there for a time with my father, who also loved the mountains. But we love this area, and it's an important year for Rotterdam. I'm looking forward to the anniversary and helping out any way I can."
The area that now encompasses the town of Rotterdam became the city's third ward when Schenectady was incorporated as a city in 1798. After the county of Schenectady was created in 1809 - it had been part of Albany County - the town of Rotterdam was formed in 1820, as was the town of Glenville.
Woodward, the long-time Schenectady County clerk before retiring two years ago, became the town of Rotterdam historian in January of 2017. The position had been vacant for two years before Woodward stepped in. Ron Severson and Tim Bradt had been interim historians for a year, succeeding Dick Whalen, who retired in 2012 after 30 years in the post. Whalen began his long career as the town's historian when he succeeded William Bowers in 1982.
Woodward, Schaefer and others have been busy planning the 200th anniversary celebration since last summer.
"We have a dedicated group of town residents who have been meeting and planning the celebration," said Woodward. "There will be a dinner, a parade, we'll have banners around town and educational seminars with the cooperation of the Schenectady County Historical Society and the Mabee Farm."