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Donald A. Schaefer ’58

Born in 1928, Don grew up on a small farm in Klemme, Iowa, attending a one-room country school for the first eight grades. After high school, he was selected for the last Army Specialized Training Reserve Program, an accelerated program in pre-engineering and advanced military training at South Dakota State College, where he also excelled in boxing. After serving in the Army, he went to college at Upper Iowa University on the G.I. Bill, and earned his bachelor’s degree in math, physics, and philosophy in 1949. At Upper Iowa he met and married the college homecoming queen, Mary Freeman of McGregor, Iowa. He always maintained it was the most important thing that ever happened to him. They married in 1948 and were together for nearly 59 years, until her death in 2007.

Don taught math and science at Iowa’s West Union High School from 1949–1956. The family then moved to Bettendorf, where he taught physics, chemistry, and advanced science until 1990. He was one of 50 U.S. math and science teachers selected for the first NSF-sponsored Academic Year Institute at the University of Wisconsin, and earned a master’s in science education in 1957. That same year he was selected as one of the first 50 physics teachers to develop the new Physical Science Study Committee (PSSC) Physics course in U.S. high schools. Don did graduate work at various institutions from 1952 through 1985, including a graduate summer course at Reed in 1958.

Don was an instructor in NSF-sponsored programs for physics teachers and did research work in X-ray diffraction at Denver Research Institute. He and Prof. Byron Youtz [physics 1956-68] introduced the then-new PSSC physics course into Africa, teaching 85 science teachers in Rhodesia and Nyasaland. He helped introduce the new physics program into India as well, teaching physics teachers at North Bengal University and at Agra College.

In 1985, President Reagan presented Don with the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science Training. The Bettendorf Junior Chamber of Commerce gave him the Outstanding Educator Award, and he was accorded both the Excellence in Science Teaching and Excellence in Physics Teaching awards from the Iowa Academy of Science, where he was selected as a Fellow. He also received the Outstanding Educator Award from the University of Iowa.

He wrote a number of articles published in national publications and gave presentations at both regional and national science and physics teacher conventions. In 1959, the American Association of Physics Teachers selected Bettendorf High School as one of the top 10 high school physics department in the U.S. Don served as the first director of the planetarium at BHS from 1974 to 1990. The planetarium was named in his honor upon his retirement.

After retiring, Don served as a resident advocate volunteer for ManorCare Health Services and the Iowa Department on Aging to improve patient care in hospitals and to encourage communication between doctors and other medical people, which he believed could have saved his wife’s life.

As long as health permitted he and his son Steve went fishing, and owned a bass boat for many years. Don is survived by his sons Craig (Judith) of Terre Haute, Indiana, Thomas of Carrolton, Texas, and Jeffrey (Monique) of Richardson, Texas. His sons Randall, Steve, and Mark preceded him in death. He and Mary had 13 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Appeared in Reed magazine: March 2016

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