Syracuse University Magazine

A Family's Journey through SU

By Peter Schaefer

schaefer family

After more than a century, my family finally bought a piece of Syracuse University. Last fall, we purchased a paving stone for the Orange Grove; and this spring, my son Austin will graduate from SU-just as I did in 1968.

In May, he will leave the FIJI House and head south to his family home in Washington, D.C.  Having two generations attend a particular school is hardly remarkable, but it is of some note that, in 1907, Austin's great-grandfather, Herbert W. Schaefer, also graduated from Syracuse, left the FIJI house, and headed south. But in my grandfather's case, it was to go to Wall Street, where he used his Syracuse education to found a successful brokerage, H.W. Schaefer & Co., which prospered until his death in 1948.

"HW" was the first of what his sister believed to be more than a dozen of our family members to attend SU, including my uncle before me and his daughter afterward. But my family's involvement in SU is more than just a few passages to a bachelor's degree. My grandfather also served as a trustee of the University, and for years the family lore was that he was the one who was dispatched in 1942 by his fellow trustees to offer William P. Tolley the Chancellor's position at Syracuse. The story went that he flew to Allegheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania, in an old Ford Tri-Motor. Considering Tolley's impact on SU, it appears the mission was a success. But was it him?

I learned the answer in 1988, at my 20th reunion, when I attended the Arents Award dinner to see my classmate, artist Candace Bahouth, being honored. Chancellor Tolley was also in attendance at the event. He was old and frail and in a wheelchair, and I was reluctant to approach him. No one in the crowd was talking with him, since even in his diminished condition he seemed larger than life. But finally with some circumspection I asked his attendant if I might speak with him, and she said, "Yes."

I worried over whether he'd be able to understand me, but I introduced myself, explained that I had graduated a year before he retired, and then told him who my grandfather was, using the formal "Herbert." At that time, Austin was only 4 months old, so I couldn't predict his future matriculation; but I did tell Chancellor Tolley our family story about his recruitment to the Chancellorship. He looked at me and smiled, and using the familiar "Herb," he said that, yes, it was my grandfather who made the offer. We chatted for a minute or two longer before he was wheeled to his table. But my sense was that everyone in the room, including Tolley himself, understood that he had engineered the rise of SU from a small Methodist university in Central New York to a major university with global reach.

Austin started his freshman year in 2006, exactly one century after his great-grandfather entered his senior year. Sadly, my grandfather died at a relatively young age, before he could fully repay SU for its service to him, so there is no H.W. Schaefer Building on campus. And I am sorry to report that it is unlikely there will be a P.F. Schaefer Building either. I suppose the only mark of my passing through here will be that paving stone in the Orange Grove, which says, "Four generations and counting." But Syracuse's mark on me has been deep, and will no doubt be formative in Austin's life as well. The A.D. Schaefer Building? Who knows?

Peter Schaefer ‘68, pictured with son Austin ‘10 and wife Diane, is founder of the GlobaLand Group, a Washington, D.C.-based firm committed to building public-private partnerships that address the needs of the world's poor.