Dede Schaffner, the woman who dedicated her life to the public education and helping children in need, dies after short illness
Dede Schaffner was on the Seminole County School Board for 16 years, but she helped students in the county for a long time before and after that.
She started a parent-volunteer program almost 50 years ago. She also helped organize big fundraisers for public education and led efforts to give hungry children food bags on the weekends and high school students mentors, among other things.
Schaffner, who was 84 and lived in Longwood, died on January 27 after a short illness and stay in the hospital.
Friends and family said that Schaffner cared deeply about helping kids and was a kind but persuasive person who jumped in to solve problems.
She also cared a lot about education and went to college class by class while raising her three kids. She was also very focused on her family and made clothes for Barbie dolls, baked cookies from scratch, and accompanied high school band trips.
“She did all these great things for the community, but above all else, she was an amazing mom, grandma, and great grandma,” said Leslie Kleeb, her daughter from Oviedo.
Karen Almond, who served on the school board with Schaffner, said, “I’m going to miss her a lot, and so will a lot of other people.” “She had a hand in so many things that she will be missed. She leaves a lot behind.”
Schaffner was on the school board from 2000 to 2016, when she lost another re-election bid. However, she stayed involved in many community projects that helped kids even after she left the school board.
“Mom never stopped. “She has a lot of energy,” said Debra Smith, her daughter from Melbourne. “She fought hard for the school district, but what she really cared about was the kids.”
Schaffner was born in New Hampshire, but when she was 2 years old, her family moved to Clearwater. She was born and raised in that city on Tampa Bay. She went to Clearwater High School and met her late husband, Bill, there. They were in love in high school and were the drum major and majorette in the marching band.
Bill Schaffner went to college at the University of Florida while he and his wife were living in Gainesville. Dede worked at the college and took one class each semester. She kept doing this in Central Florida and eventually got her associate’s degree from what is now Seminole State College and her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Central Florida.
When Bill got a job in Central Florida in 1963, he moved his family to Seminole County. Bill was on his way to becoming a top manager at an insurance company. In 1996, he died of cancer.
Schaffner was a traditional stay-at-home mom when her three kids were young. She made dresses for her daughters and their dolls that matched, helped with homework and activities, and cooked and baked for her family.
Her homemade cookies were famous, and her son, also named Bill, remembered that she always brought him a batch when she came to visit him at the University of Florida. Years later, whenever he came from North Carolina to see her, she would have freshly baked cookies ready for him.
Schaffner loved her family very much, according to her children. She helped her kids through the “valleys of life” by supporting and encouraging them. She was the same way with her six grandchildren, and she was so excited to spend time with three of her now-five great-grandchildren on her annual trip to the mountains of North Carolina in December.
Bill Schaffner said, “She had the biggest smile on her face.”
In the early 1970s, Schaffner was a mother with children in public schools. She saw that the schools needed help and put together a small group of parents to help. In 1973, the program that would become Seminole County Public Schools’ Dividends began with 17 volunteers in her Altamonte Springs home.
About 30,000 people volunteer for the program, which has won state and national awards. In the end, the school district hired Schaffner to run the program, and it is still run by the district.
Jane Lane, who worked with Schaffner, said, “She was a powerful force.”
Schaffner worked to improve celebrations for employees on the job. He wanted to make sure that everyone felt appreciated, especially the “unsung heroes” like maintenance workers and teachers’ aides. She also helped start the district’s “Arts Alive” event, which raises money for school arts programs. She and her husband also organize an annual auction for Seminole State.
Lane said, “If she could help, she was there.” “She was kind, generous, and excited, and before you knew it, you’d agreed to do something,” she said with a laugh.
Schaffner heard that some kids who depended on school lunches went hungry on the weekends, so she set up a way for churches and community groups to give food that kids could take home on Friday afternoons.
She worked to find mentors for teens who were in danger and scholarships for high school seniors who had to overcome a lot to get their diplomas. She also helped raise money for Midway Safe Harbor, a place that works with the Boys & Girls Club to offer academic and enrichment activities for kids in that low-income neighborhood after school.
Her son said, “She had a special way of not only coming up with ways to help kids but also getting other people to join in.”
She was involved with the Steinway Society of Central Florida, the League of Women Voters, the Suburban Republican Women’s Club, and other groups over the years.
Bill Schaffner said that when his mother was on the school board, he sometimes told her to step down, but she wasn’t interested. Even after she moved away, she didn’t stop helping the community.
“She didn’t have a job. Making a difference was what she was all about. It was her life’s work.”
The family will have a celebration of life at Northland Church in Longwood at 11 a.m. on Saturday. Through the Seminole County Public Schools Foundation, it has also set up a Dede Schaffner Follow Your Dreams Scholarship.