By Clark Fair
Had Boyd Shaffer been less dedicated to or enthusiastic about teaching, his early experience as an itinerant art instructor for Kenai Peninsula Community College might have defeated him.
During the fall of 1966, the 41-year-old Shaffer, a Forest Service foreman, would turn loose his crew at 5 p.m., rush to his Moose Pass home to shower, and then drive his Jeep 30 miles to Seward to teach a 6:30 class. The next day, he would drive 75 miles to Kenai to teach another class at 7 p.m. When his students left, sometimes as late as 10 p.m., he’d make the long, dark drive home to get enough sleep to power him through another day.
Shaffer certainly didn’t stick with this part-time college gig because he wanted to get rich. At first, in fact, he was paid nothing for his teaching and received no compensation for his commute, which he did regardless of weather.
“The whole thing was on my dime,” he said.
And he never canceled a class.
When the college opened its campus near Soldotna in 1972, KPCC Director Clayton Brockel asked Shaffer to move closer to the school so he could teach full time and during the day. Shaffer promptly gave his two-week notice to the Forest Service and moved west.
Shaffer, who will be 88 in October, excelled at art and was curious about nature at an early age. He was raised in Salt Lake City by, “People of the earth, people who knew what they needed to survive,” he said, and they germinated in him the interests that would buoy him throughout his life.
“I started to find as I grew up that there were too many things I didn’t know,” he said. “So I started reading books — about every living thing, about every kind of animal. I was as interested in, say, tigers in Bengal as anything else.”
Also, said Shaffer, “I was a taster. I tasted everything. I was eating all my mother’s nasturtiums before I even knew they were edible. … I could live off the land (in Utah) when I was 16 years old.”
Before he was in his teens, Shaffer began applying his burgeoning art skills to his love of nature. He sketched what he observed. He examined structures and painstakingly recorded them on paper. He pulled apart plants and drew their contents. And with the help of neighborhood specialists, he also learned the arts of taxidermy and falconry.
“By the time I was 12 years old,” he said, “I knew every bird in Utah by sight and was a member of the Utah Audubon Society.”