St. Mary’s College enjoys a unique place in education because of the vision of former Governor William Donald Schaefer, who died Monday, April 18, at the age of 89. Schaefer, described as flamboyant and focused, caring and controversial, advanced the cause of the college in many ways, from enacting the college to charter status to proposing it become an honors college to serving on the college’s Board of Trustees.
“Governor Schaefer left a tremendous legacy for the college to build on,” said President Joseph R. Urgo. “Throughout his partnership with the college he championed our growth, allowing us to build high-quality facilities for students and advancing our unique charter and mission,” said Urgo. “The college will be forever a living legacy of his efforts.”
“I had the privilege of observing Governor Schaefer’s dedication, leadership skills, and commitment to our institution when our terms as trustees overlapped briefly,” said St. Mary’s Board of Trustees chair Molly Mahoney Matthews. “He was determined, effective, and cared deeply about our institution and we are grateful for his extraordinary contribution.”
The charter status ensures a block grant from the state to St. Mary’s each year and guarantees autonomy for the Board of Trustees. Schaefer also proposed that St. Mary’s become the state’s designated honors college. Both the honors and charter status were enacted by the state legislature in 1992, paving the way for the national attention St. Mary’s gets today.
“It’s a simple fact that St. Mary’s College would not be what it is today without the support and the many contributions of Don Schaefer as governor, trustee, and friend,” said Ted Lewis, college president from 1983 to 1995. “We owe him so much.”
“Don Schaefer laid the foundation for the honors college,” said former president Maggie O’Brien. “He also was a champion of women and the underdog. Coming in as a female president, when there were some detractors, he would take me by the arm and march me up like I was the most important person in the world. He was just terrific.”
A number of undergraduates have had a chance to have hands-on experience in public policy and service from the college’s Schaefer internship programs, including the Schaefer Internship for Government Service, the Schaefer Internship in the Office of the Comptroller, and the Schaefer Legislative Internship. “I think public service is the best job around,” Schaefer once said of the programs named in his honor. “Having the chance to be a part of government for a summer shows students that they do not have to be an elected official to affect change. You just need to get informed and speak up.”
In 1994, a new science building named after Schaefer was opened for students and faculty. The brick Tidewater-style building became the catalyst for the development of the college’s north campus. It was the first academic building in 15 years and the first upgrade of the science laboratories since the 1950s. According to a history of the building, Schaefer was on a tour of the antiquated science labs − then in the basement of Kent Hall − when he vowed he would fund a new science building if college officials promised to get him out of that basement.
Schaefer was appointed a trustee in 1995 and served until 2007. For his dedicated service, Schaefer was awarded the Order of Ark and Dove in the fall of 2007, the highest honor the college grants.