Philosopher Thankful for Nature - Grand Island Peaceful Amid Strife

By Richard Hayford

Buffalo News late 1930s

   Andrew Shaffer, country philosopher of Grand Island, is one man in these states who observes Thanksgiving day in a peculiar and, to him at least, most benefiting manner. "Andy" gets up on the last Thursday in November at sunrise, walks down a little dusty road, to meditate and coin a Thanksgiving motto, why to be happy and grateful.
   He has done it for many a year now and, perhaps, that's the reason he's a philosopher - a man loving truth, beauty and the open road. Andrew Shaffer is just like that.
   The fact that Andrew Shaffer coins a Thanksgiving motto at sunrise has been a secret for years; it leaked out some time ago, when the Grand Islander met a Buffalo artist in search of color. They walked to a hard frozen road, with a little wooden church in the background, clumps of trees and some barns.
Spot Put on Canvas
   "It is here where I greeted Thanksgiving day first at sunrise," he told Eugene Dyczkowski, who at that time was president of the Buffalo Society of Artists. "It was a fine morning, and the sun, as big as a turkey raffle wheel, shone red through the haze. The birds twittered in the bushes and, suddenly, I felt like shouting. The world seemed a mighty good place to live in; before I knew it, I heard myself hollering into the treetops;
" 'Praise Him for living!' "
   "Andy" says he never forgot that day, every Thanksgiving morn finds him in the same spot, now put on canvas by Mr. Dyczkowski - rain or shine, coining a new Thanksgiving slogan.
   To Seek peace of mind and harmony within one's self is "Andy's" simple philosophy.
Explored Island as a Boy
   "It escapes most people," he says. "They don't know the joy that comes with knowing peace and living in harmony with one's self, one's neighbors and with nature. The material things in life seem less important then. At peace with God and the world, a muddy little road assumes poetic proportions, even on a bleak November day. I have no yearning for modern highways of speed and noise."
   In boyhood he had explored the island with other boys. Many of them since went away, but he stayed.
   "We walked to Buckhorn island and swam in Burnt Ship creek," he says. "Our history books told us of old battles and we went down into muddy waters to find sunken ships and cannon balls on decks of old hulls. Those were thrilling days!"
Knew the Gay '90s
   Grand Island past and present is to this philosopher the Alpha and Omega of life. He extols its bucolic peace, its history and its scenic grandeur by the sweeping Niagara. He remembers more or less the gay '90s, when picnickers crossed the river in scows, drawn by hissing tugs, making the round tour. He remembers the fine estates and sweeping lawns, the yachts on the blue water, and the Bedell House where merriment reigned.
   "The island has changed," he admits. "The old ferries are no more. Man is always in a hurry to get somewhere, always wanting to change things, tired of the old. He chops down trees to widen a road, tears down an ancient home to make room for a parking lot.
Disturbed by Bridges
   "The twin bridges may be grand and they certainly look grand but they have disturbed us, at least those of us who enjoyed a lifetime of unquestioned elbow room. We don't feel quite as separated from the bustling world any longer."
   "Such pessimism may tint your next Thursday slogan," he was warned. But "Andy" shook his head.
   "There's still plenty of elbow room," he smiled. "No reason to sulk. Take Europe. Half a million people, or more, made homeless over night. It was more than a hundred years back when Maj. Noah came to Buffalo, with an eye on our island, to make it a refuge for homeless Hebrews all over the world. He carried a cornerstone with him to build an Ararat near where I stand now."
Earth Still God's Footstool
   "A minister laid the stone upon the communion table in St. Paul's church. There were sermons and speeches, parades and band music, canon salvos and the militia. The refugees never came and the island remained sparsely inhabited. That was 113 years ago.
   The philosopher paused, drawing blue smoke from his pipe.
   The earth is still God's footstool," he continued, "and we quarrel because of hatred and intolerance. At any rate, Ill be back on my little road, Thursday morning at dawn, and I believe this time I'll be specially thankful - for living on Grand Island where peace and order and poetry dwell in triple harmony!"