Stanley Shafar remodeled a kitchen, built a back porch and climbed ladders into his 80s. He took a Puma scooter for a ride when he was about 90. He went so fast he had to lean in on the corners.
Robust and barrel-chested, the engineer exuded the vitality and confidence of someone skilled at solving complex mechanical and engineering puzzles since the days when he was a master machinist with the Marines in World War II.
“Find the solution,” he used to say. He believed there were always ways to work around problems.
When Geraldine, his wife of 30 years, suddenly lost much of her sight to macular degeneration, he asked, “Can I donate an eye? Can I give her an eye?”
The ophthalmologist told him it wouldn’t do any good. Mr. Shafar knew the odds were against him always being there as her “seeing-eye husband.”
“Dad knew at some point he was going to die first because he was 10 years older,” said his son, Tom Shafar. “He said ‘Gerry, count your steps to the laundromat and you’ll know you’re there. Count your steps to the cafeteria.’ He always said find a solution, there’s a way.”
They lived at Presence Resurrection Retirement Home. There, “He taught her where the steps were, where the buttons were for the elevator. For the last nine months of his life, he taught her how to navigate alone. He made her one with this building,” said a stepson, Larry Fisher. “He made her open up the door with the key. He made her lead him to the dining room.”
“He wanted me to be dependent on myself,” his wife said. “He gave me a sense that I wouldn’t fall apart. That I would be able to cope with a lot of stuff.”
Mr. Shafar, 95, collapsed and died on Sept. 7 while preparing to head to an exercise class.
Thanks to their problem-solving, “I went down for the mail yesterday, today. I put it under my closed-circuit reader that [magnifies] it all up. What was junk mail, I threw out,” his wife said. “I’m able to get up. I’m able to make my breakfast.”
“He stayed on her and refused to let her be dependent,” said another stepson, Scott Fisher.
He was born to immigrant parents, George and Mary Shafar, tailors at Hart Schaffner Marx. His father once worked on a suit for President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Young Stanley picked up Croatian from his parents. When he and Gerry visited his parents’ European hometown, his fluency fooled locals into thinking he was born there.
The Shafars lived at 19th and Racine. They had the first radio in the neighborhood. Traffic would stop as people looked around to figure out where the voices and music were coming from, said his daughter, Carol Hageman. When he was 5, they moved to 26th and Cuyler in Berwyn. “Cows and chickens were two blocks away,” she said.
He excelled in machine shop and drafting classes at the old Morton High School. As a prank, he once took apart a friend’s Model T and left the parts in the garage — and was able to put it together again.
During World War II, he served in the Marines in Hawaii, working as a machinist. He figured out how to repair a massive crane by removing a shaft from a boat propeller and grinding it to size for 20 hours to create an axle for a pulley. And when military vehicles kept breaking down, he salvaged cast-iron sash weights from the base windows to make axle pins.
“He was a real MacGyver,” said another son, Paul Shafar. “He could fix things like you wouldn’t believe.”
Mr. Shafar returned home after the war and married Eleanor Maslowski in 1948. They had four children during a 25-year marriage that ended in divorce.
He taught engineering at the Illinois Institute of Technology and landed a job at Hotpoint, where he worked on an “egg carton” for refrigerators. He helped modernize the “ice box” design, creating square edges instead of rounded corners. Later in life, he worked at Reflector Hardware. He rose to be engineering director at Chicago Display, where he engineered store displays and shelving for Hostess snacks, gas stations and grocery stores.
Mr. Shafar coached his kids’ sports teams and enjoyed family vacations to Wisconsin, Florida, Georgia and Missouri.
At a Parents Without Partners event, he met Gerry Fisher, a widow. Throughout their lives together, “He always seemed to be holding her or touching her in some way,” Scott Fisher said.
He enjoyed playing the concertina and singing and dancing. Perhaps because of his Marine training, “Every minute of every day, his shoes were shined,” Scott Fisher said.
Mr. Shafar also is survived by another son, Larry, and 13 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. Services have been held.