September 14, 1946 – January 19, 2019
Joel Schafer was a no-nonsense man of action who knew how to enter a room.
His long, confident stride, twinkling blue eyes, mane of silver hair, and engaging
smile simply said, “I have arrived.” In fact, he would arrive in many places
throughout his life, including Africa, New Zealand, the Yukon, and the Northwest
Territories. Adventurous, dynamic, and bold, he was always on the move.
One of four rambunctious brothers, he graduated from Alliance High School in
1964, then attended the Denver National Electronics Institute. He went on to serve
for 10 years as a Navy Illustrator Draftsman, and cross-trained as a photographer.
Back home, he worked for the family business, Schafer Auto Supply, and built bridges
on the BN Railroad.
Joel loved to travel, and building bridges for BN soon became a 30-year career riding
the rails as a locomotive engineer for BNSF. Hunting, travel, and photography were
favorite past-times. An intelligent man, he loved to read and learn new things. He
did not shy away from a challenge, and when he became interested in making gunstocks,
well – he just taught himself how to do it. He was soon building custom gunstocks for
friends and family on his days off from his full-time work at BNSF.
He met his beautiful fellow adventurer, Barbara Green, while at work. They drove
trains together for three years before Joel, always straightforward and direct, asked her
if she would like to go squirrel hunting. She said yes. They married in 1982, and have
been hunting and traveling together ever since. Some of their favorite adventures
together were hunting trips to Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Tanzania, New Zealand, and
Alaska. They also toured Europe, and have journeyed everywhere around the United
States. Joel always said, “Barb is happiest when the wheels are turning.” They kept
them turning as much as possible, always together.
Upon retirement from BNSF in 2007, Joel became a full-time stockmaker. By this
point, he had become a skilled craftsman, and his work was in high demand. In 2013,
he wrote The Final Touch – A Complete Course in Gunstock Checkering, illustrated in
detail with his own photography. His book has sold in the U.S. and in 17 foreign countries.
Considered one of the leading experts on gunstock checkering, Joel wrote stockmaking
labs for the Sonoran Desert Institute Gunsmith School, was a professional member of the
American Custom Gunmakers Guild, and a past member of Firearms Engravers Guild of
America. In December 2018, Joel made the cover of Gunmaker Magazine, a very high
honor, of which he was very proud. He also wrote Photography Basics for Gunsmiths,
Engravers, and Collectors, a complete guide on the art of gun photography. Both of Joel’s
books – and the 5-star reviews – can be found on Amazon.com.
Joel was blessed with a very large family, which include his two sons, 5 stepchildren, 21
grandchildren, and 10 great-grandchildren. In fact, the 2018 Family Christmas Party was
attended by 47 – all family. Only 4 couldn’t make it. In addition to family, Joel was blessed
to have many close friends, near and far.
Whether on hunting excursions in exotic locations, or quietly checkering a gun, or writing a
new book, or visiting with close friends out in his shop, or enjoying a glass of wine, or driving
his wife to Dairy Queen in his 1951 red Chevy pick-up on a summer evening, Joel kept the
wheels turning in his life in many ways. He lived each moment fully, and on his own terms.
He also faced death boldly, and on his own terms. Although we can only wonder about his
new adventures, we are certain that Joel arrived, blue eyes twinkling, ready and curious,
with all of the confidence that he possessed in life.
Joel is survived by his loving wife Barbara of Alliance, NE; seven children (and their spouses):
Eric Schafer (Anne) of Fort Collins, CO; Thad Schafer of Medford, WI; Mary Theresa Green
(Tony Amill) of Alliance, NE; Stephani (Ed Pelton) of Chadron, NE; Amy (Ed Jensen) of
Alliance, NE; Eric Green of Tekamah, NE; Natalie (Shawn Miller) of Lakeside, NE; 21 grand=
children, and 10 great-grandchildren. He is also survived by brothers Rick Schafer of
Alliance, NE; Scott Schafer of Crawford, NE; Clint Schafer of North Platte, NE; many nieces,
nephews, and extended family, and countless friends.
A rosary will be held at 7:00 pm on Sunday, January 27, 2019, and funeral services will be at
10:00 am on Monday, January 28, 2019, both at Holy Rosary Catholic Church in Alliance, NE,
followed by a Celebration of Life party at the Eagles Club in Alliance.
In lieu of flowers or plants, the family kindly requests donations to be given in Joel’s name to
the Nebraska Humane Society online at www.nehumanesociety.org or to St. Jude Children’s
Research Hospital online at www.stjude.org