A vision of service—in the service of vision
This story was written by Charles McNair.
Dr. Jack Schaeffer (BBA ’72) first visited the University of Georgia on a football weekend.
“I always thought I’d go to Tulane,” he recalled. “But the experience at a Georgia-Vanderbilt game and that whole weekend changed me. In my mind, I’ve never left Athens, Georgia, since. UGA is the greatest thing that ever happened to me.”
Jack’s three children had similar insights.
Dr. Brooke Schaeffer Kaplan (BS ’03) planned to attend the University of Texas, but she took time to visit a cousin’s sorority house at UGA.
“I got to campus, and I knew it was where I was supposed to be,” Brooke said. “I felt that sense of community. I was searching for a sense of belonging—UGA made me feel the way I wanted to feel.”
Dr. Mark Schaeffer (BBA ’06) knew UGA’s pull long before he arrived as a student.
The Schaeffers had cheered at Georgia football games for years from a family suite at the UGA Center for Continuing Education. The day Mark walked onto campus as a student, he already felt like an ambassador for the school—and then he was one, becoming a Visitor Center tour guide.
“I was an official representative of UGA,” he said. “It was so rewarding to just talk about how great UGA is. I felt like I helped high school visitors decide to come to college here.”
Dr. David Schaeffer (BS ’12) is the most recent family UGA alum. Though he’d been accepted at another prestigious university, he just couldn’t imagine himself there.
“I’d gone to Athens dozens and dozens of times,” he said. “I didn’t have to picture myself there. I just felt like I already was there.”
The eyes have it
All four Schaeffers, two generations, followed their 20/20 UGA visions into the same field of study: optometry.
Jack set up practice as founder and CEO of Schaeffer Eye Center in Birmingham, Alabama, after advanced study at Southern College of Optometry. His firm grew to 18 locations and a refractive laser center before he sold it to MyEyeDr in 2017.
The Schaeffer kids grew up in a world of eye charts, lenses, and frames.
“Schaeffer Eye Center was basically a family business,” Jack said. “All my children participated in the practice. And they all understood we were not only an eye clinic, but a community company.
“We cared for patients. We cared for families. We cared for our communities. We always believed in being something bigger than just a business.”
UGA focused the Schaeffers on service
Brooke works today as a clinical assistant professor at UAB in addition to practicing optometry at MyEyeDr as a market clinical manager. Mark serves not only in MyEyeDr but also within the larger optometric community as a board member of the Intrepid Eye Society. David joined the family business after he finished studies at the Illinois College of Optometry.
All three Schaeffer kids say UGA prepared them for lives of service.
“We all wanted to do something bigger than just serve ourselves,” said Brooke. “We all wanted to help people in some way.”
Brooke lauds UGA professors for sharpening her professional capabilities. “I learned time management skills. I learned study skills. I had the ability to talk with my professors one-on-one. It set me up for success.”
Mark strongly credits UGA for his community consciousness.
“The environment at the university emphasized collaborative learning and collaborative work to create a better student,” he said. “I’ve had the privilege to work in many different settings using the shared community to promote growth not only in myself but also in the greater world.”
Among David’s favorite memories is a scavenger hunt held at his induction into the Dean William Tate Honor Society, the most prestigious honor UGA can bestow on a first-year student. The hunt took him to notable locations on campus, ending at the Founders Memorial Garden.
“It was a search for something hidden, that you might miss if you didn’t have some idea of what you were looking for,” David said. “It was powerful and memorable.”
The scavenger hunt could serve as a metaphor for what every scholar at UGA seeks.
Understanding this, the Schaeffers have always placed great value on giving back—to communities and organizations and institutions that help shape values, instill wisdom, and equip people to succeed in life.
Jack, the patriarch, speaks for the whole Schaeffer family.
“When you are passionate about a place, a cause, or an institution, it is imperative that you demonstrate that passion by being involved,” he said. “That includes gifts of time and money. There should be a commitment to both.
“It does so much good when you give back. And it just feels good.”