Jeff Schaffer was still in his twenties in 1976 when Manchester's village president, David Little, recruited him to join the village council.
"He knew a lot about construction," recalls Little. "He was a young guy, but so was I."
At the time, Manchester was building two bridges and overhauling its sewer and water systems. Schaffer worked at Wolverine Pipe Line, a company that pipes gas from Texas, and Little wanted the benefit of his experience.
At the next election. Little stepped down as village president. Schaffer succeeded him, staying two terms. During Schaffer's time in Manchester government, the village separated its storm and sanitary sewers, upgraded its sewage treatment plant, built a water tower, and added new fire hydrants.
Last March Schaffer was again elected village president, twenty years after his first stint. Today Manchester's main issue is growth—another good project for a man who takes pride, as Little puts it, in "physical acheivements."
Schaffer has lived in the Manchester area all his life, except for a brief stay in Ypsilanti while he attended Cleary College. His grandfather owned a dairy farm west of town at Austin and Sharon Hollow roads, and also co-owned a lumber yard where the Manchester Township Hall now stands. Schaffer says he grew up to value community service after seeing how his grandfather was always willing to help his neighbors.
"He'd say to someone who lost a barn and couldn't afford a new one, 'Don't worry, we'll give you the lumber,'" Schaffer recalls.
In the years between his two stints as village president, Schaffer served on Manchester's school board, and he and his wife, Connie, raised two children, Dawn and William. After twenty-seven years at Wolverine Pipe Line, he is now in charge of above-ground maintenance on Wolverine's systems from Kalamazoo to Detroit to Toledo.
Although Schaffer is a grandfather, he's still slender and still blond. He wears jeans, a T-shirt, and cowboy boots to work and treats colleagues and customers with small-town politeness—he addresses people as "ma'am" and "sir." His style, both as a boss and as a village leader, is to work as part of a team. "I encourage people on council to talk," he says.
In the last twenty years, Manchester has changed in many ways. There is no longer any active farming within the village limits. A few new industries have moved in. A village manager, Jeff Wallace, now runs day-to-day operations.
But Manchester is still a small town, and Schaffer says he appreciates the values that come with that—"the closeness, the willingness to be a good neighbor."
Still, he says, growth is a fact of life. Two housing projects are being built in the village, the homes and condos of Manchester Woods and the River Ridge apartments. Several other housing and light industry projects are in the discussion stage. "I'm not adverse to growth," explains Schaffer, "but we need to control growth, shape it so it's a good deal."
Appropriately, Schaffer uses a construction metaphor to describe his work as village president. "I keep laying the bricks in the foundation," he says. "It'll be here when we're long gone."