George Alan (Al) Shaler, Former Faculty

George Alan (Al) Shaler, of Easthampton, MA and Warrensburg, NY passed away on his 84th birthday. Al was born April 4th, 1935 in Freeport, NY to George Wiltse and Mary Sue (Gillaspy) Shaler. An only child, Al grew up on Long Island, becoming an accomplished pianist and organist, excelling in academics and in running. During his youth, he spent many vacations on his maternal grandparents’ farm in Benton, PA doing farm chores and developing a profound appreciation for the outdoors. As a teen, his parents sent him Forest Lake Camp (FLC) in Warrensburg, NY, a transformative event in his young life. While at FLC, Al was exposed to outdoor adventures the likes of which he had never encountered on Long Island. He returned for several summers, becoming a counselor and head counselor at the Camp, and more importantly growing to love the Adirondacks of northern NY. After graduating from Freeport High School in 1953, Al matriculated at Hamilton College in Clinton, NY in the fall of 1953. While at Hamilton, Al once again shined in the classroom and on various cross-country courses throughout upstate NY. In his sophomore year, Al won the cross-country New York state championship. Al found great pleasure in playing the organ at Hamilton and developed a lifelong love for the instrument. Upon graduation, he headed off to the University of Wisconsin at Madison to pursue a graduate degree in English, While in Madison, he met Janet Ann James, an undergraduate from nearby Berlin, WI. They would start dating in Al’s second year, became engaged shortly thereafter and were married in 1960. Al received his Masters in 1959 and after a short job search landed a job at then Williston Academy in Easthampton. He would end up teaching at Williston Academy, later the Williston Northampton School (WNS), from 1959 through 1999. While at WNS he taught many courses in literature, including a course he created, Dissident Voices, which focused on African-American writers such as Richard Wright and James Baldwin, the first class of its kind at WNS. A passionate amateur chef, he also taught cooking classes which were enthusiastically attended. Similar to other WNS teachers, Al was also a coach for the school’s athletic program. He started out coaching football and track, and by the early 1960s had started the cross-country program. Al coached many aspiring runners and put them through many a rigorous workout. He would often show up in the middle of woods and exhort his runners, telling them to pick up the pace, and lending some timely, and sometimes off color encouragement. In the fall of 1980, his team won the New England championships. The WNS community meant a lot to Al, most importantly, after his wife died in 1973. Despite this tremendous loss, he pushed on raising his three young children, enjoying a great high school teaching career at Williston, touching the lives of thousands of young people in the classroom and on the playing fields during his 40 year teaching career (the only job he ever had), and making countless friends. His children, George, Jim and Elizabeth graduated from WNS in 1980, 1981, and 1984 respectively. Al loved playing the organ at the Williston Chapel. He often played the organ during ecumenical services and was in great demand for religious services, holiday musical programs and weddings, at Williston and all over the Pioneer Valley. Al was active in local theatre. He had starring roles in productions staged at WNS and by the Easthampton Community Theatre Association. These productions allowed Al to show off his big personality, his comedic skills and musical gifts. Later in his WNS career, he was granted the school’s first sabbatical which enabled him to live and work abroad. He used the opportunity to teach for a half year in some of Great Britain’s finest secondary schools. The experience of living abroad spurred his growing interest in foreign travel, a passion which was to continue well into his retirement years. WNS was not the only thing that defined him. He was active in local politics, serving as the Easthampton Town Moderator for several years and later as a city councilor after the city changed its charter. One of his proudest achievements as councilor was being part of the Council efforts to build the current Public Safety Complex. He never grew tired of saying how proud he was of that building. Al was also appointed a trustee of the University of Massachusetts during the mid-1970s by then Governor Francis Sargent, an undertaking he took very seriously. During the mid-1960s, Al bought some property on Kelm Lake near Forest Lake Camp and built a rustic A-Frame cabin that at the time was only reachable by rowing across the Lake. For the first ten years Al owned the cabin, the place did not have electricity. He would listen to his beloved Red Sox on a battery operated radio, sometimes not sure if they had won when the reception cut out. This rustic lifestyle suited him. He would cook the family dinners over a wood fire, using certain hard woods for various cuts of meat for added flavor. Rain or shine, Al would spend his summers by his wood fire, carefully attending to his culinary creations. He and his beloved neighbor and friend Bob Murray, another school teacher from Long Island, would swap many a good story, some not suited for print, sharing martinis, while Al smoked his ever present pipe. He enjoyed a 20 year retirement traveling all over the world, sometimes in some unusual ways, once taking a month long ocean freighter ride around the coast of South America. Al was fond of many places, but relished a chance to visit Morocco, Spain, Kenya and Britain.

However, what he enjoyed most was spending time at his cabin in the Adirondacks of northern NY. This was his hermitage where he would go for six to seven months each year during his retirement, accompanied by his dog – always a beagle. When he felt a need to leave his cabin, which was not often, sometimes he would venture down to Saratoga to watch the horse races.

Early in his retirement, he threw his energies into cultivating day lilies. He became fascinated with hybridizing day lilies. He transformed his yard into a nursery of sorts. He became a part-time licensed nursery man and sold his hybrids in various hemerocallis publications. People drove from near and far to purchase his plants.

Al is survived by his son George and spouse Jill Rosenthal of Portland, ME, son James and spouse Ann of Tampa FL, and daughter Elizabeth of New York, NY; grandchildren Cole, Griffith, and Wallace Shaler, and Jonna and Shay Rosenthal.

A celebration of life will be held on May 4, 2019 at the Williston-Northampton Chapel in Easthampton at 1:30. More details will be posted on the Mitchell Funeral Home web site in the coming week.

In lieu of flowers and donations, please direct any contributions to the Williston-Northampton School in Al’s name.

34 thoughts on “George Alan (Al) Shaler, Former Faculty”

  1. From my experiences at Williston 62-66 I took away a number of developmental traits that have helped me over the years to develop into the person/man I am today. Al (The Dink) Shaler was a major influence on my Williston life. I was the student manager of the Cross Country team in (I believe) 1965 shortly after its creation and tutelage under Mr. Shaler. During that spring I had to opportunity to spend a fair amount of time with Mr. Shaler (as well as the classroom time) and developed a close personal bond to him. He has been one of the highlights during my returns to campus over the past 50+ years. I will miss him.

    Dee Pellissier W’66

  2. A great teacher and person, remember his quick wit and always upbeat. He wanted me to run cross country, I told him I wasn`t tough enough. Condolences to his family Ren Halverson ’67

  3. What a loss! Count me among the many, many kids who learned to leaven hard work with humor on the cross country team, and among the fathers who wish for their sons that they’re lucky enough to have a teacher or a coach like Al Shaler.

    One small correction: Williston won the New England championship in 1979. In 1980, we came in a close second on our home course. Al was a grand host to the event. I lost my shoe in the Swamp.

    Bally, bally!

    1. So true. I stepped on Williston’s campus in ’83 and tried out for XC because I did not have my soccer cleats. Al saw something in me that I did not see in myself and drove me to be a better runner and, as a result, a better student and person. He epitomized the hard work ethic that is necessary to be successful at whatever you choose to pursue. I am sure he would laugh if I told him I just finished up a 55+ mile week as I prep for some upcoming races. I might have gotten a “Hmmm…good work, young Marchand.” back in the day.

      And who shall carry the mail? 🙂

  4. There aren’t enough words to describe my heartfelt gratitude for Mr. Shaler. As a freshman, at Williston, I was totally petrified. I had never left home, didn’t know what to expect or what I was walking into. It was Mr. Shaler who took me under his wing. He mentored, coached me and always could make me laugh. He was a fair, just man. He didn’t ask anything of you, he would not have done himself. He pushed you until you recognized your own potential. Thank you Mr. Shaler. You were always my favorite teacher ever!

  5. To this day, Mr. Shaler remains my favorite teacher at Williston. I fondly remember sitting in his class in the fall and his explaining why I was a wedge (lowest form of tool, hmmm) and his showing us that you can’t get angry at a chair, but you could take your anger out on it (by smashing it to little pieces). His classes were always energetic and highly engaging. Williston wouldn’t have been the same for me without him. He will be missed.

  6. Letting Mr. Shaler talk me into cross country and hurdles was the best decision of my Williston career. Between teaching and coaching he was directly responsible for my passable SAT scores in high school and my current low blood pressure. He will be missed!

    Jon Venne ‘01

  7. I had Mr. Shaler in Junior year American English and literature. He was a great teacher and friend to my mom, Tamara Barreda who taught Spanish from 1974 to 1990 or so. I remember we had to read Moby Dick for our summer reading and because of him I read this novel 2 more times and developed an appreciation for American literature. I have found memories of his class. Every class started with him bursting out of his office by opening the door wildly and God forbid you were the student sitting next to the door because guaranteed you were going to be hit. Every class also started with the usual command, “Shut up! and hum into quiz formation.” Also remember his Harry Bluedart stories and always admonished us not to talk like Harry Bluedart. I know that he will he dearly missed. My condolences go out to his family, especially Liz Shaler who I knew at the middle school, upper school and fellow “frac brat.” God bless and godspeed.

  8. In life, there are a few people who can be described as truly memorable, and Al Shaler is one of them…unique, distinctive, and iconoclastic. He brought humor to his classroom and to the dining hall table and, well, frankly…everywhere! I had the pleasure to live in Clark House as a senior and enjoyed being with his family in the formative years of his children. He was a devoted husband and father and an amazing teacher. My condolences to his family and to the WNS community, which has lost a man of many interests and skills, who truly cared about his students.

  9. I am so sorry to hear of Alan Shaler’s passing.

    I took his course in English honors in my junior year at Williston, and he was a great inspiration to me.

    His enthusiasm for literature and poetry were absolutely contagious and made everything so much fun. What an incredible teacher he was!

    Nicholas F. Papaniolaou ’67

  10. When Dan and I left Holyoke for Williston in the mid-60s our vocabularies and appreciation for reading were extremely limited. Mr. Shaler introduced us to words we never heard before like sagacious, alacrity and erudite. He introduced me to the word “illiterate” as he posted that comment along with the big red 59 he wrote on my first book report. Mr. Shaler was a favorite of both my brother, Dan, who he coached on the track team and our Mom who loved his wit and musical talent. He will always be remembered as one of the great characters of my Williston experience and will surely be missed.

  11. I never had Mr. Shaler as a teacher, yet I remember him fondly and am sorry to hear of his passing. I got to know him initially when he was one of my rotating dorm parents at Gilbert (small dorm of only 5). His humor and his pipe were always present when he came to watch us. As a Senior, when I left the mail boxes at the School House with my acceptance letter to Amherst College….he happened to be the first person I saw, and when I told him the news…he gave me the fiercest bear hug I have ever received, he was so excited for me….and I will never forget that. It is one of my clearest and most poignant memories of my time at Williston.

  12. First, I would like to offer my deepest condolences to Liz, George and Jim on the loss of a wonderful father. I also need to thank them for sharing their father with the rest of us. I had 5 different cross-country coaches, and he was by far the best, and had the biggest personality. I will always regret not having taken an English class with him. He definitely embodied mixing humor with hard work, which I have attempted to emulate (with nowhere near as much success). My year at Williston was a great experience for me, and a large part of that was due to Mr. Shaler.

    Bally, Bally!

  13. I had the good fortune to spend the 1967-1968 year in Al Shaler’s Clark House. Caught committing one of my innumerable infractions, Al made me go out for the cross country team. The first day on the practice track, I charged ahead, not pacing myself so in the end I was passed by a couple of the better runners, finishing side by side with Jim Davenport. At the finish line and badly winded, I told him that I did not want to do this any more. He said OK. Did anyone say Al Shaler was a good judge of character?

  14. Dink. What a great teacher, coach, mentor, and all around Renaissance man! And a fixture at Williston who inspired generations of students. I didn’t run track or CC, nor did I live in his dorm, but I did thrill to a few of his excellent English Lit classes and rotate through his dining room tables between 1970 and 1973. He blended just the right mixture of humor, scorn, and encouragement to get the most out of students, and he was dearly beloved in a whimsical way. When he would pass me on campus, I’d be greeted with the acknowledgment “Hmmmmm, young Tullis.” Followed by, if I was lucky, just a woeful shake of his head. If not so lucky, I’d receive some verbal assessment of my very being, sometimes involving the word “tool” but always offered with (I assumed) love. One memory dates from just after the dining hall had been converted from faculty-hosted tables to cafeteria style. To celebrate the international nature of the student body, the administration had hung flags representing all the countries from which we hailed. Clutching our trays, I was following Mr. Shaler out under the flags and said something witty to him about how they had hung the flag of Turkey in honor of our dinner that night. He replied, “Hmmm, they should have hung the flag of Greece!”

  15. Alan was my English teacher, my client when he was in Warrensburg, and, most importantly, my friend. I practiced law in Saratoga Springs, New York for forty years, and we attended the races on many occasions. He would always buy a few extra tickets to the grand stands at the track and invite me to join him. As in all of his endeavors, he was an accomplished and enthusiastic race fan. Sometimes, our post-racing martinis would make it necessary for him to spend the night at my house. They were always memorable evenings.
    My sincere condolences to the Shaler family.

  16. I write this as having been a 1984 nominee for the “Tool Award”. I did not receive the award (Smitty did), but having been nominated says a lot about my relationship with Mr. Shaler. I, like George, Jimmy, and Liz, was a faculty brat, and Mr. Shaler was always there to help me navigate through all the emotions which that brought up. He made me my first linzer torte during Winter Session cooking class. I have never been able to recreate it. He served me my first and last taste of rabbit while visiting Liz at the cabin in NY (where Liz and I had our first long island iced tea, story for another time). He taught me the biggest vocabulary word I know and still use to this day, plethora. He made me appreciate diverse names like Herkimer and Aloysius and Lipshits. Mostly, he made me feel welcomed, loved, and always part of his family when I needed it most, and I will be ever grateful for that. George, Jimmy, and Liz, my deepest condolences and hugest hugs. Love Shannon

  17. Coming from big city Detroit to small town Easthampton was a huge undertaking, but Mr. Shaler eased my angst. I did not like English but he put a new spin on 10th grade literature for me. We had lively conversations during the classroom discussion, and I found English to not be so bad after all. I even earned a nickname from him; Bandana Lady. Rest in peace Mr. Shaler and my condolences to the Shaler family.

  18. So saddened to hear this, but I love reading everyone’s recollections. What a dear, sweet soul. Mr. Shaler fueled my love for J.D. Salinger, and I once impressed a graduate seminar at Columbia by sharing his wisdom about the Glass children and “A Perfect Day for Banana Fish.” But my favorite memory was one night, while sobbing uncontrollably from some teen heartbreak and on my way back to John Wright, I literally ran into him as he was out walking his dog. He consoled me and served me a cup of tea on his front porch. What an unforgettable character—the epitome of all the best Williston values. I’ll plant a lily in his memory! So grateful he got to travel the world and enjoy his retirement. Much love and sincere condolences to his children and to our whole Willy family.

  19. Al was a great friend and co conspirator in the wonderful gourmet dinners many faculty enjoyed. He wrote a special piece for the organ which he played at our wedding in the chapel in 1984.

  20. Al Shaler was as significant and interesting faculty member at Williston, although I was not in any of his classes. He was very interested that part of my home town of Haddam, CT has a section called “Shalerville” which was settled in the early 1800’s by his ancestors.

    My main interaction with Mr. Shaler was with his playing the pipe organ, this originally in the “old” chapel that shared the Study Hall building. I have tape recordings of his playing the Frazee pipe organ built for Harry Camp’s residence in the late ’30s and donated to Williston in 1962. One selection on the tape has the 4th movement of the Suite Gothique by Boellman that Mr. Shaler played which is not an easy piece of music, however spectacular in composition by ending at full organ. Also, Mr. Shaler laid out the specifications for the enlarged Frazee pipe organ to include a new 3 manual console when it was installed in the Stevens Chapel after completion of construction.

    My ongoing interaction with Mr. Shaler was an important contribution to my lifelong interest in pipe organs and since acquiring a 1925 vintage Wurlitzer theater pipe organ originally for accompanying silent movies. Mr. Shaler will remain in vivid memory with his contributions to my interests greatly appreciated. He was always regarded as a “nice guy” by the students.

  21. I babysat for the Shaler boys when I was in my early teens, and my mother was good friends with Janet Shaler, who was a very lovely woman. I remember how saddened I was by her death because she was so young and her children were so young. Al Shaler remained devoted to his family throughout his life. Reading this obituary, I understand how rich and fulfilling his life was despite great tragedy. My condolences to his children and grandchildren. He was unique.

  22. Al was a great teacher and a true human being in the best sense of the word. His passionfor life and his wisdom and compassion were of great help to me in my Williston years.

  23. As an African-American fifteen year-old from Detroit, I entered Mr. Shaler’s sophomore English class not knowing what to expect. What I got was the same level of expectation, the same level of sarcasm and the same level of support as all the other students in the class. I was blessed to have him as a teacher.
    I am wrapping up my 30th year as a high school (science) teacher and Mr Shaler still has a huge influence on the way I conduct my classes and interact with my students.
    When my career in education is over, I can only hope that I have touched the life of one student as profoundly as he has touched my own.
    Al, I hope that my grammar is acceptable.
    Liz and the Shaler Family, my thoughts and prayers are with you.

  24. I am very sorry to hear of Mr. Shaler’s death. I too remember when his wife died and wondered at how he managed to “carry on” so beautifully. My condolences to his family.

  25. In many ways, my connection with Al is far different from that of so many others who will honor him here. My admiration and affection stem not from being a former student or athlete of his, nor even as a Williston colleague, but rather as a cross country coach from another school. Driving my teams from Hotchkiss to Williston for the Invitational every October beginning in 1985, felt more like a personal pilgrimage than merely another event on the calendar, for my connection with Williston began more than a lifetime ago.

    Before World War II called my father to service, Dad was a rookie teacher and coach at Williston. Sometime during the school year 1941-42, a fellow teacher persuaded my father to go “over the mountain” on a visit to Mount Holyoke, and it was there that my father met my mother, a senior in college at the time. No one other than my siblings and I would care much about this story, but on one of my first trips to the Invitational, I dutifully searched for – and found – on a wall in the gym, a photo of my father with his Williston baseball team from the spring of 1942. I delighted in imagining that perhaps the day the photo was taken was the day they met, and when I shared the story with Al, he merely grumbled something like, “Well, there never was a whole lot to do in Northampton, eh?”

    The next fall, at the awards ceremony in the dining hall after the meet, Al began the proceedings by calling me up to the podium. I was puzzled because my team had not distinguished itself, so I assumed that perhaps there had been a rules dispute that required resolution. Instead, much to my surprise, Al made a “special presentation” to me of a gift-wrapped copy of the photo of my father and his baseball team. Yes, he had asked a school photographer to take down the photo and make a high-quality image of it, just because knew how much it meant to me.

    In those early years of my career, my encounters with Al were fleeting, but as the years went by, I came to cherish his uniquely gruff and grumpy joie de vivre. He may have expressed his love of life in idiosyncratic ways, but there can be no doubt that he embraced every day and he valued every person he met. The scratch in his voice and the twinkle in his eye enriched my life for only one afternoon each year, but year after year, for decades – in sunshine and rain, in sleet and even snow – I always looked forward to the long drive to Williston, just for the chance to see him again.

  26. I learned the sad news of Mr. Shaler’s passing just as I was leaving home for travel. I remember the first day I met him in my sophomore year, and it didn’t take too long before I had earned the nickname Miss Malaprop. I am not sure if I was the only Miss Malaprop in his years of teaching, but I remember it like it was yesterday. I’d been meaning to write something over the past week, but this morning, in my room at a game reserve in South Africa, there was a movie playing on the television. I don’t even know the name of the movie, but Olympia Dukakis’ granddaughter in the movie corrected her for saying “pigments of the imagination.” I learned so much from Mr. Shaler and was so happy to have this moment today to remember him and the day I learned what a malapropism was. Laura Ferriter ’85

  27. Mr. Shaler was one-of-a-kind. He challenged us and made us laugh all the while infecting us with his passion for English literature. He saw a talent in me that I did not know existed and that has meant the world to me. Rest in peace, Mr. Shaler, and thank you for blessing my life with your wit and care.

  28. I may have been the first person in the Williston community to know Al Shaler because I grew up on the campus of Hamilton College during the years Al was the star cross country runner at Hamilton–neither of us knowing Williston would be in our futures. I remember seeing him win several meets. Arriving at Williston in the fall of 1960, there was Al, (now Mr. Shaler to me), providing a touchstone to my past, as I did to his. He was rare as a student at Hamilton and as a member of the Williston Northampton community and will be missed.

  29. Taking a course in ‘Black Literature’ (sic) might seem a strange choice for a British ESU exchange student who was destined to study engineering at university but Al Shaler brought the subject alive in an extraordinary way. He certainly widened my horizons! A great man with whom I corresponded every year since 1972.

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