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Angie Wieck, Published June 02 2013

It's My Job: Riverside Cemetery manager has unique perspective on the past

FARGO – Riverside Cemetery Manager Tom Shafer can tell readers a lot about the residents of Fargo, both the living and the dearly departed.

Shafer, an amateur historian, has an office full of old high school yearbooks, Polk city directories and the autobiographies of some of the area’s more famous former residents. A few of them are even buried at Riverside.

Some stories are firsthand accounts. A resident of Fargo since 1939, Shafer played on the same Fargo American Legion baseball team as Roger Maris and the same Concordia College football team as Clint Hill, the Secret Service agent assigned to Jacqueline Kennedy when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

Shafer recently talked about his work at Riverside and shared a few more stories about area residents.

How did you come to be the manager here?

The guy who had this job was a friend of mine, and he died suddenly on the 4th of July in 1997. My wife used to work for Hanson Runsvold Funeral Home and some of the directors asked my wife if I would ever be interested in taking over as manager of the cemetery. ... I was interested because I like dealing with people and it gives me a chance to share some history.

What did you do before coming to Riverside?

My wife and I started an employment agency called Shafer Employment Agency in the Black Building in 1963. We sold it in 1993. I suppose over the 30 years that we ran the business, we placed probably 10,000 people in jobs here in Fargo.

I tried retirement and I didn’t really like it. So getting the chance to go back to work has worked out well. I have a place to go each day, things to do, people to see, problems to handle.

What do you do as the manager here?

I primarily meet with families and sell plots. The first person ever buried here was in 1878. Even though we’ve now got 18,000 people buried here, we have easily 20 years of space left.

What do you like about what you do?

I like dealing with people. I think I’m fairly good at showing families who have lost a loved one the respect, consideration and sympathy they deserve.

Who do you consider to be the most famous person buried here?

That would be Smith Stimmel. He was a former security guard to President Abraham Lincoln. After Lincoln was shot, he went to law school and somehow moved to Fargo around the turn of the century and practiced law here in town. He was married in the church that I belong to and had his funeral in that same church in 1937.

Do you have any plans to retire?

You aren’t the first person to ask me that as I will be 78 this summer, but no, I don’t. I enjoy coming to work every day. It keeps me on my toes. I know too many others my age that are in nursing homes, so my plans are to continue working as long as I can.

To submit an idea for “It’s My Job,” email businessnews@forumcomm.com.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Angie Wieck at (701) 241-5501