Karen A. Schafer, a retired Baltimore County public schools principal who was an advocate for disadvantaged students, died Monday from heart failure at the University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center. The Baldwin resident was 73.
“Karen really was an advocate for disadvantaged children and had a county-wide reputation for developing programs for economically disadvantaged children,” said Dr. Robert Y. Dubel, who was superintendent of Baltimore County public schools for 16 years before retiring in 1992.
“The children all loved her, and when you went to her school, you’d see them giving her hugs,” Dr. Dubel said. “And she was just a superb principal and the prototype for a great principal. She loved her children and teachers.”
Barbara A. Clark, who had worked with Mrs. Schafer and later was principal of Hawthorne Elementary School in Middle River, was also a longtime friend.
“She was just an incredible leader and person. She was dynamite,” said Mrs. Clark, a Bel Air resident. “She was my inspiration and I became a principal because of Karen.”
The former Karen Ann Gregory, the daughter of Francis Charles Gregory, a General Mills district sales manager, and his wife, Rosemary Torregrossa Gregory, a stay-at-home parent, was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and when a child moved with her family to Aero Acres in Middle River.
Mrs. Schafer was a graduate of Our Lady of Mount Carmel parochial school in Essex and earned a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education from what is now Towson University in 1968, returning to Towson to earn a master’s degree in 1975 in education.
From 1968 to 1977, she was a teacher at Loch Raven Elementary School and then was named assistant principal at Shady Spring Elementary School in Rosedale.
In 1985, she was appointed supervisor of elementary education for the county’s Southwest District, and in 1991 was appointed principal at Martin Boulevard Elementary in Middle River.
“I was her Title 1 resource teacher at Martin Boulevard, and Karen was the kind of person who led by example,” Mrs. Clark said. “She was not a principal who was on a pedestal. She was a very humble leader who worked alongside everybody. And she was lots of fun.”
Mrs. Clark recalled Mrs. Schafer’s dictum.
“You don’t do things for yourself, you do it for the children, because she believed in children,” Mrs. Clark said.
From 1992 to 1997, she was supervisor of elementary education, and when Seven Oaks Elementary School opened in 1997, she was named the school’s first principal.
She was serving as supervisor of elementary education for the Southeastern District at the time of her retirement from county schools.
“She was a very outgoing person and everyone loved Karen,” Dr. Dubel said. “And she particularly liked helping those who were in trouble.”
In 2001, Mrs. Schafer became director of the center for professional practices in the education department of Towson University, where she worked until retiring in 2010.
“Karen had a big job. She was in charge of coordinating student teaching and field placement,” said Thomas D. Proffitt, a retired professor and associate dean at Towson. “She was dedicated, well-respected and very committed to educating the next generation of teachers, and always went the extra mile.”
“I was principal at Hawthorne Elementary and Karen called me one day and asked if I was thinking about retiring,” Mrs. Clark recalled.
“Karen then got me to come to Towson University where I was director of the Towson Learning Network until retiring this year. She always knew what was best for me,” she said. “She was such a great person to have had in my life.”
“I worked with Karen for 10 years at Towson and when she came to Towson, our families became real close even though I had known her husband Bob for 50 years,” Dr. Proffitt said.
For her work at Towson University, Mrs. Schafer was presented the Staff Alumni Award in 2008 and again in 2011, and the Dean’s Award from the college of education.
“She was very well respected and loved and had been a tremendous principal,” said her husband of 49 years, Robert F. Schafer, a retired Timonium Elementary School teacher.
Mrs. Schafer, who was an avid gardener, enjoyed vacationing in Ocean City. She also was a world traveler and liked taking cruises.
“We traveled to Greece, Sicily together and down the Danube River and through the Panama Canal,” Dr. Proffitt said. “She was fun to be with and was just a great lady.”
“She was a devout Roman Catholic and went to Mass daily,” her husband said.
She was a longtime communicant of St. John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church, 13305 Long Green Pike, Hydes, where a Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 9 a.m. Saturday.