Otsego museum honors Pearl Harbor Day

By: 
Ryan Lewis, Editor

Christmas celebrations begin this weekend for many area towns, and the Otsego Area Historical Society hopes to provide a little history to go with everyone’s holiday cheer.

Saturday, Dec. 7, is the organization’s Hometown Christmas at the Otsego Museum—a date it shares with the anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.

The life, service and death of Seaman 1st Class George Sheffer—a man the Otsego Union called “Otsego’s adopted son”—provides a unique link to the tragedy of that morning. He served on the U.S.S. Arizona and was among the 1,177 crewmen who died when bombers sank it during the attack.

His niece, Sally Nye, is a member in the historical society and dove into researching her uncle, believed to be the only person from Otsego on the Arizona. She said the society decided to honor the day and still work to focus on the history of the people involved. Veterans groups came forward to donate items for the exhibit.

“It’s an honoring of all the men who served,” she said of the exhibit, titled “A Date Which Will Live in Infamy.”

Sheffer was born in Indiana in 1914, but his mother died nine years later, effectively orphaning him. Nye said some of his five siblings went to orphanages, but it’s not known where he went. Records show he thrived in the Civilian Conservation Corps starting in around 1933; Nye believes he demonstrated aptitude that allowed him to stay on at the work site for nearly two years. In 1934, he and a friend went to a revival at a Methodist church and Sheffer embraced his faith and turned his back on alcoholism.

He wrote his younger sister in 1935, “It is awful to think of it, but I was once a drunkard, but now I despise the looks of a whiskey or beer bottle. Praise God for bringing us both into his fold.”

Nye believes Sheffer later moved to his sister’s house in Otsego for several years before enlisting in the Navy.

“My mom said that he joined because he thought he could save more souls. When George got religion, he always had his Bible under his arm and was trying to save people.”

Despite that, she said he was known as a shy and humble individual.

“He’d almost be embarrassed if this was all about him,” Nye said.

He died at age 27, the Otsego Union on Jan. 29, 1942, noting he was “one of four children of Mr. and Mrs. George Sheffer of East Goshen, Ind., but during 1938 and 1939 he made his home with Rev. and Mrs. W.C. Bullock, who then lived at the corner of Fair and East Hammond streets, this city. He worked for Jim Masterson for several month in 1939.”

There is much more to the exhibit, which is free to view from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Nye plans to be on-hand to speak with those who want to know more about her uncle and the historical society’s research into the event.

There will also be a free ornament craft project for children from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

A Holiday Wine and Canvas event will be in the museum from 2 to 5 p.m. There is a cost; call (269) 692-3775 for more information. Seating is limited.

Nye said she’s looking forward to the exhibit’s opening.

“It’s about honoring the day, beyond George,” said. “Because Pearl Harbor really brought America together. It was a unification.

“And I think people will be excited there was a person from Otsego tied to the day, on the Arizona. We all know the Arizona. But we know now we have a man entombed there.”

The Kalamazoo Scale Modelers club will provide several models for the exhibit.

Contact Ryan Lewis at rmlewis@allegannews.com or (269) 673-5534.

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