Shaffner named Highlands Historical Society's Archivist Emeritus

  • Highlands historian Ran Shaffner unveiled a historical marker in 2019 highlighting the Moccasin War that took place in Highlands in 1885.
    Highlands historian Ran Shaffner unveiled a historical marker in 2019 highlighting the Moccasin War that took place in Highlands in 1885.

Longtime Highlands historical chronicler and scribe Ran Shaffner has decided to call it a day. 

At 80 years young, Shaffner has decided to retire from the Highlands Historical Society as its resident archivist, but that’s not to say the Black Mountain resident is about to ride off quietly into the sunset. 

In fact, he might not ride off into the sunset at all. 

Newly bestowed with the title Archivist Emeritus, Shaffner is being honored by the historical society in retirement for more than 20 years of hard work and dedication as the group’s “Go To Guy” for all things history and Highlands. 

Writing has long been a passion of Shaffner’s, with penning a history of the Hudson Library and his book, “The Heart of the Blue Ridge” which has become the unofficial record of anything Highlands referenced. 

With minimal fanfare, Shaffner said it’s simply time to go a new direction.

“After 20 years with the historical society, it’s time to do something else,” he said by phone on Tuesday. “I’m 80 and it’s time. The emeritus title allows me to be a backup and stay associated with the society.”

Shaffner quoted Fred Rogers in describing his take on retirement and whatever may come next. 

“Fred Rogers used to say, ‘Often when you’re at the end of something, you’re at the beginning of something else,’” Shaffner said. “I look forward to more research, more publications, and hearing more stories about Highlands and its people, which make life worth living just to hear them told as only Highlanders can tell them.”

In the past, Shaffner taught English with the Peace Corps in Thailand and owned a bookstore in Highlands. He said, this last endeavor, what he’s done in retirement, has afforded him the opportunity to get to know a unique group of people that call the mountains of Western North Carolina home. 

“The people are so unique here and they have wonderful stories to tell,” he said. “I was able to spend the past 20 years telling those stories.”

One of his favorite stories to tell involves the late iconic Southern author, Pat Conroy, who had spent the summer in Highlands writing “The Prince of Tides.”

“Pat had gone to the bank in town to cash a check, and being Pat Conroy, his hair went every which way, and the clothes he wore were a little worn, let’s say. The bank decided not to cash his check. So, Pat was left to wonder around town wondering what he was going to do for cash.”

Shaffner said Conroy wandered into his bookstore with check in hand and cashed it.

“Of course we recognized him right away and of course, we cashed his check,” Shaffner said. “For the rest of the summer we funded Pat Conroy’s writing of The Prince of Tides by cashing his checks. When it came time to host a book signing on the book, he chose Cyrano’s Book Store because we had taken such good care of him.” 

Historical Society Director Fran Leftwich called Shaffner the consummate historian.  

“Ran has brought an acclaim to the Highlands Historical Society and Highlands, with his work on historical markers and his writing,” she said.

Leftwich said Shaffner is a unique individual who stays in touch with people. 

“Ran has a wealth of knowledge and he really relates to the people in Highlands,” she said. “We just hate to see that expertise leave. He is a man with a wealth of knowledge.”

Oddly enough, Shaffner has his eye on penning that next great novel. 

“Fiction is something I would love to write, but writing non-fiction is what I wound up doing better,” he said. “I’d like to give that novel a try.”

In October 2019 Shaffner was named North Carolina’s Historian of the Year by the North Carolina Society of Historians for his contributions to North Carolina’s history.

The award cited Shaffner’s contribution to the preservation, researching, recording and perpetuating North Carolina’s rich history. 

Highlands Historical Society President Obie Oakley said, the historical society was Shaffner’s legacy. 

“Ran’s past 20 years of work with the Highlands Historical Society is his legacy,” Oakley said. “He will be sorely missed. While there will be others to carry on Ran’s work, there will never be anyone to replace him.” 

Stuart Ferguson will be replacing Shaffner as the HHS archivist, along with Associate Archivist Phil Potts. 

After graduating from Davidson College, Shaffner wanted to teach and travel, so he joined the Peace Corps. 

“These days it seems we have three lives,” he said. “For me, one for teaching, one was for managing the bookstore and one for whatever you do in retirement, which for me was the Historical Society.” 

Shaffner said he will always be editing, writing and researching about something.

“I’ve always enjoyed editing, writing, reading and researching and I’ll still be doing that after I retire,” he said.