Shaffner honored at Highlands Historical Society museum opening

Dozens gathered at the Highlands Historical Society’s campus last month for the grand reopening of the museum, and to honor Ran Shaffner for being an ex-officio archivist and an integral part of HHS for many years.

Pictured at the top of the article are Highlands Historical Society Board Members and Ran Shaffner, second from the left.

“Ran has made such a huge contribution to Highlands history, it’s fitting to honor him for the museum’s grand reopening,” said HHS president Harry MacDonald.

HHS president Harry MacDonald addresses the crowd gathered to recognize Ran Shaffner’s contributions to the community’s history.

Shaffner was presented with a plaque for his dedication and passion to Highlands history with HHS board members, friends, and family in attendance.

“Obviously this is a surprise, but it’s great to see all of my friends here,” said Shaffner. “It’s a little embarrassing and in my opinion its undeserved, but at the same time it’s deeply moving.”

Ran Shaffner speaks to the crowd thanking them for their recognition.

Several speakers talked about Shaffner’s dedication to the community, and to the area’s trails. Whether it be the Kelsey Trail, Highlands Plateau Greenway, or another local hike, Shaffner can often be found out in the woods helping to maintain a trail.

A plaque was created in honor of Ran Shaffner. The glue holding the plaque to the rock failed and is being supported by rocks. Shaffner said “like everything in Highlands, it needs support in order to succeed.”

Shaffner also wrote the book “Heart of the Blue Ridge,” which is frequently referenced for all things Highlands. A native of Winston-Salem, Shaffner began his teaching, writing, and publishing career in the 1960s. 

He attended Davidson College and graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, then traveled internationally teaching English for the U.S. Peace Corps and learning foreign languages firsthand in Thailand, Germany and France.

From left are Ran Shaffner and Harry MacDonald cutting the ribbon to officially open the HHS museum.

Returning to the states, Shaffner worked as an editor for a publishing company before enrolling again at UNC Chapel Hill, earning a master’s degree and a doctorate in comparative literature, he continued his teaching career at Fairfield University, UNC Chapel Hill, and Western Carolina University. 

Most people in Highlands met Ran when he opened Cyrano’s Bookstore on Main Street.

The store’s eclectic, curated, and thoughtful inventory with a focus on regional history became a destination for residents, visitors, and writers for almost thirty years.

In addition to running a small business, Ran also found time to volunteer at the Hudson Library, even chronicling its history in the book “Good Reading Material, Mostly Bound and New.”

Shaffner’s leadership then helped to revitalize the Highlands Historical Society, most notably evidenced by the creation of the historical park containing the Prince House and Museum housed in the relocated former library building. 

Additional efforts included a frequent lecture schedule, authoring numerous historical marker nominations, and pursuing a passion for hiking and development of the Highlands Plateau Greenway. 

Ran’s dedication in the preservation of Highlands’ history is reflected by his 2001 book, “Heart of the Blue Ridge: Highlands, NC” considered to be the authoritative treatise on the town’s fascinating past. 

Shaffner’s decades-long efforts to document and make available these histories was justifiably recognized in 2019 when he was awarded the North Carolina Society of Historians highest award, Historian of the Year. 

Shaffner and his wife Margaret have five sons and currently divide their time between Highlands and Black Mountain, NC.

Photos by Brian O’Shea, Plateau Daily News

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