John Schaller is one happy guy. The 41-year-old works at Shea’s Performing Arts Center as director of fundraising and development, and he’s excited to go to work every day. After all, it’s his dream job.
“It’s hard not to come into Shea’s and not get energized about what you are doing. It has so much history and tradition," he said. "I get to see all the young kids coming in for performances like Sesame Street, and older folks who’ve been attending shows for years. That’s part of the reward.”
Schaller hasn't always worked at Shea’s. He hasn't always owned a house in Lancaster, where his three children, all younger than 4, scamper around the yard. And he hasn’t always lived in Buffalo, either. After graduating from Canisius College in 1997, Schaller left the Queen City for greener pastures and enrolled in American University in Washington, D.C., with the goal of pursuing a master’s degree and exploring a career in politics.
“I ended up going to work for a fundraising and consulting firm called Lukens Co. after graduation,” Schaller said. “Right away, I realized I had more interest in just the political side of things.”
Name: John Schaller
Current location: Lancaster
Previous location: Washington, D.C.
Love most about Buffalo: Loyalty and love for nonprofits, theater and the arts
Misses most about Washington, D.C.: The diversity, culture and history
Under Schaller’s advisement, the company began diversifying its fundraising efforts. He was soon promoted to executive vice president, overseeing 20 to 30 different performing arts organizations, museums and memorials, including the Martin Luther King memorial and 9/11 memorial. Things were good. Then, in 2004, he met his future wife. They were waiting by the baggage claim carousel at the Buffalo Niagara airport, he says, and struck up a conversation over their mutual affinity for Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.
“One of us had one. I can’t remember which. But she lived in Buffalo and I was still in D.C., traveling back and forth. So we ended up doing the long-distance thing. Two years later, she ended up marrying me and moving down to D.C.”
Kristy, Schaller’s wife, graduated from UB Law School. Schaller says they commuted to D.C. together from their condo in Fairfax, Va., using the HOV lane — though it still took two hours each way. After their first son was born in 2012, they used that time to talk seriously about where they wanted to be long term.
“Both of our families were back in Buffalo,” Schaller says. “Whenever we’d go home, we’d do stuff with them, like go to my nephew’s T-ball games, and it reminded us of how we both grew up. We wanted to explore how to get back to Buffalo, because to us it was the best place to live, work and raise a family.”
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For the next year and a half, Schaller spent time reconnecting and networking with folks in the Buffalo community. They weren’t interviews, he says, but informal meetings, and they gave him an opportunity to meet a wide variety of movers and shakers in the community, tell them his story and express his desire to be part of Buffalo’s resurgence.
In July 2013, Schaller’s painstaking approach paid off. He had job offers from Shea’s, M&T Bank and the Red Cross. “Ultimately, it was about taking a job that would provide the most happiness and fulfillment,” he says, “and being able to do what I love everyday.”
That job was Shea’s.
In late August 2013, the Schallers were back in Buffalo. They sold the condo in Fairfax and lined up a house to rent until their new build with a spacious yard was finished in 2014.
“That’s one of the best parts of the whole thing,” Schaller says. “Seeing our kids running and playing around the yard. We’re all happy. And our dog went from being ‘Condo Cam’ to ‘Cul-de-Sac Cam.’ He’s happy, too.”
Story topics: Expats to repats