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Encyclopedia Dubuque


"Encyclopedia Dubuque is the online authority for all things Dubuque, written by the people who know the city best.”
Marshall Cohen—researcher and producer, CNN

Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.


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Shaffer, James. (Dubuque, IA, Oct. 19, 1933--Dubuque, IA, Apr. 2, 2017) Jim began his photographic career as a darkroom assistant for the Telegraph-Herald, but in 1955, shortly after marrying Donna, he was drafted. He switched places with the man ahead of him in line at the draft office so he could join the U.S. Navy, like his older brother, Bob. He served 20 months aboard the U.S.S. Carter Hall, based in Long Beach, California, before being discharged early, along with thousands of other draftees, in a cost-cutting move.

Jim returned to the Telegraph Herald, and soon was promoted to photographer, sometime feature writer and, eventually the "right-hand man" for editor, James GELADAS. In 1969, he struck out on his own as a freelance photographer. He often sold photos and stories to the Telegraph-Herald, but for the rest of his working life, he operated out of a darkroom and office in the basement of the family home. To put his kids through college, Jim and Donna created a stock photography business, shooting and selling pictures to textbook book publishers around the country.

Over a 60-plus-year career, Jim captured hundreds of thousands of images of the people, places and events in and around Dubuque. His subjects included at least seven U.S. presidents and countless other politicians; the 1965 flood that inundated parts of downtown; visiting celebrities such as Louis Armstrong, George Burns, Bob Hope and Jay Leno; news events ranging from fires and accidents to protest marches and political rallies; plus an untold number of weddings, family reunions, corporate events and neighborhood parties.

Jim brought more than a camera to all those occasions. He brought a unique eye, a way of seeing the best picture, the best way to tell the story with a single shot. He also came with his sense of humor and a willingness to be larger than life for a while, if only to corral his subjects so he could grab that perfect photo.

He shot aerial photos of most of Dubuque that span at least 50 years, creating an important record of the city’s development. He also became a collector of old photos of Dubuque, many of them captured on glass negatives. Possessing one of the most complete private photographic collections of historic Dubuque, Shaffer showcased many of his photographs in the publication of Dubuque: The Encyclopedia. He teamed with John Tigges in the publication of Dubuque: The 19th Century, Dubuque: The 20th Century,Railroads of Dubuque, and Iowa's Last Narrow-Gauge Railroad.

Jim won numerous awards over the years, including recognition from the Iowa Press Photographers Association of which he served two terms as president, the Inland Daily Press Association, and the National Press Photographers Association. He was frequently asked to lecture on photo editing and photography. In 1994, the DUBUQUE COUNTY FINE ARTS SOCIETY presented him the first Elisha Darlin Arts Award. He cared deeply about Dubuque and its future, which is why he was so proud to play an important part in persuading and helping Mac Marshall to donate his land to the city in 1975. That land became home to MARSHALL PARK and the DUBUQUE ARBORETUM AND BOTANICAL GARDENS.