Fearrington Faces: Karen and Fred Shectman

Photo by Ed Lallo; article by Nancy Hall

Karen and Fred Shectman

Karen and Fred Shectman have spent their entire careers helping people. Karen has a doctorate in child and family development and worked in women’s reproductive health for much of her career. Fred, a clinical psychologist, was a therapist for 38 years at the Menninger Clinic in Topeka. Now, among other Fearrington Cares (FC) volunteering jobs, they work together leading the Caregivers Support Group twice a month.

Karen and Fred met in grad school at Washington University in St. Louis. But it wasn’t long before they moved to Kansas, not easy at first for Karen, a New Yorker. “We had been married just 11 days when we arrived in Topeka,” Fred says. “And the marriage survived!” he chuckles. Clearly, these two enjoy each other’s company, and while their careers were serious, as is their volunteer work, they take life with a good dose of humor. “Actually,” Karen says, “I ended up loving Kansas. We were really part of the Menninger community. Everyone was valued.” 

After many years of directing a program in Topeka for troubled adolescents, particularly pregnant teens, Karen decided on a change in career direction. While she was caring for her ill father, she observed the work of hospital chaplains. “I ended up becoming a chaplain by going through an intensive program in Kansas City,” she says. During the last years of her career, Karen served as a hospital chaplain, an often-demanding and emotionally draining job with day and night call.

The Shectmans moved to Fearrington Village in 2006. In their retirement, their drive to learn has not waned. Fred audits classes at UNC and has taken courses in subjects ranging from political science to Greek history to the Holocaust. Karen, whose curiosity took a more spiritual direction, became fascinated with Buddhism after meeting a Buddhist abbot at an English-speaking monastery in Thailand, where they were visiting their son. “When we returned home, I joined the Buddhist temple just south of here near Pittsboro,” Karen says. The couple also are involved in many Jewish events and activities.

Both Karen and Fred have used FC services. “When I had a knee replacement and two hip replacements,” Karen recalls, “I borrowed a walker and a commode from FC. Also, I got advice from Karen Metzguer [FC’s Executive Director and Registered Nurse] when my mother was very ill. She’s a wonderful resource for this community.” Fred adds, “You can even have a Fearrington Cares volunteer with home maintenance skills come to your house. I ordered a futon couch once and when it arrived, I saw how complicated it would be to put together and said to myself, ‘No way!’ I called Fearrington Cares, and a volunteer came to our house and assembled it for me.”

Becoming volunteers themselves for FC was a natural for Karen and Fred. “Volunteering fits very well with our faith,” Fred explains. “A central tenet of Judaism is to be aware of, be kind to, and care for others.” Karen is an FC driver and also serves as an Ambassador, helping neighbors learn about the diverse programs and services FC offers.

For many years, Karen and Fred have co-led FC’s Caregivers Support Group.

“When the people we work with say that marriage is for the good times and the bad times, they mean it,” Fred says. “These people are working themselves almost to death to care for their spouses. It takes so much out of them. Just one of their struggles we deal with is the guilt they feel if they have to place their husband or wife in a long-term care facility.” 

People in the caregivers group often tell the Shectmans how much the couple has helped them, but Karen and Fred reply that they benefit even more. “Leading this group allows Fred and me to be the best versions of ourselves,” Karen says.

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