‘I lose sleep over this’: A devout anti-abortion advocate explains life in ‘Wayne’s World’

Wayne Shaffer shows off one of the sacramental shrines strewn about Shaffer Park.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Santa Cruz’s Wayne Shaffer doesn’t strike you as any sort of modern political activist on the front lines of the post-Roe v. Wade battlefront. He is, however, a longtime community fixture in providing services for women in need of food, shelter and assistance in bringing their babies to term. Shaffer admits this can be a hard place to convince others to agree with his religious convictions and social conservatism, but that hasn’t prevented him from trying to spread the gospel as he knows it.

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Here in liberal Santa Cruz, Wayne Shaffer is not your prototypical agent of change.

He is, in fact, the type who often flies well beneath the radar in this secular Berkeley-by-the-Sea — a county with a populace that claims one of the lowest rates of religious affiliation in this bluest-of-blue state and by far the lowest in the Central Coast region.

The 24-acre “park” he crafted out of a plot of redwoods he owns, dubbed Wayne’s World, hosted 120 friends and family this week for his annual Fourth of July party and is no shy creation.

Wayne Shaffer speaks to guests on the Fourth of July.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

But even though Shaffer clearly embraces the limelight, he also seems to understand these are tricky times for a devoutly pious person with conservative convictions — for someone who has devoted much of his life to the protection of unborn babies.

“I do worry about being a target,” he admits.

But it’s not his biggest worry.

“I lose sleep over this,” he says. “Over people pushing this abortion.”

Shaffer punctuates the words “this abortion” as if it’s an abstract construct, like a taboo subject matter he doesn’t dare think too closely about. Shaffer was never going to be among those who needed to parse the scientific details, or break down gestational stages, to form a stance.

“These are human beings — you don’t have a choice really in my mind,” he says. “You’ve gotta do the right thing.”

Wayne Shaffer sits at the nexus of today’s most controversial topic, a woman’s right to choose, because few have devoted more of their life to protecting unborn babies. As Santa Cruz, and the entire country, awaits what is next in the post-Roe v. Wade era, Shaffer will keep supporting the causes and organizations he helped launch decades ago.

The creator of the Siena House, the Central Coast’s only maternity ward of its kind, devoted to helping troubled women — often homeless — bring their babies to term, is one of the most prominent local voices on the anti-abortion side of the issue, and that’s why Lookout sought him out for his perspective.

Wayne Shaffer gives a tour of Shaffer Park.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

We’ve heard the outrage from so many who fought for the legal protection offered by Roe for half a century. But the voices on the other side, particularly here, are far more muffled, often by design. Others contacted on the topic have politely declined, citing a fear of getting caught up in the vitriolic politics.
Shaffer doesn’t come off as being here for the politics — even if the longtime realtor and philanthropist admitted previously to opening the Agnus Dei Christian Book & Gift Store downtown in 1992 because he believed “Santa Cruz needed a Christian influence.”

Even if he invited the other local group that quietly works in the anti-abortion space, the Pregnancy Resource Center of Santa Cruz County, to lease a space in the Agnus Dei building downtown.
Shaffer isn’t shy about sharing his conservative thinking, which doesn’t come off as overt political activism. It’s just, as the sign at Shaffer Park says, Wayne’s World.

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Perhaps it’s his folksy drawl that seems more middle-of-the-map — he was born in Youngstown, Ohio, before his family moved west when he was 2 — than lifelong Santa Cruzan. Perhaps it’s gleaned on a tour of his quirky 24-acre park where Carbonera Estates meets Highway 17 less than a mile from downtown Santa Cruz.

Shaffer Park, which he built in honor of his late brother Ron, who died of melanoma, is a whimsical mix of Catholic mysticism, eclectic sporting endeavors and ethereal redwood canopy.

The entrance sits right off Highway 17, but Shaffer Park is not open to the public.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Shafer says he’s been on the front lines of the right-to-life battle, at a protest outside a local Planned Parenthood office, only a few times. And he couldn’t handle the nastiness he witnessed.

“There was a lot of hate — it was terrible,” he says. “We were basically outnumbered.”

There was a lot of hate — it was terrible. We were basically outnumbered.

Shaffer seems to be a man cut from old-school, good vs. evil, Holy Spirit-inspired cloth, trying to follow a moral imperative handed down to him by his late mother, Isabel, a Spanish immigrant and onetime professional flamenco dancer who recently died a few months shy of her 97th birthday.

It was in large part her influence, he says, that led him to create the Siena House and the Jesus Mary Joseph Home, a transitional shelter for homeless women and children that is about to celebrate its 30th birthday. It sits next to his original philanthropic endeavor: the St. Francis Catholic Kitchen, which opened in 1984.

“My mom for 34 years was dishing out soup,” he says. “I know the significance of having a mom. They do everything for you.”

* * *

Shaffer, 73, is firmly rooted in Santa Cruz’s devoutly Catholic community, centered at Holy Cross Church next to Mission Santa Cruz, which was founded in 1791 by the Franciscan order.

It sits inconspicuously perched above the chaos and eccentricities of downtown, a stone’s throw from the town clock tower that’s been the epicenter for so many key moments of Santa Cruz’s liberal movements over the years.

Holy Cross Catholic Church looks down on the area in every direction.
(Via Holy Cross)

Though long ago commercially co-opted to capture the essence of edgy skate and surf culture, the words Santa Cruz actually mean holy cross in Spanish. They are deeply rooted in traditional Catholic conservatism.

And that is the Santa Cruz that Wayne Shaffer is trying to shed light on — and breathe life into. The one he grew up with in far simpler times.

“When I see a mother and a father walking down the street with their child,” he says, “I think, ‘Now that’s the way it was supposed to be.’”

When I see a mother and a father walking down the street with their child, I think, ‘Now that’s the way it was supposed to be.’

Santa Cruz County is among the most secular counties in the state and by far the most religiously disinclined county on the Central Coast.

According to the most recent data compiled by the Glenmary Research Center, while 65% of San Benito County residents belong to a religious group and that number is 50% in Monterey County, only 31% of Santa Cruz County residents claim a religious affiliation.

Father Peter Carota.

While there are 50,000 Catholics in the county, that makes up only 19% of the population.

Shaffer says this isn’t lost on him, or those who make up the boards of the organizations he helped found. He speaks glowingly of those who have devoted themselves to serving the less fortunate: “I get to spend time with some pretty saintly people.”

Perhaps the most key inspiration was Peter Carota, a fellow realtor who in the early ‘80s sold all his worldly possessions in order to start St. Francis Catholic Kitchen and begin the process of becoming a Catholic priest. Shaffer would eventually take over the kitchen and begin his own path of giving.

“I thought, ‘Boy, if he could give up all his possessions and start the kitchen,’” says Shaffer, “at least I could keep it going.’ And we’re still going.”

* * *

Take a stroll through Shaffer Park and the uniqueness of its creator stares back at you from all directions. Welcome to Wayne’s World.

It’s the redwood chapel, carved out of a beautiful 100-foot tall grove, with memorials to everyone Shaffer has lost in his life over many decades, including a sister, Mary, who died at birth.

Looking up into the redwood chapel at Shaffer Park.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

It’s the proper setup for chucking the discus, an Olympics-inspired passion he picked up early in life. And the area set up for Scottish Highlands Games activities: the caber toss, the hammer throw, the shot put.

It’s the bocce ball courts or the zip line — the dunk tank that is a staple of any good Fourth of July party at Shaffer Park.

It’s the nine-hole disc golf course Shaffer built in order to bond with his disc golf-loving stepsons. “It’s hard when you’re not their real dad,” he says. “But now their mom will pick up the phone and they’ll ask for me.”

It’s the seven small shrines distributed throughout the property that feature the holy sacraments, seen by the Roman Catholic Church as mystical channels of divine grace, instituted by Christ. Baptism, Eucharist, Confirmation and so on.

The throwing zone at Shaffer Park.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Shaffer doesn’t remember any aha moments about his feelings on abortion in the early days of Roe v. Wade. But he distinctly recalls the Santa Cruz moment in the ‘80s where he decided there was a moral imperative to help children.

As the Grateful Dead passed through town, people poured forth from vans near the soup kitchen in downtown Santa Cruz. Shaffer remembers the sight and smells vividly. It was not in tune with this Wayne’s world.

“You look inside this this van and it’s pure pot smoke,” he says. “There are kids in there and they’re forced to breathe it. That’s not right. I hate the smell of pot.”

Wayne Shaffer at Shaffer Park, aka Wayne's World.
(Mark Conley / Lookout Santa Cruz)

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