Cathryn Sprynczynatyk
Sheila Schafer's summer and holiday residence in Medora, ND. (Submitted)

Ever young Sheila Schafer, 90, continues to make her home in both Bismarck and Medora. (DeAnne Billings)

Sheila and Harold Schafer relax at their log home in Medora. The couple played an instrumental role in revitalizing the western North Dakota town. (Submitted)

In 2005, the year of Sheila Schafer's 80th birthday, more than 60 children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren gathered to celebrate in Medora, the western North Dakota town Schafer rejuvenated with her late husband, Harold. The Schafer descendants rode on a Fourth of July parade float and held a family golf tournament at the newly opened Bully Pulpit Golf Course.

This year, for her 90th birthday, Schafer didn't want any of that.

Schafer wrote to her family: "'What I would really love is if everyone in my family would do some act of kindness unsolicited,'" she recounts. "And they did, and it was pretty awesome."

Schafer, known as the First Lady of the Medora Musical, has spent every summer in Medora for the past 50 years. She lives in the log home she owned together with Harold; she resides in Bismarck the remainder of the year.

Around the time Harold and Sheila Schafer were married, Harold was running his successful Gold Seal Company, ranching bison and elk in western North Dakota and beginning to restore the historic town Medora.

Harold confided to Sheila that he couldn't do all three things. Sheila asked him what he wanted his legacy to be.

"He said ... I think my legacy is going to be the restoration of Medora," Schafer says.

When Harold and Sheila Schafer began investing in Medora, the main road was "just a little dirt track." Harold traveled to France and found the grandson of the Marquis de Morès, the founder of the town who had named it after his wife, Medora von Hoffman. After buying land from the grandson, the Schafers owned roughly 70 percent of the land around Medora.

The Schafers began putting in a shop here, an ice cream parlor there. Sheila says having really good ice cream was a big deal to Harold.

"I don't know of many towns with a population of 145 that have two ice cream parlors," Schafer says.

An acquaintance won the old Roughrider Hotel in a poker game and offered it to Harold, who decided to renovate it himself.

"Fifty years of my life was spent every summer in Medora," Sheila says. "Long before we ever had the interstate and Harold (still) had the Gold Seal Company and his ranch, we flew out and landed on a cliff near the house."

Sheila says they would "buzz the town a bit" until someone drove out in a car to pick them up. When it came time to depart, a car would drive to the edge of the cliff and point its headlights toward the plane. The pilot knew he had to be in the air by the time they reached those headlights.

In the 1960s, a theater organization mounting a play production in Medora got into financial trouble. The organizers offered Harold the outdoor theater in exchange for paying their bills.

In 1965, the first Medora Musical, "Teddy Roosevelt Rides Again," opened, with the audience paying $1 to $2 to sit on benches.

Harold Schafer had a list of things he wanted for the Medora Musical, which Sheila says they still have today: a clean show that "your grandmother and kids could come to"; horses; flags; a patriotic ending; and an opportunity for kids to get on stage.

"(The Medora Musical) just grew every year," Sheila says.

Fifty years after the founding, 115,000 people visited the Medora Musical in 2015. Sheila Schafer saw it 20 times herself.

"When one of the kids comes -- a grandchild or great-grandchild -- I think, 'Oh, I want to see what they think,'" she says.

In the beginning, Sheila was busy sweeping and cleaning just like the employees. Now, she spends her days welcoming family, friends and the occasional VIP to Medora and to her home.

"I'm pretty busy just being part of the town," Schafer says.

Conventional wisdom says that the Schafers' log house is the best place to watch Fourth of July fireworks over Medora. Sheila stocks 400 ice cream bars in her freezer and hosts family, employees and whoever else shows up.

Even though she completed her college degree at age 85, Schafer says she is starting to slow down at age 90. Her birthday tradition has been to climb Buck Hill, the highest point in Theodore Roosevelt National Park. In the last 5 or 6 years she said she has needed a little help from friends, including historian Clay Jenkinson.

This was the first year she was unable to climb Buck Hill due to health reasons.

"I love that hill," Schafer says. "It's one of my favorite places in the park. That's certainly a tradition I hope I get to do again next year at 91."

Cathryn Sprynczynatyk Anderson is a lifelong resident of Bismarck, a proud Ukrainian and a news junkie. She is wife to Jason and mother to Sigurdor and Henrik.