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Spanish Fork woman turns love of music into a lifelong career

SPANISH FORK — Windy Shaffer never let anything stop her from doing things her way. Even her name is unique: "A clever consequence of being born in a windstorm," she says.

Shaffer's a bit of a musician, dabbling with a tuba or a cello, but she's not afraid to admit that her prospects of becoming a musician were always slim.

"I've always really liked music, but I started late enough in life that I wasn't much of a performer," she said. "I enjoy playing at a community level, but I'm never going to outplay anybody."

Windy Shaffer plays a broken oboe in order to determine how to fix it at her shop in Spanish Fork shop on Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2018.
Windy Shaffer plays a broken oboe in order to determine how to fix it at her shop in Spanish Fork shop on Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2018.
Ray Boone, Deseret News

Shaffer may not be an expert at any instrument, but she's definitely a novice in most all of them. Her home is also a business — walking through her front door, you're not greeted by a living room, but what bears a closer resemblance to an engineering workshop.

Her space is filled with the screeching sounds of an oboe, but the unpleasant squeals serve a purpose. Shaffer says she's able to play most instruments well enough to determine what's wrong with them, which is exactly what she's doing.

"We have a brand name we've never heard of," Shaffer said, pointing to a logo on the oboe. "It might be a high-end instrument, or it might be a cost-effective instrument that may or may not be effective in the long run."

Shaffer's an expert in the realm of instrument repair, and runs a business she calls "Windy's Winds." It's a career she didn't know existed until it "landed in her lap" while she was part of a high school band. She's got the diploma to back up her status, and started running her own business at the age of 19.

But she learned early on that this was a boy's club.

"I was a girl and it was a mechanical industry," Shaffer said. "It's been an interesting road to travel: 'Oh, you can't really know how to do that.' And, 'Oh, where's the boss? OK, you're the secretary, tell me who's going to actually fix my instrument.'"

But Shaffer was determined.

"I just did it anyway," she said. "I got harassed, I got teased, but not enough that it stopped me."

And times have changed — Shaffer says she hasn't encountered anyone doubting her engineering skills in years.

"It's still more than 50 percent male, but there's a significant number of women repair technicians out there now."

But just when she thought her problems were through, Shaffer encountered what may have been her biggest struggle to date.

"I saw a billboard on my way to run errands. It says, 'Cancer loves procrastinators,'" she said. "So I decided I shouldn't procrastinate, and I should go get my mammogram."

The results weren't what she was expecting.

Windy Shaffer works on a french horn in her Spanish Fork shop on Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2018.
Windy Shaffer works on a french horn in her Spanish Fork shop on Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2018.
Ray Boone

"They called me the Wednesday before Christmas and said, 'You have cancer. Oh, but you can't see the doctor until after New Year's.' So I had the whole holidays to wonder if I was going to live or die."

Shaffer's done it all: surgery, radiation, chemotherapy.

"My doctors have been really proud of how well I've coped with all of the medicines," she said. "I had fewer side effects, and they say a lot of it has to do with your attitude."

Although she's slowed down, Shaffer's still kept busy in her shop — and in the year since her diagnosis, her song's become a little more upbeat. She's particularly proud of the fact that her hair is growing back, which she happily shows off by removing her hat.

"I should be cleared to live a long and healthy life," she said.

You may not find Shaffer on stage at Carnegie Hall — but in the symphony of her life, the lasting melody is simple: never let anything stop you from doing things your way.