Shane Breer was a ‘textbook’ case of kindness

Shane Breer was a student at Norwich University before his untimely death on Sept. 3, 2016. His dedication for service to others before self was a way of life he carried into the classroom helping out fellow students.

Now an effort is under way to memorialize his sense of service by creating a scholarship in his name.

“He actually bought textbooks for other students,” said Emily Gray, associate professor of history. “Always anonymously, he would bring them in to faculty members and ask faculty to give them away,” said Gray.

He requested that they would be given to the students that he identified in class that needed them. Breer would ask Gray and his other professors before or after class to see if any other students needed books.

Gray recalled how Breer one day approached her after class with a handful of textbooks about two months into the semester and requested the books be given to a student who sat in front of him. “Breer always had the same request and that was it would be anonymous,” said Gray.

“I thought it was remarkable, but that’s a lot of money,” said Gray. Breer would always say that she shouldn’t worry and that he had extra money, she also said.

“We’re learning that that probably wasn’t true,” said Gray. He didn’t have as much extra money to afford the books for the other students, she also said.

Gray’s class wasn’t the only class where Breer was so generous to his fellow classmates. “I found out that he had done this in multiple classes,” said Gray. Breer would get part way through the semester then find out who needed the books and purchase them.

“He was very parental in some ways,” said Gray. “He really embodied the idea of service to others before self,” she said. “It’s the person he was.”

Gray and other members of the education department at Norwich are working on putting together a scholarship in Breer’s name. “One way we can honor his memory is create a textbook scholarship,” said Gray.

According to Gray, the vision is to have the scholarship money gathered now and have the actual scholarship handed out in the fall of 2017. The scholarship would go to students who can’t afford their textbooks, she said.

“Textbooks are hard because you get your financial aid, you get everything else taken care of, your tuition, the big bills, and then often when you go to buy textbooks you have nothing left,” said Gray. According to Gray most students in that situation wouldn’t even buy books because they are so restricted to what they can spend.

Gray has been working on spreading the word about the fund through social media and other means of mass communication. “We also have a lot of cooperation from the bookstore,” said Gray.

The bookstore is also working with Gray on the scholarship idea. The bookstore can do a voucher similar to the book voucher most students use already, she mentioned. The voucher system is money based off an individual student’s account in terms of whether they owe money to the school or not, according to the Norwich financial aid website.

In Gray’s office she has stacked up multiple boxes full of books from Breer’s bookshelf which she plans on selling back to the bookstore and using that money to go back into the fund. Whatever textbooks can’t be bought back will be donated to wherever they need to go, she said.

“Even for those who didn’t know Breer personally, his constant acts of kindness earned him a reputation that of respect,” said Ray Zirblis, professor of history at Norwich.

“Our culture is in transition in terms of books as a medium,” said Zirblis. Essentially meaning that books are becoming harder to get due to cost or availability. “Anything to do with getting books into the hands of those who need them has my respect and cooperation,” said Zirblis.

Zirblis has a slightly different perspective on the importance of not only using textbooks for class, but getting books in the hands of people who can’t afford them. When Zirblis was a merchant seaman in his earlier life, he would take any kind of reading material he could get to expand his knowledge on numerous topics, to pass time, and to absorb the context.

Most of the books came from collection bins that were mostly filled with trash, he said. “That was my education,” said Zirblis.

Gray was an older student who was 43 when he died and had already served in the military. People who knew him all agree with Gray that, “he was just a remarkable guy.”

Shane Alton Breer lived in South Barre, Vt., and died unexpectedly on Sept. 3 at home. He is a native Vermont who was born in Berlin on Aug. 28, 1973 according to his obituary.

In 1994, Shane was proud to begin serving with the U.S. Army as a scout with Troop G, 2nd Squadron of the 3rd Calvary Regiment in Bosnia and South Korea. Upon his return to the U.S., he volunteered for Honor Guard Detail until his honorable discharge in 1999, the obituary said.

Breer was honored by several military awards as well as recent rewards from Vermont and Norwich University. While in the Army he married Mary Everett Breer and they became the parents of a girl, Cheyenne Ashly Breer. (

Drew Alerdice, the manager of the Norwich University bookstore, said, “I am still shocked by Breer’s death.

“He was always a regular in here, even if he just came in to say hi. I love that kind of stuff from people,” said Alerdice.

He explains how Breer seemed to brighten the mood whenever he came through the door. “He always came in with a smile, really friendly, and a joy to be around,” said Alerdice.


  1. Jim & Rosemary Breer says:

    Thank you for the kind words for our wonderful son.

Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.