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Linda Shoemaker, Huntington music teacher and band director, dies at 76

Jack Abrams, former principal in the Huntington school

Jack Abrams, former principal in the Huntington school district, and Linda Shoemaker on Sept 2, 2008, at the dedication ceremony for Jack Abrams Intermediate School in Huntington Station. Photo Credit: James M. Hoops

The Christmas parade with the local youth marching band had just ended when Linda Shoemaker declared that one day she'd be in that band too. This was 1946. And that Linda was just 4 years old was of little matter, her sister, Doris Mady, recalled last week. 

Even as a young child, Mady said, her kid sister had her goals, knew her mind, was true to her loves — first and foremost among them, music. Linda was the girl who came home from nursery school singing children's songs in French, the girl whose ancestors included music teachers and opera singers, even a great-great-grandfather who Mady said had been a drummer in the War of 1812.

"For which side? Probably for the U.S.," she said  last eek. 

So perhaps it was to be expected Linda Shoemaker would go on to have a lifetime love affair with music, first as a clarinetist for that notable youth band back in Huntington Park, California, then as an accomplished musician, music teacher and band director in a career that spanned 30 years in the Huntington Union Free School District. She taught first at the old Woodbury Avenue School, then at Flower Hill elementary and J. Taylor Finley Middle School before carefully crafting a band program that would rise to national prominence at Huntington High School. 

Shoemaker, who never married, died Aug. 10 at age 76, at her home in Huntington.

But sister Doris, 84, of West Linn, Oregon, a suburb of Portland, said: "While she never gave birth, all her students were her children and she loved them deeply."

As Beatrice Clemons, a 1976 Huntington alum who lives in Huntington Station and remained friends with Shoemaker until her death, said: "She was very demanding. But she made you want to improve, made you want to participate, made you want to succeed. She made you step it up, toe the line. But she also knew how to make it fun … and we all had lifelong associations because of that."

Shoemaker was born to Oliver H.P. Shoemaker and Gladys L. Shoemaker on Sept. 30, 1942, in Bell, California, a suburb of Los Angeles, the youngest of three sisters, the eldest of whom, Norma Jean, died before the birth of middle sister Doris in 1935.

Doris said the love of music "was inborn."

"On my mother's side we had an ancestor who sang opera in Chicago," Doris said, adding that ancestor was the notable William Wade Hinshaw, who also authored books on American Quaker genealogy and whose son was Rep. John Carl Hinshaw of California. "On my father's side, my grandmother's parents were both teachers of music." There also was that War of 1812 drummer.

With all that music in her blood, and having watched the Huntington Park Youth Band in that Christmas parade, Shoemaker took up clarinet in the fourth grade and later not only played in the youth band, but played at Downey High School, where she participated in the famed Rose Parade, hosted by the Pasadena Tournament of Roses annually. After high school, Shoemaker attended what was then Long Beach State College before earning a full scholarship to the University of Nevada-Reno, where Doris said her sister was first-chair clarinet.

After graduation, Shoemaker moved to Columbus, Ohio, where she worked in a music store while attending classes at The Ohio State University — the school whose marching band is renowned for its halftime performances in college football games.

Then, in 1967, Shoemaker got two job offers. One in Arizona, the other in Huntington.

"She knew nothing about Long Island," Doris said. "But she came here and it was an immediate thing, where everything just fell into place." Shoemaker first rented an apartment in Lake Ronkonkoma, then bought a house on Lovers Lane in Huntington.

Then she went about taking the district band programs to new heights.

"She was just so huge in Huntington music," said Mike Connell, director of the M.A. Connell Funeral Home in Huntington Station, where a wake was held for Shoemakerbefore her burial Aug. 23 at the Huntington Rural Cemetery. Connell was Class of '79 at Huntington, playing with the first band Shoemaker brought to march in the Rose Parade on New Year's Day 1979. "We had a great experience and it really all was because of her. She really touched a lot of lives."

Clemons, whose younger sister Fay marched in that Rose Parade with Connell, recalled the first time she met Shoemaker, back at Finley Middle School. Clemons played oboe. "She developed such a band there that she would march 200 kids down the street. When we got to high school we had guys on the football team — and they'd play at halftime with the band, instead of being in the locker room with the team. She inspired that kind of commitment, but it also reflects on the way the other teachers and the coaches respected her — that they'd let their athletes do that. That they understood the importance."

Like the story of how one prominent Suffolk County wrestler at Huntington, which built a prominent statewide wrestling reputation under legendary coach Lou Gianni, passed on participation in a tournament meet to march in the Rose Parade when the band returned in 1989.

"She ruled with an iron hand," one district observer said, "but she knew what she wanted and she made things happen."

An added bonus to all her work with the school music programs, friends and family said, was that Shoemaker could hop the train to New York City, where she attended events at the Met and other music venues, attending various operas as well as performances by the New York Philharmonic. Her favorite performers included Luciano Pavarotti, Beverly Sills, Renata Tebaldi, Leotyne Price and Maria Callas.

But it wasn't just music that got under her skin. She also loved sports, her sister Doris said, and the two went to Yankee Stadium to watch the Yankees, especially Derek Jeter, and to Shea Stadium and to Cooperstown and even to Fenway Park. "To see the Yankees and the Red Sox," Doris said. "And, to see Derek Jeter. She loved Derek Jeter."

An avid, accomplished photographer, Shoemaker traveled the world. Her sister said her favorite places included Ireland and Kenya, which she visited three times. Shoemaker loved animals, raising collies and also making her home a home to beloved cats.

An annual $1,000 scholarship at Huntington is named after Shoemaker, who retired in 1997. And a band competition  at the school scheduled for Sunday, Oct. 6, also plans to honor her life, according to district officials.

Shoemaker is survived by Mady and her husband, Mike Mady, as well as nieces Cyndee J. Mady and Lisa L. Buchanan, grandniece Taylor L. Buchanan, grandnephews Jeremy M. DeGonia and Dallas R.M. Buchanan, and great-grandniece Adrian DeGonia, all of Oregon. 

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