If there was ever a model example of a woman who had fire in her veins, boundless light in her heart, and the rare gift to directly touch a person’s soul, it would be Bethiah Shuemaker.
It was yesterday that she left us.
There is a great undefinable sorrow within me as I write this. Perhaps, it’s best described as a surreal numbness with a touch of denial. Even as I type these very words, I fully expect to hear her walk into my office to tell me she emailed me a Facebook post or request a flyer for a program two months away. It’s just weird to imagine that I’ll never get to hear her voice again.
Shuemaker, or Shue as I often called her, was and continues to be an inspiration to all of us both in Parks and Recreation and in public service. Shue could build a program from absolutely nothing and make it successful. She could bring together a community of the most diverse backgrounds and have them assemble massive potlucks. She could tell you the most well-known public piece of information and make it feel like a secret just between her and you.
I met Shuemaker a little over three years ago when she was working as an Extended Care Leader – a position she had for over 17 years. I was working at the Front Desk and I got to watch her pick the kids up from the school bus and walk them to her classroom every day. Some of those kids really got along with her. Some of them were afraid of her; she didn’t tolerate nonsense! But she loved each and every one of those kids, and whether or not they realized it, each of those kids for the past 17 years has her handprint on their heart.
It wasn’t long after I met her that she was promoted to full time Recreation Specialist for Seniors. As an outsider, it totally made sense to me. What I didn’t know was how terrified she was to accept the position. A few of my coworkers told me how worried she was about working with adults ages 55+ when a large chunk of her career was spent working with children ages 5-11. As somebody watching from the Front Desk, it just seemed like such a natural fit for her that I actually wondered why she hadn’t been in that position sooner.
Shue singlehandedly grew the Senior program to what it is today. The massive growth in Active Adult memberships and Senior passports was largely due to the fact that she connected with each and every senior that came to our building. When I worked at the Front Desk, I remember calling her office every time a new senior came to the Community Center, and each time she came up and gave them the world’s longest tour of the building.
In the office, she celebrated each and every membership she sold. She’d visit every office and tell us that she’d sold a membership, who they were, and what they loved about the Community Center. Then she’d ask us if we had sold any services that day. Luckily for me, as Marketing Manager, my job is literally selling services. Some of my coworkers don’t have that luxury, and she would remind them – in the uniquely Shuemaker way – that they need to get out there and sell services.
She took pride in her job. You didn’t just see it – you felt it.
That pride transcended the halls of the Community Center. Everywhere she went, she tried to sell programs and memberships. She carried MOSAICs and flyers with her everywhere. She told doctors and nurses as far as 30+ miles away that they needed to get a membership to our Community Center. She believed in Parks and Recreation. She believed in her community. She believed in all of us.
There are so many programs that Shue launched and grew as the Recreation Specialist for Seniors. She had several crafting and knitting programs, with the most successful being her Charity Crafting program where she regularly shipped baby blankets and other handcrafted presents to babies in the hospital, to military families with babies whose spouse was deployed, and to scholarship programs like Foster Care to Success. Shuemaker helped secure space for the plarners who recycle plastic bags to craft functional items for the homeless. She launched the Shutterbug program, a photography club for seniors. Shue launched and grew the lunchtime senior potlucks and started the Coffee Klatch program, which was a breakfast potluck with speakers who provide valuable information for the senior community.
Personally, I think one of her crowning achievements was the growth of the pickleball program here at the Community Center. Working with two active volunteers, Bonnie Ballentine and Judy Nevitt, the three of them grew pickleball from one court of four players to three courts and over thirty players who meet at least three times a week. I remember when one of the nets Shuemaker ordered arrived damaged, how determined she was to get it replaced. She called customer service for months until they not only replaced it but gave her an upgraded set. The pickleball players recognize all that she did for the program, and in November, ran a pickleball tournament named after her called the Bethiah Shuemaker Shake, Rally, and Roll Pickleball Tournament.
I could talk about Shuemaker for hours – about how much she loved the work from my staff and me; about how I’m still not quite sure which is her favorite football team; about how to pronounce feng shui; about the nutritional value of almonds; about how much she cared about the part-time staff; about the strange fundraisers she helped with to raise money for the schools in the early days of Manassas Park; and about how I was out doing (or is it outdoing?) all the guys. Shue could make you laugh. She could motivate you to action. She could confuse you. She spoke with honesty. She loved vulnerably. She could drink with the best of us.
So here’s one more “one of those blue drinks” to you, Shue. Today we celebrate your life and your legacy. May we hope to have even a hundredth of the impact you made on your own.