Nancy Shoemaker, 87, teacher at Bryn Mawr, St. Paul's girls school

March 24, 2003|By Jonathan D. Rockoff | Jonathan D. Rockoff,SUN STAFF

Nancy Jane Shoemaker, a retired teacher whose husband's early illness and death forced her to become a single working mother, died Thursday of a heart attack at Roland Park Place. She was 87.

Mrs. Shoemaker, who was known as Janie, taught English at Bryn Mawr School and then St. Paul's School for Girls for two decades.

She took up the work in 1958, a few years after her husband, Dudley Shoemaker Jr., whom she married in 1938, was incapacitated by a brain tumor and she needed to support their three children. Mr. Shoemaker died in 1961.

"Most of the faculty were either maiden ladies or young unmarried people like myself," recalled Arna Margolis of Baltimore, who taught with Mrs. Shoemaker at Bryn Mawr School. "There were not a lot of single mommies who had to do it. And it was hard."

To earn money, Mrs. Shoemaker opened up her Roland Park home to boarders, often students at the Johns Hopkins University and visitors from abroad.

The boarders called the three-story house the College Inn, as much because of the warm atmosphere as the dormitory-like bulletin board in the kitchen that was decorated with photographs and announcements.

Dandy Blalock lived in the house in 1964, after his mother and father had died. He was 20 and appreciated knowing she was there for him.

"I wasn't some guy who lived upstairs," said Mr. Blalock, who lives in Blackhorse, Harford County, and remained friends with Mrs. Shoemaker. "We always had meals together. She enjoyed meeting my friends. There was a common television room."

Born in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., Nancy Jane Miller moved around the country as a child, following her father, who worked in plumbing supplies. The family settled in Baltimore when she was 10 years old, and she attended Roland Park Country School.

Mrs. Shoemaker was an accomplished athlete, playing varsity field hockey in the seventh grade. She was president of the student government at Wellesley College, from which she graduated in 1937.

Later as a teacher, Mrs. Shoemaker was a stickler for grammar, liberally applying her red pen to sentences diagrammed incorrectly. But she was also free with praise for her pupils, and her dramatic readings excited the children.

"You just wanted to do well for her because you just loved her," said daughter-in-law Mary Shoemaker of Baltimore, who studied under her future mother-in-law at Bryn Mawr School.

Mrs. Shoemaker was a member of the Junior League of Baltimore and an avid tennis player, dancer and reader. At her 75th birthday party, her children held a dance so she could practice her ballroom steps.

A memorial service will be held at 10 a.m. today in the chapel of the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer, 5603 N. Charles St.

Mrs. Shoemaker is survived by two sons, Dudley Shoemaker III and Joshua L. Shoemaker, both of Baltimore; a daughter, Ann Shoemaker Wyman of Cambridge, Mass.; seven grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

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