Louise Shumaker, who was director of disability services at Hope College for nearly three decades, died on Monday, April 4. She was 68.
She had been on leave from the college since earlier in the semester after being diagnosed with a non-treatable aggressive form of cancer. She died peacefully at her home surrounded by family.
Shumaker made a career of helping others with disabilities. She had been a member of the Hope staff since 1987, the same year that she graduated from the college with a psychology-sociology composite major.
Among other activities at the college, she coordinated the annual Disability Awareness Week since initiating the event in 1988. Held during the spring semester, the week features a variety of activities designed to educate about disabilities and accessibility, from invited speakers, to descriptive-video versions of popular films, to the opportunity to participate in disability simulations. This year’s week is running Monday-Friday, April 11-15.
Born legally blind, Shumaker was in her 30s and a married mother of two when she enrolled at Hope part-time in 1980. It was following her contributions as an intern in the student development office, during which her responsibilities included work on behalf of students with disabilities, that the college invited her to create a more formal program and she joined the staff, the establishment of her position predating the creation of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act by three years. In addition to her undergraduate degree from Hope, she held a master’s in interpersonal and family communication from Western Michigan University.
The college’s office of disability services offers assistance to all students with disabilities both in the classroom and in day-to-day life on campus, seeking to equip them with skills which will promote independent living after they leave Hope and pursue careers anywhere in the world. Shumaker mentored more than 500 students with disabilities during her nearly 30 years at Hope.
Beyond her work at the college, she was active in working on behalf of those with disabilities at the local and state level as well. Among other service, she was a past president of the Michigan Commission on Handicapper Higher Education.
She received a variety of local and state honors in recognition of her work. In 2012, she received the “Ability Award” from the Disability Network/Lakeshore. In 1995, she received the “State Advocate of the Year” award presented by the Statewide Independent Living Council, the Michigan Commission on Disability Concerns and the Michigan Association of Centers for Independent Living. In 1993, she received the “Michigan State Victory Award” presented by Governor John Engler as part of the national Victory Awards sponsored by the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Washington, D.C.
Her involvement in the life of the college had also included past service as advisor to the Sibylline sorority. In addition, in 1994, at the invitation of the graduating class, she delivered the college’s Commencement address.
A Celebration of Life Service will be held on Saturday, April 16, at 2 p.m. at First United Methodist Church, located at 57 W. 10th St. between Pine and River avenues. Visitation will be prior to the service starting at 1 p.m. A reception will be held after the service for friends and family to gather. In lieu flowers, the Shumaker family has requested that a donation be made in Louise’s honor to Leader Dogs for the Blind (leaderdog.org/).