Community Leader Peter Shumaier Dies

Community Leader Peter Shumaier Dies

<bt>Even on blustery January Saturdays when there was only a handful of vendors Peter Schumaier could be found with his friends at the Old Town Market where they discussed the problems of the world and then went on to the Royal Restaurant for breakfast.

Schumaier, 83, a retired federal government economist, died at his home in the Del Ray section of Alexandria, on July 27 of complications associated with leukemia.

"He was a great one for getting people together to talk about things," said Judge Daniel O'Flaherty. "We would get together at Market Square and go have breakfast at the Royal Cafe. He set up a group at St. Elmo's too, a dozen people to get a view of what was going on." O'Flaherty, who first met Schumaier in the 60s said he had gotten to know him well in the last ten years since Schumaier retired. "He was a very intelligent individual and a great guy along with it."

Born to a farming family in Pinckneyville, Illinois, Peter Schumaier graduated from Pinckneyville High School and went on to obtain a B.A, B.S and M.S. from Southern Illinois University where he studied agricultural economics. After serving as an officer in the U.S. Navy in Hawaii during WWII, Peter Schumaier received his Ph.D. from the University of Illinois . After teaching at the university, he moved to Alexandria in 1960 to pursue a career in the federal government. He joined the Maritime Administration, and subsequently worked for the Department of Commerce, the Department of Agriculture, and the Federal Energy Agency before joining the Department of Transportation upon its formation in 1967. As Assistant Secretary for Policy and International Affairs (International Transportation and Trade, Maritime Division) he was responsible for formulating policy and negotiating international agreements related to international transportation and trade policy, working on loan for a short time (1968-1970) for the United Nations Trade and Development division in Geneva, Switzerland. He retired from the Department of Transportation in 1994.

ACTIVE IN LOCAL politics, he served as the president of the Old Town Civic Association, chaired the City of Alexandria's Parking and Traffic Board, and was an election official for many years. Until his death, he chaired the Alexandria Transit Company's board of directors, which oversees the operation of Alexandria's local DASH buses. He was an avid proponent of public transportation who recalled with pride that in his entire career he never once drove his car to work. He and his wife, Dee, moved to Del Ray from Old Town in 1998 and he continued his participation in City affairs through his membership in the Del Ray Citizens Association and activities associated with Agenda Alexandria and the Alexandria Democratic Committee. He was honored by the ADC this year with a Grass Roots award "for his outstanding contributions to the Alexandria Democratic Community as the Cora Kelly Precinct Captain, the founder of the Democratic Book Club, the philosopher of St. Elmo's and a tireless volunteer."

"I knew him for bout thirty years. "said U.S. Rep. Jim Moran. "I met him when I ran for City Council in 1979. He was an activist about issues I cared about, affordable housing, shelter, the schools. He was always very much involved in the community and an aggressive advocate.

"Most recently he was a fixture in Del Ray, at St. Elmo's the oracle of Del Ray, always opinionated, always well informed. Pete was a very decent man, very smart, very caring, very engaged, very unassuming. He read everything, he carried about issues and was involved in almost everything.

"We don't have enough people like that who care so much about their community to get so involved. He was wonderful guy. "

O'Flaherty said the group that met on Wednesdays at St Elmos, the Aristotle Cafe will keep meeting in memory of him. Schumaier was chairman of the group, planning discussions and bringing clippings from the three newspapers he read every day, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the Wall St. Journal.

"I was a fringe member of Peter's Wednesday morning coffee group at St. Elmo's,," said Anna Leider. " An eclectic bunch of friends representing (among others) economists, journalists, engineers, teachers, doctors, judges and military officers. At first I simply eavesdropped on their discussions, it was always a fascinating journey through the week's events, from local traffic woes to the latest intractable international crisis. By 11:30 a.m. each week, all of the world's problems would be neatly solved. And as I would leave St. Elmo's to go to work, Peter would get me to stop for a few minutes, then a few minutes longer, and then for an hour. And before long, I was part of the group. Peter had a way of drawing people in like that, and making them feel welcomed and comfortable."

Until his illness, Peter Schumaier was active as a tutor of local elementary school children, especially those for whom Spanish was the first language. His knowledge of French and Spanish helped him communicate with the children, but especially with their parents who often spoke little or no English. He often spoke of how his journey from a one-room schoolhouse in rural Illinois to a successful professional career in Washington was in no small part due to the public education he received.

When Schumaier retired in 1994 he gave a speech and talked about what he would do with his time. " It will be the first time since I was 4 (on the farm you have to start to work early and I was the oldest) that I will not have to work. Old farmer that I am, I will spend a lot more time flower gardening in the City park back of my house (and in my daughters' gardens if they would like).

He kept his word. His daughter Dara described the garden he created near the family home on South Lee "My family lived on South Lee from 1960 until 1998 when my parents moved to Del Ray. He created a garden along the hill by the railroad right of way. After he moved to Del Ray he took up planting cannas and did a bit of hydro engineering at the Charley Hill Park at DeWitt and Oxford. He created a marvelous garden at his new house in Del Ray and my parents won a beautification award," she said.

Describing earlier memories, Dara said, "My dad was always curious about construction around town. He used to take his daughters on weekends to different sites. One day we walked out on the original Woodrow Wilson Bridge. Recently I took him across the new bridge. He was impressed."

With all his political and civic activities, Schumaier still found time to play volleyball with "people half his age," Dara Schumaier said, "and he played up to a few months ago."

"A few winters ago, he even convinced me to dig out my 25-year old ice skates, and go down to the Mall (in DC) to take a few laps around the rink with him and his daughter Lisa.," said Anna Leider "Peter was a terrific skater and would give free lessons to anyone who looked like they could use a steadying hand. I'll really miss that hand."

Though not particularly artistic himself, he enjoyed supporting the arts his daughter Dara said. "He had subscriptions to MetroStage and other local theaters. He was always at receptions at the Torpedo Factory where my sister Lisa's studio is."

Peter Schumaier was preceded in death by his beloved wife of 57 years, Dee, who passed away May 1, 2006. He is survived by three younger brothers, Emory, Eugene and George Schumaier, all of Pinckneyville, Illinois, and by his three daughters, Dara, Lisa and Amy, all residents of Alexandria, as well as many long-time friends.

A memorial service is planned for next week at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington. Everly Wheatley Funeral Home, in Alexandria is handling the arrangements.