By Patti Rasmussen
Signal Staff Writer
Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2000
Mike Shuman, a longtime Santa Clarita Valley resident and former principal of Placerita Junior High School, died Sunday from an apparent heart attack at age 81. Memorial services are tentatively scheduled for 1 p.m. Sunday at the Hart auditorium.
Shuman joined the William S. Hart Union High School District in 1953 and retired in 1986. He is survived by Mary, his wife of 48 years; their three sons Mark, Derek and Todd; and one granddaughter, Tasha.
"There is very little you can say about Mike, just lovable Mike Shuman. He cared about everybody," said former Santa Clarita Mayor Clyde Smyth, who was Shuman's boss when Smyth was superintendent of schools.
"He had a great sense of humor, (was) tremendously loyal and had a great love for this valley. Next to (former Hart High Principal) George Harris, he is the heart of the Hart district.
"Nobody could ever replace the fact that in such a positive way he touched the lives of thousands and thousands of young people," Smyth said. "Everyone always has a Mike Shuman story and it's always a good one. Mike was just so much fun. I'm going to miss him."
"I loved him dearly," said Mayor Jo Anne Darcy, a longtime friend and neighbor. "He was a good friend, he was a good buddy to my husband, wonderful for the seniors and the Kiwanis, and anything else that he touched.
"He was a marvelous guy, and with a sense of humor that was really something," Darcy said. "He could make you laugh at a funeral and make you cry at a birthday party. I mean, he was that kind of funny. And he was truly loved by everybody. I don't believe (he had) an enemy in the world.
"I'm very sorry to see him go, and I hope he didn't have to suffer," Darcy said.
Bill White, a retired Hart district administrator, first met Shuman when he joined the Placerita faculty in 1960.
"We were in a dinner club together for many years," White said. "We were social friends and colleagues. My wife taught with Mike, too, anything he asked her to do.
"Mike loved kids. He was always out amongst them. He touched a lot of lives with his humor and quick wit. He drew his energy from people, he never brought you down," White said.
After retirement, Shuman stayed involved in educational activities. A member of the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society, Kiwanis and the California Retired Teacher's Association, Shuman racked up hundreds of volunteer hours and continued to stay connected to education and young people.
In the months before his death, Mike Shuman was still leading school tour groups through the SCV Historical Society's Saugus Train Station in Newhall. Photo (5-24-00) by Dan Watson/The Signal.
"Mike was one of the originators of our group," said Gerry Morey, president of the CRTA. "He was the chair of insurance and he kept in touch with what's happening in the state. He was interested in long-term care. We have a scholarship program named after Mike."
John Mann, president of the SCV Historical Society, said Shuman has been a good friend of the society. "Mike has been a charter member of the society since 1975. He is a past board member and very active in our events. He was a good friend, a good pal."
Through his tenure in the Hart district, Shuman touched the lives of many members of the community, including Cameron Smyth, now a city councilman.
"He is one of only two people that I would allow to call me ‘Cammy' he and Dr. (Mike) McGrath (retired Newhall School District superintendent)," Smyth said. "He was always extremely approachable. I always felt comfortable, not intimated, around him."
"Mike was my principal at Placerita Junior High," said Signal City Editor Leon Worden. "We kids were cruel. He was kind of short, and we would tease him behind his back.
"It was when I got to know him all over again as an adult, that I realized what a giant of a man he was. He was truly a friendly, warm-hearted person. I never quite figured out what he saw in me.
"One time Mike wrote something for me about his experiences as a Fire Ranger in the '50s," Worden said. "It was a summertime job he took to augment his salary as a teacher at Hart."
In that story [click here], Shuman wrote that he took up teaching after giving up on dentistry. Born to an Orthodox Jewish family in Fitchberg, Mass., on July 7, 1919, Shuman landed a job as an elementary school teacher after World War II in Bishop, and met his wife Mary there on a ski junket.
In 1953, the couple came to Newhall, where Shuman taught junior high at what was then William S. Hart Junior and Senior High School.
Teachers were paid only 10 months of the year, so a fellow teacher hooked him up with the U.S. Forest Service, where the teacher's husband was in charge of fire suppression for the Angeles National Forest's Saugus District. Shuman worked three summers putting out forest fires and earned the nickname, "Mike Shuman, Boy Ranger."
Shuman remembered a fire started by some shooters near what is now Castaic Lake.
"(The fire) was really taking off," Shuman wrote. "I ran to my patrol vehicle, got on the speaker radio and, forgetting everything I was supposed to inform (headquarters) of, I blurted out, ‘It's a Big One send everything!' I never did live that one down. I think they use it in training sessions as how not to report a fire."
Another time, up on the Ridge Route, Shuman faced "a sheet of flame like I had never seen. I knew I had to turn around. ... If I panicked or got stuck, I was a goner! I barely beat that wall of flame to the ridge.
"That and my recent heart attack," Shuman wrote in 1998, "are the two times I thought I was to meet my Maker."