MCGILL: Shoemaker Legacy Grows with Big Green Endowment
The Word on the Herd -- May 29, 2018
By Chuck McGill
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – Dan Shoemaker devoted a significant part of his life to the betterment of Marshall University athletics. That mission will not cease with his passing.
Shoemaker, a Huntington native and Marshall graduate, died April 4 at the age of 66. On the afternoon before he left the world far too soon, he had lunch with a friend, Vicki Taylor, and the conversation navigated unusual ground.
“It was a little different from some of my normal discussions with Dan,” Taylor said. “He talked a lot about what he hoped his legacy would be; how he hoped he would be recognized and remembered; and how important it was to him that people know – especially his daughters – what he had done for so many people throughout his life, Marshall and the community included.”
Taylor listened, and a few days later she was approached by Dan's wife, Vita Shoemaker, at Dan's memorial service in Huntington.
“She wanted to talk with me because I was the last friend with Dan, and she asked me what my thoughts were,” Taylor said. “She asked if he would want to do something for Marshall. Absolutely. He loved Marshall, no matter what.”
The Dan Shoemaker Endowment, created through the Big Green Scholarship Foundation, the fundraising arm of Marshall athletics, is now a reality. Shoemaker’s friends and family are making contributions to the endowment, which means Shoemaker’s pledge to help his alma mater will continue through the years.
“Dan is a local guy, he grew up here, he taught at Huntington East (High School), he coached at Huntington East, he went to college at Marshall,” said Marc Subik, a longtime friend. “He spent 50 years here. He, like many people, bled green. He was a true Marshall fan. You add that to what he did for a living brought him into direct contact with athletics, and even though he worked with hundreds of colleges, in the back of his mind was always this: What can I do for Marshall?
“He was always looking to promote Marshall, look out for the welfare of Marshall, do what he could behind-the-scenes to put Marshall in as favorable of a position as possible.”
Shoemaker made the transition from high school teacher and coach to television executive early in his career. He started Creative Productions and relocated to Charlotte in 2007. Shoemaker was the vice president of collegiate development at ESPN, but no matter where he was or for whom he worked, he wanted to elevate Marshall’s profile in the collegiate landscape.
“What made him unique is he was an athletics guy with a coaching background, but he also had a vision for telecommunications,” said Mike Kirtner, who is CEO of Kindred Communications and a longtime friend of Dan. “He really saw the benefit of satellite technology and Marshall was an early beneficiary of that. Marshall was being broadcast all over the country.”
Shoemaker maintained a presence in Huntington even after his departure more than a decade ago, and even kept an office here to retain local employees so they and their families did not have to relocate. He made frequent trips back to Huntington, especially for football and basketball games.
“That’s where he grew up and that’s where he got his opportunity,” Vita Shoemaker said. “He just always loved Marshall.”
Vita said her husband was especially ecstatic about the Thundering Herd men’s basketball program reaching the NCAA tournament, and then advancing, this March.
“That was a long time coming,” she said.
Kirtner said Dan Shoemaker’s initial broadcast contributions came on the basketball side, but then he shifted to football in the early 90s as the program ascended. Kirtner said Shoemaker’s involvement “absolutely parallels” the Herd’s success, and that is “not an accident.”
“Particularly in the southern markets and in the I-AA days of Marshall, the football coaches who were recruiting would tell the kids where these games were going to be broadcast,” Kirtner said. “Marshall was broadcast nationwide as a I-AA school – they were way ahead of the curve back then – and it was Dan’s vision that got it there.”
Dan Shoemaker met his wife, Vita, after she moved back to Huntington in 1988 after she lived in Washington, D.C., for eight years. She, like Dan, is a Huntington native, but they did not know each other until she returned.
She watched her husband dedicate his life to elevating others, and he cared deeply for his daughters, Hannah and Gretchen.
This endowment, Subik said, is a continuation of a life’s work of giving. Marshall athletics and future student-athletes will benefit because of Shoemaker’s kindness and the generosity of the people who loved him.
“He would be delighted, thrilled, honored and humbled,” Subik said. “Anything he could do to support Marshall, he was more than happy to do. To be able to continue that even after he passed is good.”
Vita worked quickly after her husband’s passing to make the endowment a reality, along with people like Subik and Taylor.
“He just had a passion or Marshall,” Vita said. “He wanted to leave a legacy, especially for his daughters. He wanted to be known and remembered and this endowment could do just that. He touched a lot of lives. His main goal was he wanted to help people in their career, he wanted to help people advance.
“His passion for MU sports and wanting them to succeed never wavered.”