BOSQUE FARMS—The final bell was rung for a long-time Bosque Farms volunteer firefighter and fire chief Saturday afternoon, as more than 100 people turned out to the station to honor the late Walter Louis Shoemaker Jr.
Shoemaker died on Sunday, Nov. 3, at age 90. He served the Bosque Farms Volunteer Fire Department for 36 years, 29 of them as chief.
Current Bosque Farms Fire Chief Spencer Wood joined the department at 25 and worked with Shoemaker for many years.
Wood remembers sitting shifts at the old fire station, an uninsulated building on Esperanza Drive near the elementary school
“In the winter, we sat real close,” Wood said with a chuckle.
No matter the weather, no matter the day of the week, Shoemaker was always there to answer a call and train a young batch of firefighters.
“He was always ready to go with a grin, and we did training on some cold nights no matter what,” Wood said. “There was no room for softies.”
Wanting to know everything but not knowing anything, Wood said he had a lot of ideas he pitched Shoemaker as a young firefighter.
“I’d be all excited and tell him something, and he’d tell me I was wrong. And I’d say, we will just have to agree to disagree,” Wood said. “He told me, we can agree to disagree but you’re still wrong. But he listened and you’d get something out of it in the end.”
Wood said Shoemaker understood the value of giving back to the community and working with the people of Bosque Farms
“It was his pleasure to step up and help somebody having a bad day,” the chief said.
Shoemaker was a proud bilingual, third-generation New Mexican, his eulogy read. Born in Raton, he spent his childhood at a remote sawmill in the northern mountains of the state.
Shoemaker attended eighth grade at the original Bosque Farms Elementary School, when he lived in the village with this aunt and uncle, Crystal and Chester Carpenter, two of the original WPA dairy farmers in Bosque Farms.
He graduated from Spring High School in 1947, and on his 18th birthday, enlisted in the Navy. Shoemaker served from 1947 to 1952.
After the Navy, he began a 30-year career on the technical staff at Sandia National Laboratory.
In addition to working full-time at the labs, Shoemaker farmed 40 acres raising beef cattle. He was one of the original members of the village’s volunteer fire department, and his son, Lee Shoemaker, carries on the tradition and has been with the department for 41 years.
The fire new station, located next to city hall on West Bosque Loop, was dedicated to Shoemaker on April 20, 2018.
He taught remote water shuttle methods at the state fire academy in Socorro, and he and Lee created a siphoning system, which is now used by firefighters nationwide that is simply known as “the Shoemaker.”
He was an avid hunter and fisherman, loved being outdoors, instilling a love of nature in his family, as well as the importance or education and community service.
“Walt was known for his sense of humor and for his ability to answer any question or provide the right tool for any job,” his eulogy read in part.
Shoemaker, frequently an early adopter of technology, created many programs in MSDOS for the department, many of which still linger on, Wood said.
“Because of the foundation he laid, we are now at a rating of ISO 3, one of the best in the country,” he said. “Thank you to Peggy (his wife) and the Shoemaker family for sharing him with us.”
Peggy, Shoemaker’s wife of 62 years, said her husband had a great love of family, and didn’t hesitate to express his opinion.
The two met when they were both working at Sandia Labs. A friend introduced them in the parking lot one day after work.
“In 62 years, you go through a lot together,” Peggy said. “I’m going to miss having him around, doing our thing.”
When you think of the people who make Bosque Farms what it is, Walt Shoemaker is at the top of the list, said Mayor Wayne Ake.
“I admire everyone we have in the department. They give us so much,” Ake said. “It is very fitting so many people came out today to remember Walt.”
Shoemakers granddaughters, Erin Scott, Caitlin Scott Gallegos, Crystal Shoemaker and Tanya Gonsales shared memories of their “Papa” at the ceremony.
His special “Papa whistle” that summoned the grandkids to him after a cold morning of riding his four-wheeler through the cow pastures, cold hands seeking a warm neck.
The lesson Caitlin learned — to never walk bare foot in a cow pasture — was one the more whimsical memories Shoemaker left among the deep and abiding ones.
“He showed me the impact you can have on a child’s life — show up, spend time with them, show them they are loved, cared for and supported,” Caitlin said. “I continue to aspire to be like him.”
Erin asked anyone wanting to honor Shoemaker to contribute to the GoFundMe campaign set up in his name, which benefits the fire department directly.
“This department and station, he really loved them so much,” Erin said. “He dedicated so much of his life to it.
“He led by example and had a can-do, make-it-happen attitude, a sense of duty to family. I am so grateful he had a positive influence on my life. He lived an impactful 90 years.”
Debra Shoemaker, his daughter, said her father taught her and her siblings, their children and grandchildren many lessons during his life.
“There were so many lessons. No. 1 was that education is important,” Debra said.
Initially, the essential tools to a good education were a mechanical pencil and a slide rule, she said, which evolved into calculators, computers and smart phones, or as he dubbed them, “dumb-ass phones.”
Learn to drive a standard. Few occasions were formal enough to merit more than a good pair of blue jeans and a snap-front Western shirt. Dogs, and cats, belonged outside.
“That’s a lesson the family disregarded,” Debra laughed.
The perfect meal was a home-grown beef steak and a bowl of pinto beans with green chile.
“The day after he died, I got up and took a walk, and he had one final lesson. Angels really do exist,” she said, smiling.
Tanya said every time she talked to her grandfather, she learned a new lesson.
“Whether it was feeding cows and learning how to call them or anything else, he loved talking and teaching you a new lesson,” she said. “I can say he was the most tech savvy grandparent I ever met.”
Crystal Shoemaker said she and her grandfather shared an unspoken bond.
“He wasn’t a man to show his feelings but he showed you through his actions,” Crystal said. “The last conversation we had, just him and I, I told him thank you and before I could say how much I appreciated me, he just said, ‘Don’t tell me what I already know. You’ve shown me through your gratitude.’”
The memorial ended with a bell ceremony, ringing out the code 10-81 with five tolls, then three, then one, signifying the firefighter had finished with the call and returned safely to quarters.
Wood said the urn containing Shoemaker’s cremains was made by his son, Lee, a master welder, from a piece of pipe of the original, “infamous” Shoemaker. It was topped by the family’s ranch brand.
“Walt left some very specific coordinates in northern New Mexico where his ashes are to be scattered,” the chief said. “I’m sure they’re accurate down to a matter of feet.”
The family asked anyone who would like to honor Shoemaker contribute to the GoFundMe campaign they set up to make donations to the Bosque Farms fire Department.
The campaign can be found at gofundme.com by searching for “In Honor of Walter Shoemaker.”
As of Tuesday, Nov. 12, the campaign has raised $600, exceeding the goal of $500.
Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.