Arlene Shoemaker

Longtime Government Leader Named Waubonsee “Fab 40” Alumna

Waubonsee Community College has named Arlene Shoemaker, longtime community activist and county government leader, seen here at the Arlene Shoemaker Forest Preserve in Aurora, as one of the college’s “Fabulous 40”
Sugar Grove — Not everyone can take their dog for a walk in a forest preserve that shares their name. However, Arlene Shoemaker is able to walk Lexi, a mixed breed dog she rescued from an animal shelter two years ago, through the swamp white oak and shagbark hickory trees of the Arlene Shoemaker Forest Preserve on Aurora’s far east side. Waubonsee Community College is proud to honor the longtime community activist and county government leader as one of the college’s “Fabulous 40” alumni.

As part of the college’s yearlong 40th anniversary celebration, Waubonsee is honoring 40 alumni and students who embody the mission, vision and values of the college. These individuals represent the diversity of Waubonsee’s students and the college district, as well as the diversity of the college’s mission as a comprehensive community college.

Shoemaker has supported Waubonsee since before the college was founded. As a mother with 10 children, she knew that she, and other area families, needed an affordable higher education solution. She strongly backed the referendum that founded Waubonsee and took advantage of the new institution of higher learning by taking a class when the college opened in September 1967.

With her large family, Shoemaker knew that it might take her a while to complete her degree. She couldn’t have predicted, though, that it would take her more than two decades. Taking a class every semester that she could, she worked hard and eventually earned her Associate in Arts degree with honors in 1988.

“I took it one class at a time,” she said. “I had a drive to learn new things. I had so many good learning experiences at Waubonsee. I really had a great feeling of satisfaction when I graduated, especially since I hadn’t been the best student growing up. I was proud to graduate with honors.”

Over the years, Shoemaker watched many of her children and 21 grandchildren attend Waubonsee.

“Going to Waubonsee gave me a lot of understanding on what my kids were going through with their school work and how hard they worked,” she said.

Taking a number of political science classes, Shoemaker’s experiences foreshadowed her future in politics.

“Waubonsee has allowed me to succeed and see that I can do this,” she said. “It was an opening for me. It’s a wonderful place.”

In the late 1970s, with more and more of Aurora’s grand old homes being converted into multi-family homes, Shoemaker’s first foray into the public arena was a successful push to rezone Aurora’s older districts to reverse this trend. A lifelong east Aurora resident, she was first elected to the Kane County Board in 1980 and would serve in that capacity until 1992, returning recently to the board, representing District Three. She now works with the board to address the issues facing the county today.

“Kane County is doing an excellent job on managing growth,” she said. “We have to make sure that we grow as we should. We have an excellent board that is receptive to environmental concerns, buying more land for the forest preserves, and funding the farmland preservation program.”

Committed to conservation and the environment, Shoemaker previously served as the president of the Kane County Forest Preserve District. She worked tirelessly to create the Nature Center at Tekakwitha Woods, which she views as one of her greatest accomplishments.

“Seeing hundreds of kids running around at the Nature Center really made me feel so proud,” she said.

For her work with the forest preserve district, Shoemaker was honored with a new forest preserve in east Aurora dedicated in her honor. It is fitting that the Arlene Shoemaker Forest Preserve sits at the intersection of Reckinger and Felten roads in Aurora. Shoemaker’s family moved to the area in the mid-1800s and bought a farm on Schaeffer Road, a half mile from the Arlene Shoemaker Forest Preserve. Felten Road, which runs alongside the preserve, is named after the Felton family, who are also relatives of Shoemaker. Her namesake preserve includes diverse flora and fauna in wetland and prairie environments. The prairie path bike trail runs along the northern border of the preserve.

Still active with the Kane County Democratic Party, Shoemaker is the organization’s past chairman. She is the widow of Jerome Shoemaker, who was also politically active.

“Jerome was a wonderful dad and a wonderful husband,” she said.

The Aurora YWCA recently named Shoemaker’s daughter, Arlene Theresa Shoemaker, who is also a Waubonsee graduate, as one of the organization’s Women of the Year.

Shoemaker continues to advance her learning. She recently completed the Aurora Police Department’s Community Policing Program, learning all aspects of police work.