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Florence 'Floss' Schumacher dies at 86; doyenne of Orange County arts scene

Schumacher played a key role in the beginnings of the Performing Arts Center, Pacific Symphony, the Pacific Chorale, the Philharmonic Society of Orange County and the now-defunct Opera Pacific.

August 04, 2009|Valerie J. Nelson

Florence "Floss" Schumacher, a doyenne of Orange County's social and arts scene for nearly three decades who was instrumental in establishing the Orange County Performing Arts Center and several performing arts organizations, has died. She was 86.

Schumacher died July 17 of a stroke at a rehabilitation center in Morro Bay, said her niece, Mary Foster, who had been caring for her.

Jan Landstrom, a friend and fellow volunteer, said Schumacher's "last name means 'shoemaker,' which is only fitting because no one in this county worked harder in getting performing groups on their feet."

She played a key role in the beginnings of resident companies at the performing arts center -- the Pacific Symphony, the Pacific Chorale, the Philharmonic Society of Orange County and the now-defunct Opera Pacific, which folded last year after 22 seasons.

David DiChiera, founder and former general director of Opera Pacific, called Schumacher's contributions "significant" as she helped him "develop an opera company from scratch."

"She had a tremendous amount of willpower, was very strong and could dominate the proceedings," he said. "And she was very smart."

Schumacher, who was a high-school bassoon player, spearheaded a program to provide free concerts for area youths. In 1974, she started Orange County's first vocal auditions for New York City's Metropolitan Opera.

Not only were she and her husband early and major donors to the performing arts center, she had worked since 1976 to raise more than $70 million in private funds to build the Costa Mesa structure. When it opened in 1986, she oversaw the requisite gala.

"In this day and age not many things are impossible," Schumacher told The Times in 1986, referring to the lavish opening-night party for 3,000 in a field near the arts center.

Each of four huge tents had been elaborately decorated to reflect a region and a performing-arts tradition, such as Russia and the ballet or New York and the Broadway musical. New York's skyline was carved in 300-pound blocks of ice. Live swans glided in reflecting ponds.

She developed a reputation for throwing soirees with style. Reporters called her a "social lioness" and a "social/arts cyclone."

With her husband, Ed Schumacher -- the longtime chief executive of Global Van Lines -- she had moved to Newport Beach in 1964 with their two children.

"Ed and I came from Arcadia, over the hill and down to the beach," Schumacher said in 1986 upon accepting a service award from the Philharmonic Society. "I thought, 'Well, I've done it all.' I was going to rest, lie on the beach in the sun with my little children and have a nice holiday. . . . Well, forget the beach. I don't even know where the beach is."

She was born Florence Madonna Rapp on Jan. 18, 1923, in Denver, the second of four children of James and Catherine Rapp. Her father was a diabetes researcher.

Six weeks after meeting Ed at a dance in San Diego, she married him in 1949. The couple traveled the world and once lived in Japan.

They adopted a son, Mark, and a daughter, Anne, who was 3 when the family realized she was developmentally disabled.

In her daughter's honor, Schumacher became involved with UC Irvine's Brain Imaging Center Committee, which was founded 25 years ago. The committee educates the community about brain illnesses and raises funds for the center.

Dr. Steven Potkin, director of the Brain Imaging Center, said Schumacher was an early and "most active" committee member.

"She was always kind," he said. "She was a very giving person, and she could persuade people who might be reluctant to be part of things."

By 1994, she was legally blind from macular degeneration. She and her husband had moved to Palm Desert and later lived in Las Vegas. The couple divorced in 2001.

For decades, Schumacher had helped provide the Orange County glitterati with a stylish way to spend an evening, but she wasn't afraid to reuse a designer dress.

When she ran into a guest in an identical ball gown at a 1989 Asian-themed Opera Pacific gala, Schumacher -- then the opera's chairwoman of the board -- admitted she had owned hers for "a while" and began to giggle.

"It was so perfectly Oriental I couldn't see going out and buying a new one," said Schumacher, who had given the Performing Arts Center's building fund one of its first noncorporate gifts -- a $300,000 check.

In addition to her two children, Schumacher is survived by her sister, Carol, and two granddaughters.

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valerie.nelson@latimes.com

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