Remembering Nathan Shoehalter, 98, knighted World War II vet and ‘Uncle Shoe’ on popular kids’ show

A one-time salesman of Manischewitz wine, Nathan Shoehalter had a 38-year career in broadcasting and for 30 years served as a docent at the UC Berkeley Botanical Garden.

An oil painting of Nathan Shoehalter by the artist Jacqueline Groswird.

Nathan Shoehalter, beloved husband, father, uncle, brother-in-law and all-around good guy, breathed his last on Dec. 11 at the considerable age of 98. 

A “nature b­­oy” who answered to a handful of names (Nat, Nathan, Natey, Nate, Nochum), he was never happier than when he was watching the birds and butterflies in his Berkeley backyard, propagating plants as a garden volunteer, climbing mountains as part of family summer vacations at the Aspen Music Festival, or viewing and photographing Bay Area sunset displays. 

Nat’s sly and often goofy humor, his modesty and strength, his smarts and his kindness all delighted his family, friends, and associates.  His signature planter’s hat, with its memorabilia-bedecked headband, told a story of a long and useful life.

He interrupted his sophomore year at Rutgers University to volunteer for what turned out to be three years and three months of military service in World War II. As an infantry corps medic he served on the frontlines in France, the Low Countries, and Germany; after seven months in active combat, he was awarded a Purple Heart. Years later, around the time of his 95th birthday, Nathan was knighted by the French government and decorated with the redoubtable Legion of Honor medal.

Upon his return to civilian life, he finished his bachelor’s degree at Rutgers, briefly taught high school chemistry, and had a short spin as a salesman of Manischewitz wine. He found his footing — and his calling — embarking upon a distinguished 38-year career in broadcasting. Starting as a disc jockey on a New Brunswick, New Jersey, radio station, he soon became the producer and star of “The Paulus All-American Club,” a popular kids’ show (sponsored by the Paulus dairy company) where he was fondly known as “Uncle Shoe.”

He soon was hired by his alma mater’s public relations department, for which he produced countless radio programs and scores of educational TV shows emanating from metropolitan New York channels. Nathan’s final position at Rutgers was as professor of broadcasting at the Newark campus.

Taking early retirement in 1985, he and Nina (Yonneff), his wife of 64-plus years, headed for Berkeley, their Chosen Land.  This chapter of Nathan’s bio included an appointment as an adjunct professor at SFSU, followed by a second retirement in 1989 and the start of many years of volunteer activities reading for the blind, tutoring foreign students, phoning local shut-ins to check on their welfare, and serving a 30-year term as docent and propagator at his spiritual home – the UC Berkeley Botanical Garden.

When Nathan wasn’t doing good, he was making goodies: homemade bagels, coffeecake, bread and wicked ice cream.

Besides Nina, he is survived by his children Jane Jeanneteau (Marc) and David (Gina). He was predeceased by his son Adam (Michael) in 2010.

There will be a Look Back with Affection gathering in the spring; specifics to be announced. In the interim, it would warm Nat’s heart, if any floral tributes were bypassed in favor of donations to the UC Berkeley Botanical Garden.