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Linda Schuler ’68 made Columbus more festive, inclusive

The Buckeye chaired the Pride Parade for 22 years and spent three decades as a leader in the city’s Department of Recreation and Parks.

Two white women, one with short blond hair and the other with long dark hair, lean into the photo as parade-watchers line the street behind them. The women’s smiles say they are happy and proud.

Linda Schuler, shown here with her wife, Karla Rothan (left), spent her career serving and advocating for senior adults and chaired the uber-popular Columbus Pride Parade for 22 years. (Photo courtesy of Karla Rothan ’86)

Though her life was defined by thoughtful and purposeful service, Linda Schuler ’68 landed one of her signature roles by accident.

The year was 1997. “We were out to dinner one night and a friend of ours walked over and told us that the entire Pride committee had just quit,” remembers Karla Rothan ’86, Schuler’s life partner. “Linda reared back in her chair and said, ‘I love a parade!’”

Schuler didn’t realize that by attending a meeting she was essentially volunteering to run the whole thing. And she certainly didn’t know she was initiating a 22-year stint as chair of the parade, now entering its 43rd year and drawing an estimated 700,000-plus visitors to Central Ohio. But by that point, Schuler was accustomed to throwing herself into projects festive, creative and socially impactful.

When Schuler, 76, died in October of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, her accolades already had been recognized by the Human Rights Campaign, the City of Columbus (she worked in the Department of Recreation and Parks for three decades), the Central Ohio Senior Citizens Hall of Fame and others.

“She was the best boss I ever had,” says Maryann Noonan Tilley ’74, who worked with Schuler at Marion Square Senior Center starting in 1979. “She never asked any of us to do anything that she wouldn’t do herself.”

Tilley says Schuler was a loyal friend long after they both moved on to other jobs in Recreation and Parks. She remembers Schuler as a supervisor whose efforts often extended beyond normal work hours, at events such as the Golden Age Hobby Show. “When the rest of the staff was home in bed,” Tilley says, “Linda wasn’t.”

Outside the workplace, Schuler renovated homes DIY-style, a pastime that evolved into a side career. Her efforts led the Short North Business Association to recognize her as one of its unsung heroes in 2013.

“She started renovating properties when she was in her 20s,” Rothan says. “When she started, women couldn’t even get a loan.”

The founder of Columbus’ Park Playhouse Children’s Drama Company, Schuler also was a frequent actor in local productions. Theatre introduced her to Rothan after friends coaxed them both into acting in a charity production in 1996.

The couple soon became deeply involved in Stonewall Columbus, which works to increase the visibility and inclusion of LGBTQ community members. Rothan eventually worked 12 years as the organization’s executive director, while Schuler founded the Trailblazer program for LGBTQ seniors.

When Schuler’s diagnosis came down last June, Rothan was stunned. “She was never sick. Never missed a day of work in her life. Always was the first one at the party and the last one to leave. … She was a hard-working individual until the very last breath. Grit, grace and just a wonderful, wonderful woman.”

2023 Pride Parade

The Columbus Pride Parade kicks off at 10:30 a.m. June 18 at Front and Broad streets. It’s scheduled to march through Downtown and the Short North.

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