|2/18/2021 4:55:00 PM|
"Freshwater Above and Below"
|Dean M. Laux|
A Woman Of Accomplishment
Some people may stand out in our society because of a singular talent, be it pianist, writer or juggler. Others can be defined in a word or two by their careers, be they doctor, lawyer or master chef. But one needs at least four or five nouns and a few superlatives to characterize Linda Soderquist and what she’s achieved in her life.
How about revered teacher, award-winning painter, ardent naturalist, burgeoning entrepreneur and active volunteer? She’s all of that and more.
Linda is a Baby Boomer, born to Henry and Phyllis Hild in the Chicago suburb of Oak Park, Illinois in 1947. Her dad was an electrical engineer, her mom an elementary school teacher, and it was her mom who most influenced her life. “She taught in another school district, and I got to visit her classroom once in a while,” Linda recalls. “She was my role model, and I wanted to become a teacher like her.”
Linda did just that. She was a straight-A student throughout elementary and high school. She liked to draw, and at age 12 started going to the Art Institute of Chicago every Saturday to take classes. “I’d take the bus downtown and hop on the ‘L’ to get to the Art Institute,” she recalls. “I didn’t plan on art as a career, but I always had my brushes and paints with me.” Her first love, though, was teaching. She graduated from high school in 1965, finishing 23rd in a class of 1,200 students, and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and fine arts in 1969 at Illinois Wesleyan University.
Linda’s first teaching job was in an elementary school in Westmont, Illinois. “It was a community with lots of immigrants,” she recalls. “In my first class I had 19 kids and six different nationalities. By that I mean their parents did not speak English.” So she taught reading and writing and English to the kids–and to any parents who were willing to sit in the back of the room. “I was 20 years old, and everything was an eye-opener for me. But I loved having all those kids from those different nationalities.”
She stayed in Illinois for 4-1/2 years, and by that time she had become the president of the Westmont School District Teachers Association. It was a short-lived appointment, because she moved to Englewood, Florida at the end of the school year to take a teaching position at Englewood Elementary School. “After my first year there, my principal moved over to Venice to open the new Garden Elementary School in 1973, and he brought me over as the primary lead teacher.” After two years at Garden, she transferred to Venice Elementary School, where she was to remain for 34 more years.
Linda taught grades 1 to 4, for both regular and gifted children. In fact, she co-authored and piloted Florida’s first public school primary-grade full-time program for gifted kids in 1984. That year she also taught a course in gifted education to students at the University of South Florida, where she had earned a master’s degree in mathematics education in 1983. She continued to teach gifted classes until her retirement in 2010.
Linda was chosen or voted “Teacher of the Year” on three different occasions, indicating the esteem and recognition she earned from her colleagues in the profession. But perhaps more meaningful to her have been the accolades of her former students and the fond memories they have of her. “They still stay in touch with me to this day,” she says. “Some of them are doctors, authors, teachers, lawyers, whatever, and they still remember me from years before.”
As a hobby she had her brushes and paints, and she liked to do watercolors of the scenes she encountered near her home on Little Gasparilla Island. But in 2000, painting was to become more than a hobby. That’s when she met Douglas Teller, a retired professor emeritus who had taught watercolor at George Washington University. “He changed my life, really,” Linda says. “He was very nice, but he was stern. He said, ‘I’ll teach you in the summers, but you must do everything I ask you to do, and you have to paint every day.’ I had never taken it that seriously before, but I was really excited.” So she took lessons from him every day through that first summer. At the end, she asked him, “Have I got talent?” and he said, “That’s a possibility.” Coming from this stern and talented mentor, that was encouraging.
Later that summer, Linda and her husband Chuck ran into Dr. Teller at a party. Chuck asked him, “What do you think about Linda’s painting?” Teller said, “She needs to set goals. She needs to get into juried shows and start winning awards.” That blew the couple away. “So I followed his lead,” Linda declares, “and he introduced me to watercolor societies. In my first show I got accepted (which is a feat in itself), and in my second show I got a prize.” She was on her way.
Now, a few years later, Linda has a basketful of awards for first, second or third place. Literally. In her home studio she has a wicker basket harboring dozens of ribbons won at art festival shows. “All the art festivals in Florida are juried,” she says, “so you have to be good enough to be accepted. Maybe 1,000 people have applied and they only have room for 200. I always felt it was an award just to get in the show.” In some shows something else happens: “They’ll pick a featured artist, and then they’ll put your artwork on T-shirts and in the brochures they hand out to the patrons, and you become the celebrity of the show.” Linda has been the featured artist in four shows, some among the top 100 in the United States. And, incidentally, this past January she was named “Artist of the Month” by the Charlotte County Arts and Humanities Council.
“I paint because I love to do it, and because it’s a challenge,” she says. “As a painter I’m a realist. I want my paintings to accurately reflect what I see. I also feel like what I paint sends a message. It’s not just a picture of a bird on a beach. It tells a story … here’s a gopher tortoise, and this is what his habitat looks like. I try to draw the viewer in to appreciate nature.” The teacher in her is irresistible.
Linda and Chuck first met here in Florida in May of 1984, thanks to the persistent efforts of a mutual friend who insisted they would “get along great.” The friend was prescient, and they got married four months later. They’re still going strong 37 years later and can boast of their son C.J. and two grandchildren, Wyatt and Paige.
They can also boast of a burgeoning business, Linda’s Island Art. It features – what else? – her watercolors of nature. “We lived on Little Gasparilla for 27 years,” Linda notes, “and even though I’ve left the island it’s still a part of me, and a lot of my scenes come from there.”
As a businessman, Chuck saw a market for her work, and he encouraged Linda to sell her paintings through art festivals and galleries. “He taught me how to sell myself, how to talk to people and how to close a deal. I had never had to do that before, and it broadened my horizons immensely,” she admits.
She’s a disciplined artist, usually putting in half a day painting. In season, from November through April, she does the art festivals. That involves setting up on Friday and being at the festival both Saturday and Sunday for up to 26 weekends. “I only do the Florida shows,” she says, “because I only paint Florida.” Well, that sounds like it’s enough for a retired lady who also spends a lot of her time as an active naturalist.
Indeed, Linda was a permit holder for the turtle patrol for 20 years when she lived on Little Gasparilla. She trained all the volunteers, kept all the records and made all the signs and screens. She was a field trip leader for the Charlotte Harbor Environmental Center from 2011 until 2015, and since 2016 she has been the coordinator for educational programs of the Venice Area Audubon Society. A birdwatcher herself, she updates existing programs for some 60 second-grade classrooms in south Sarasota County, hires and trains retired educators to implement classroom programs and rookery field trips, and leads workshops for over 100 volunteers each year. In the meantime she still does the turtle patrols three days a week from May through October, arising at 5 a.m. to be at the beach before dawn.
Linda may not have the superpowers of the DC Comics hero, Wonder Woman, but she’s the modern day version of the woman of achievement: educator, artist, nature advocate and entrepreneur. You marvel at her watercolor renderings and wonder at all she’s achieved in her time on this planet.
And maybe you wonder, too … what does she do in her spare time?
Dean Laux is exploring interesting folks living in our community. If you know of anyone with an interesting background please send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Include the person’s name, contact info and give a brief description of the person’s background.
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