Dallas Morning News features my Dad in news obituary

September 4, 2011

I always thought my Dad was special. But I knew that, as his daughter, I was liable to be somewhat biased. Well, it turns out my Dad WAS pretty special. The Dallas Morning News decided to write a news obituary about his passing. Obit writer Joe Simnacher interviewed me Wednesday morning, and late Wednesday night his article went live on Dallasnews.com. It contains a mistake. The service takes place Sept. 17 (not the 10th) at Ted Dickey West Funeral Home, Dallas.

Read the Dallas Morning News article.

In memory of W. Cleveland Smith, Jr.

September 4, 2011

W. Cleveland Smith, Jr., circa 1980, at State Fair of Texas.

Warner Cleveland Smith, Jr., 70 died peacefully holding hands with his wife, Sherry Shaw Smith in the early morning hours of Sept. 4, 2011. Although fading into the grip of dementia the last three years, he lived a full and happy life.

Cleveland ran amusement parks for a living and was instrumental in the development of Six Flags over Texas. Cleve started with Six Flags Over Texas the first day it opened in 1961 as a ride operator, then ride supervisor.

In 1964 he became the New York World’s Fair General Manager for Rides. During 1966 to 1969 Cleveland was the General Manager and then promoted to Operations Manager for Six Flags Over Georgia.

In 1969 Cleveland was promoted to Executive Vice President and member of the Board of Directors of Six Flags Inc. In 1971 W. Cleveland Smith & Associates was formed which later became Fun Corporation of America. Cleveland also was the Vice President and member of the Board of Directors with Wynne Enterprises, Inc., owned by Angus G. Wynne Jr., the founder of Six Flags, from 1972 to 1982. Over the decades, one of his best friends and mentors was Luther D. Clark.

Cleveland also held management roles at Lion Country Safari and Old Chicago.

In 1982 Cleveland became the General Manager for the Entertainment Area at the World’s Fair in Knoxville, Tenn. From 1984 to 1989, he was the President of the State Fair of Texas Midway games, novelties and concessions.

As Vice President of Overseas Development for Wet ‘n Wild, Cleveland worked closely with George Millay, the founder of Sea World and Wet’n Wild.

He traveled extensively for work and pleasure, visiting Brazil, Japan, Alaska, Peru, Ecuador & Australia.

In his earlier years, Cleve worked on oil rigs, and as an assistant purchasing agent for Neiman-Marcus wherein he was bonded to drive to homes to deliver clothes, jewelry, shoes for the buyer’s discretion.

Cleve was born in Jacksboro in 1941 because his father, Warner Cleveland Smith insisted on seeing the birth and no hospital in Dallas at that time would allow that. His mother Emma Jean (Powell) Smith was agreeable to that game plan. Growing up in Dallas, Cleveland finished high school in Dallas and studied business administration at the University of Texas Arlington.

He is survived by:

his wife, Sherry Shaw Smith of Plano, Texas;

daughter, April Amber Suriani of Manlius, NY, son-in-law Sammy Suriani, grandsons Nicholas Cleveland and Benjamin Texas and granddaughter Sabrina Shawn;

son,  Trey (Warner Cleveland Smith, III) Smith of Charlotte, NC; daughter-in-law Michelle Smith, grandson Hunter Cleveland and granddaughters Emily Xiangyi, Katherine Mei and Caroline Michelle;

sister, Beverly Hendrickson of Terrell; and several nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles and cousins.

Also family to Cleveland were his canine children, Cuervo who died last year, and Tag.

A Celebration of Life Memorial Service honoring Cleveland will be held at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 17 at Ted Dickey West Funeral Home. On Sept. 18 we will honor Cleveland’s caregivers at Silverado Senior Living of Plano.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to the Warner Cleveland Smith, Jr. Memorial Bench Fund, through Legacy Texas Bank Plano, 1573 Alma Dr. Plano, Texas 75075. Memorial benches are being created to place near the carousels in the amusement parks that were dear to Cleveland and those innovators of the amusement industry with whom he worked.

About the service at Ted Dickey West Funeral Home.

Watch video scrapbook of Cleveland’s life.

Dementia and hearing loss seem linked, researchers say

February 19, 2011

Dad began losing his hearing long before we recognized any signs of what turned out to be frontotemporal dementia. Now I’m wondering, thanks to recent headlines, whether his hearing loss is related to his dementia.

Dr. Frank Lin, from the Center on Aging and Health at Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions in Baltimore, published a paper saying hearing loss in older adults is associated with an increased risk of developing dementia. It might be that dementia is overdiagnosed in people who have hearing loss. Or, people with cognitive impairment may be overdiagnosed as having hearing loss. Lin says it’s possible one underlying neuropathologic process is shared by the two conditions. They could also be causally related, he told MedScape Today, “possibly through exhaustion of cognitive reserve, social isolation, environmental deafferentation, or a combination of these pathways.”

For his study, he worked with 639 people from ages 36 to 90 years, over an almost 12-year period. Fifty-eight of them developed dementia, including 37 cases of Alzheiemer’s disease. He says the risk of developing dementia increased linearly with the severity of baseline hearing loss. His work is published in the Archives of Neurology and concludes by saying, “whether hearing loss is a marker for early-stage dementia or is actually a modifiable risk factor for dementia deserves further study.”

Isn’t that interesting — just the thought that, perhaps, treating/fixing hearing loss could possibly have an impact on the development of dementia?

Turns out that’s not a new idea. Other research, in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, has shown deficits in central auditory speech-processing may be an early manifestation of probable Alzheimer’s disease and may precede the onset of dementia diagnosis by many years.

Pre-mourning for the father dementia stole

February 4, 2011

I’ve been away from the blog for a while, and it finally dawned on me why: I’m in mourning. Or, at least anticipatory mourning. For the past several weeks, everything reminds me of my Dad.

I slice cantaloupe, and I remember how he favored melons.  I remember the stories he told of an illicit watermelon patch growing up, one that he tossed seeds into, never tended, but that grew prize-worthy melons every summer growing up in Texas.  Dad loved his watermelon, but also cantaloupes and honeydews.

I glance at the sky in the morning, in spectacular pink, and I remember the “red sky in morning, sailors take warning” ditty Dad planted in our brains as children. I know the day holds a storm. And of course that gets me thinking about watching thunderstorms from the porch, and counting seconds between lightning strikes and thunder booms with my Dad.

I pour wiper fluid into my car, and I remember it was Dad who taught me what I know about cars. He made me change a tire, so I’d know how to in an emergency. He taught me driving; we practiced donuts in shopping mall parking lots. That memory leads to stories he shared of his youth – sanitized, no doubt – about racing around in Corvettes with his sister’s husband.

When I’m particularly melancholy, I look at my children and see my Dad. I hear the words he spoke when each was born. I see him caring for them, joking with them, and those visions become of him caring for me, joking with me.

All of this is pleasant enough. My memories are all good, except… Each of my recollections ends with a jolt: the sweet memory, then the bitter reality. Dad is not gone yet. Frontotemporal dementia stole him but has not yet released him to heaven.

So I’m mourning, but not for his death. I’m mourning for his loss of life.

Sometimes I imagine what I will feel when my father’s soul leaves this earth. I wonder if I will get a phone call, or if I will just know. I wonder if, once he’s gone, my memories will lose their bitter aftertaste. I wonder, without the anticipation, will mourning be able to bring comfort?

Chopping onions is good for the soul

October 17, 2010

Chicken soup, so they say, is good for the soul. My eyes mist up a little every time I make it.

My Dad made a terrific chicken soup five years ago, during what would be his final trip to visit my home in Syracuse. We had no plans for dinner one night, so my Dad took to the kitchen. He used a deli chicken, some chicken broth, drained cans of black beans and tomatoes, celery, potatoes and onion, and some rice and spices. His chicken soup rivaled that of Carrabba’s Italian Grill, (and I LOVE Carrabba’s chicken soup.)

It was amazing, watching Dad turn a few random ingredients into something so tasty. He was always a good cook when he cooked, but he did not cook often. And I didn’t pay close enough attention. In my 20s and 30s, I’d help assemble Thanksgiving or Christmas meals with him, but I only did the tasks he assigned. It wasn’t until I was preparing my own big meals that I gained an appreciation for just how much work it is.

On occasion I purchased cooking-related gifts for Dad. I still have the olive oil spritzer, like one I gave him. I also have some of his recipes — one for roasted corn and black bean salad, mashed potatoes, and this chicken soup. All three require chopped onion. If you’re unfamiliar with that task, let me assure you that there is a trick to getting all the pieces to be uniform in size. A trick that I have yet to master. It’s not for lack of trying. And it’s not for lack of my Dad showing me the trick, which he mastered. So I keep practicing.

Onions, of course, burn my eyes and make them water. But when I’m chopping onion as an ingredient for my Dad’s chicken soup, it’s not the onion that makes me cry.

Syracuse Memory Walk brings in $123,300 for Alzheimer’s care, support and research

October 2, 2010

This year’s Memory Walk, for which I was honorary chair, attracted nearly 1,000 people to Long Branch Park in Liverpool and raised a record-breaking $123,300. Presented by Loretto, the walk raises money to pay for Alzheimer’s care, support and research.

I appreciate all of the donations my DementiAwareness team collected–$1,025 as of the day of the event. You can continue to make donations through Nov. 1.

We had a crisp, bright fall morning for the walk. And Central New York’s best donuts, supplied by Tim Horton’s. What could have been better?

Well, of course, if there were no need for a Memory Walk to begin with, that would be great. But that’s not the case. Those of us whose lives have been touched (slammed?) by Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia have heard the grim statistics: 5.3 million Americans have Alzheimer’s, and that number will grow considerably as the Baby Boomers start turning 65 next year. (That number does not include other dementias, such as frontotemporal lobe dementia, which has my father in its grip.) Also, that there are no effective treatments or preventive therapies.

The Memory Walk was not a time to dwell on the negatives, though. It was a time for us to come together, gather support, realize we are not alone.

My friend who lost her mother to Alzheimer’s earlier this year was there walking, wearing her mother’s purple fleece jacket. And I saw Tiffany Riihinen and her mother, P.J. Kimmerly, who has the disease; they allowed me to share their story in The Post-Standard a few weeks ago. And as we passed each other on the walk, a man I had not met reached for me, and we hugged. “I’m walking in honor of your dad and my mom,” he said, hurrying off in one direction as I headed in the other. The encounter caught me off guard. For several seconds, I walked in a haze, savoring that fleeting but solid connection with an otherwise stranger, and thinking about my Dad.

He is like so many others’ loved ones, so hobbled by dementia that walking has been replaced with shuffling, and wandering. My Dad’s heart remains strong as his mind fails. He no longer knows me, or his grandkids, or his wife sometimes. We don’t know what memories he has, and we’ve learned we cannot influence that. He has bad days, and days that aren’t so bad, and we’ve learned we cannot influence that much, either. But we can still honor him–and that’s what we did today.

Read what I said before the walk.

Make a donation.

REM sleep disorder may signal dementia, Parkinson’s disease

July 28, 2010

My Dad for years had these crazy sleep patterns, where he’d startle just as he hit REM, the Rapid Eye Movement stage of sleep.

Of course I thought about that as I read of a new study in the journal, Neurology showing that an REM sleep disorder may signal dementia or Parkinson’s disease up to 50 years before the disorders are diagnosed. For the study, researchers used Mayo Clinic records for 27 patients who experienced REM sleep behavior disorder for at least 15 years before developing one of three conditions: Parkinson’s disease, dementia with Lewy bodies or multiple system atrophy, a disorder that causes symptoms similar to Parkinson’s disease.

The study found that the time between the start of the sleep disorder and the symptoms of the neurologic disorders ranged up to 50 years, with an average span of 25 years. Of the participants, 13 were diagnosed with dementia, 13 others were diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and one person was diagnosed with multiple system atrophy.

“Our findings suggest that in some patients, conditions such as Parkinson’s disease or dementia with Lewy bodies have a very long span of activity within the brain and they also may have a long period of time where other symptoms aren’t apparent,” said study author Dr. Bradley F. Boeve.  His work did not give an indication how many people with REM disorder may go on to develop Parkinson’s or dementia.

The words my heart cannot express

June 8, 2010

I’m not someone who cries. Well, at least not unnecessarily.

Maybe I lost that propensity through paramedic training, an unspoken lesson in developing professional demeanor. Maybe the cynicism of a career in the news business did this to me. At any rate, it’s unusual for me to cry.

But lately, unexpectedly, my eyes will fill with tears. I do not need to be thinking of my Dad for this to happen, though the tears immediately remind me of him and his existence/life at his memory care facility. I miss him so much, though he is not entirely gone. He is slipping away or fading, as I’ve heard it called. I say he is stuck between the here and the hereafter.

It was October 2008 when I toured the facility where he would move a few weeks later. The administrator was kind enough and spoke knowledgeably about long term care. He showed us around. Silverado’s single-floor building was designed to allow for wandering safely. At meal times, residents could exit their rooms and turn left or right and either way, the hallway would eventually feed them into the dining room. Outdoors, the pathway terrain alternated from pavement to gravel, giving residents the perception of traveling further than reality. There were spots for gardening, a cage full of parakeets and canaries, a juke box, and, best of all, dogs who lived there.

The tour began to feel a little like the tours of day care centers I’d taken not too many years before when my children were babies. Directors of day cares similarly touted their centers’ features, policies and various activities.

The Silverado administrator let us peek at some rooms, and then he pointed out the memory cases on the walls outside of each resident’s room. These were glass-enclosed shelves similar to shadow boxes, but bigger, and they reminded me of the cubby space at daycare that parents are invited to personalize with photographs and mementos.

Before I knew what was happening, I was sobbing, crushed by the thought of the memory case that would be my Dad’s. He was 68 years old. How were we supposed to boil his life down to three shelves?

I cried, but I quickly composed myself. Just as I do now whenever my eyes start watering.

“There is a sacredness in tears.
They are not the mark of weakness, but of power.
They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues.
They are messengers of overwhelming grief…and unspeakable love.”
–Washington Irving

An extended family, a photographer’s studio and a camera

June 4, 2010

We gathered for what we knew would be our last formal family portraits. It was Thanksgiving 2008, just after Dad had officially moved into a memory care facility. His wife, two children and six grandchildren donned clothing in matching shades of navy and khaki and directed him into a photographer’s studio.

Dad was in decent spirits that day. He would generally sit where he was asked and smile when he was told. In the midst of the sitting, my then 11-year-old son held my point-and-shoot camera–and snapped this photo of his Grandpa.

It became my favorite after my son explained why he took it: because Grandpa looked as if he was looking for something and didn’t know what.

What’s in a name?

June 3, 2010

Both my first-born and my brother’s first-born children have the same middle name as their grandfather: Cleveland.

It’s an old family name.

A paternal uncle with a few “greats” before his name was Grover Cleveland, who was the 22nd and 24th president of the United States. He died just over 100 years ago, in 1908. He spent part of his boyhood growing up in Fayetteville, NY, and I drive by Academy Street where his former home still stands almost every day.

Look at the pictures of Cleveland, the president, and compare the stately way with which he holds his head with the looks of Cleveland, my Dad in this picture taken at Silverado Senior Living where he has lived since October 2008.

President Cleveland was a lawyer and a long-time bachelor. He served as mayor of Buffalo and governor of New York before becoming president, and so far he is the only president to serve two nonconsecutive terms. Historians say he was known for his laser-sharp focus, and they say he was at first ill at ease with the niceties of life in the White House. He’s described as “honest,

fearless and hard working,” in the 2006 Scholastic children’s book, “Grover Cleveland.”

One of the many Grover Cleveland biographies says much about the man with its title, “Grover Cleveland: A Study in Character,” by Alyn Brodsky. The book quotes another biographer who calls Cleveland a paradigm of honesty, integrity and resolution who acheived greatness through strength of character; a man who, though flawed, exemplified “courage that never yields an inch in the cause of truth, and that never surrenders an iota of principle to expediency.”

Of course, strength of character isn’t necessarily handed down through generations, though I’d like to think it is. And I realize that many people hold their bodies square and firm for portraits, making them no more or less “stately” than either Cleveland. Still, I like to think we can trace some traits through our lineage.

Is/was my Dad honest and hard working and principled because his namesake was? Have my son and nephew inherited those traits, too? Sometimes I fret about what their genes hold: the same frontotemporal dementia that afflicts my Dad? Or something benign, like fearlessness or laser-sharp focus, even an aptitude for the law?


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