Shannon and Jadyn Smithson

Shannon and Jadyn Smithson pose with a photo of their grandfather and great-grandfather, John George, who they will walk for at the Omaha Walk to End Alzheimer's on Sep. 22. John served with the U.S. Air Force in Korea and was worked with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Shannon Smithson says her 9-year-old daughter, Jadyn, and her grandfather, Jadyn's great-grandfather, share many admirable qualities.

They'd both tinker with anything that needs repair — Jadyn's has a number of "projects" in the shed, Shannon said. They'd both offer help to anyone at a moment's notice. They'd both talk with anyone about anything.

"This probably more than any other (trait) is what I see in Jadyn, it is very unlike her father and I," Shannon said. "She can strike up a conversation no matter the age of the person or what the topic is on, and she wants to always be in the thick of it."

The similarities between great-grandpa and great-granddaughter might be because Shannon ensures Jadyn knows who he was as a person. John George died in April 2009, about seven months before Jadyn was born, after living several years with Alzheimer's.

Every September, since Jadyn was about 3, Shannon, her daughter, her mother and her grandmother walk in the Omaha Walk to End Alzheimer's in memory of their family member and to support a cure for the disease which affects more than 5 million people in the U.S.

But it's more than once a year John shows up in Jadyn's life. Shannon and her family carry on vacation traditions, visit places John lived and share stories of him with Jadyn.

"My grandfather was probably the main male role model in my life," Shannon said. "Jadyn's grown up with me talking about my grandfather and how important he was. I know that it registered throughout the years. We moved to Blair around six years ago ... not long after our neighbor's dog passed, and, as little as she is, she said, 'Grandpa will take care of the dog.'"

For the Omaha walk, Shannon registers under Jadyn's name, she said, always naming their team "Red Corvette."

"My grandfather had a really nice red Corvette," Shannon said. "He was always either driving a Cadillac, Corvette or a motor home."

When Shannon was young, she might hear the song "King of the Road," originally recorded by Roger Miller, on family road trips. She said it was her grandfather's favorite song, which is fitting considering how often they'd travel in her grandparents' motorhome.

"I spent summers with them a lot," Shannon said.

"On excursions," Jadyn remarked, sitting at a table next to her mom.

"Yeah, their summer motorhome trips," Shannon said. "I got to see a lot of amazing things with them ... Now, my mom, his daughter, makes a summer plan every year, carrying on the tradition. She plots a week-long trip and we all go somewhere different."

Jadyn said this year they went to Branson, Mo., and to the Silver Dollar City water and amusement park. It was a lot of fun, she said, but she can't choose a favorite place she's been.

"I don't remember all the places, there's been too many," Jadyn said.

Shannon and Jadyn have also traveled to Bettendorf, Iowa, where John built his own house, and the family farm where he grew up in Illinois.

"A couple years ago we also visited the cemetery where all of our extended family are," Shannon said. "And some other properties that he had owned that I remember from my childhood. He owned an apartment complex that my great-grandmother lived in for a number of years. I have fond memories of swinging on the swings whenever grandpa had to go and fix the pipes."

Some other stories Shannon has to tell are humorous to Jadyn.

"When I was really little, my grandparents had cactuses lined up the driveway," Shannon said, eliciting a laugh from her daughter. "Do you remember this one?"

"I was playing, I was only 3 or 4, and somehow I slid all down these cactuses, and I had them from the back of my feet up to the back of my neck," Shannon said. "It took him two or three hours pulling each one of the quills out. They said I didn't really cry. Probably because he had a handle on it."

Jadyn said stories and other experiences help her to know who her great-grandfather was as much as her mom, great-grandmother and others in her life.

"He was a very handy man, very helpful and always willing to start up a conversation with anybody," Shannon said. "My mom mentions how he defied the odds so many times. He had an abdominal aneurysm, he had heart problems and different things ... probably the worst way to watch someone go is to see them lose their mind. It's amazing how modern medicine can do so many wonderful things, but it can't do that yet."

That's why she and Jadyn walk, she said.

"I figure as much as we can raise awareness and help fund the cause, so one day there might be a cure," Shannon said. "I miss him dearly and hope that my daughter continues to feel a connection with him through our work with the walk and beyond. In my eyes he will always be the 'King of the Road.'"

Anyone interested in joining team "Red Corvette" in the Omaha Walk to End Alzheimer's on Sep. 22 or wanting to donate can do so at: bit.ly/30D1jZQ.

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