A Touch of Irish

March 16, 2013

As one who knows how it feels to have a daughter fight a battle with cancer, John L. Smith pays tribute to another dad in his March 15, 2013 column for the Las Vegas Review-Journal:

Being a father has its close shaves

If asked, Las Vegas architect Windom Kimsey could reel off an impressive list of professional credits. He is the president and CEO of Tate Snyder Kimsey Architects.

But those who know him realize there’s no greater achievement in his life than watching his daughter, Claire, grow up.

When Claire was diagnosed at age 10 with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL), parents Windom and Annelisa immediately focused on helping her get through her lengthy and arduous chemotherapy treatment at St. Jude’s in Memphis, Tenn., and in Las Vegas with Dr. Jonathan Bernstein.

With her leukemia in full remission, today Claire is a healthy and successful high school student.

It was during her challenging treatment process that Kimsey came to appreciate the growing need for improving the research and treatment of childhood cancer.

That’s why each time this year Kimsey shaves his head as the leader of the Bald By Design team in the annual St. Baldrick’s Foundation fundraiser at McMullan’s Irish Pub and other locations across the valley. St. Baldrick’s is the largest private funding source of childhood cancer research.

And in other news …

KLIP ‘N’ SAVE: The Nevada Childhood Cancer Foundation’s annual hair-raising fundraiser, Klip it for Kidz, is set for 11 a.m. April 6 at Town Square. The local charity offers a variety of programs to benefit children with cancer and their families. For more information, go to nvccf.org .

While we’re on the subject of worthy childhood cancer charities, if you get a chance, check out the Candlelighters Childhood Cancer Foundation Garden of Hope behind Mundo restaurant at the World Market Center as it grows into a green oasis in the middle of downtown.


Garden of Hope

February 2, 2013

John L. Smith’s February 2, 2013 column in the Las Vegas Review-Journal is near and dear to his heart …

Families of kids with cancer help plant Garden of Hope

You’ve heard about the hopeful tree that grew in Brooklyn.

Now some Las Vegas kids with cancer and their parents plan to grow a whole garden of hope amid the asphalt and cement of downtown.

Out the backdoor of Mundo restaurant in the shadow of the behemoth World Market Center, Candlelighters of Southern Nevada’s Garden of Hope started to take shape Thursday afternoon. Thanks to a variety of helping hands, a strip of common dirt the shape of a bowling lane is being transformed into a place where vegetables, flowers and something greater one day will sprout from organic soil and the efforts of volunteers.

Makenzie Trueblood, 7, gets a flower out of a pot

Tucked away on the side of the restaurant’s loading dock at 495 S. Grand Central Parkway, the garden spot is one of few spaces in the area that isn’t covered in cement at the World Market Center, a 5.5-million-square-foot monument to the furniture industry.

The hulking center looks more like Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory than a setting for a garden dedicated to children with childhood cancer and their families.

But that’s what restaurant partners George Harris, Robert Solano and Mingo Collaso saw when they looked at the odd, barren rectangle. Chef Solano plans to use the garden’s produce in specialty dishes with proceeds benefiting Candlelighters.

Harris contacted Sarah Haggerty, who not only has a master’s degree in counseling and is associated with Candlelighters but also has a brother who is a landscape architect. For her, the garden is an ideal setting for children traumatized by cancer to nurture the soil and their bruised spirits, too.

“Now they have the chance to be the nurturer and take care of something and have that pride, the self-esteem, the self-confidence, the sense of accomplishment,” she says.

Artists Erica Deutsch and Diane Giusti coordinate Candlelighters’ Project Imagine therapeutic healing arts program and are responsible for the garden’s mural, which pays tribute to the children who fought so hard for life.

“This mural is actually going to be created by the siblings of angels, children that were lost to cancer,” she says. “This space will be commemorated to a healing garden, where they can meditate, be with their feelings and honor their lost loved ones.”

Robin Kelley, the charity’s development coordinator, observes, “That’s what we hope for these kids, that they can come down here, get their hands in the earth, grow something, and just be able to hang out with one another in a positive space outside the hospital setting.”

Before joining several dozen volunteers and families in initial preparation of the soil and planting of some flowers, Desean Courtney took in the hopeful scene. Her 12-year-old son, Karon, is being treated for Hodgkin lymphoma.

Karon’s cancer diagnosis “knocked the wind out of me a little bit,” Courtney says, understating the parental nightmare. She adds, “Candlelighters helped me out with transportation. They helped us out with some of the bills we had. They helped us out with counseling. As we got to the more difficult parts of treatment, it was kind of a stress relief to know that they had already figured out everything that we would need.”

Then she merges into the group of optimistic gardeners.

The artist Deutsch says, “Everything about this place represents life.”

In this unlikely garden, staked on common ground with an uncommon purpose, hope is the flower that blooms in all seasons.


What the Dickens?

December 29, 2012

John L. Smith’s Christmas Day  column in the Las Vegas Review-Journal reminds us of the true holiday spirit …

Spirit of giving continues to shine in Southern Nevada

When Charles Dickens took to his desk and began writing A Christmas Carol in October 1843, he set in motion more than a great story about the meaning of charity in a world teeming with inequity and need. He also began an annual tradition – a kind-hearted call for introspection – that transcended politics, philosophy and divergent religious beliefs. The greater themes of A Christmas Carol reverberate from Victorian England to modern America and, as ever, arrive right on time for a holiday that is generally overwhelmed by commercialism and conspicuous consumption.

By now, we all know the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, as stingy as he is shriveled, and how he becomes a man transformed after being visited by the ghost of his former business partner Jacob Marley and the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come. Along the way, we meet the loyal employee Bob Cratchit, the good-hearted boss Fezziwig and the disabled son Tiny Tim.

The boy is no sympathetic prop in Dickens’ deft hand. It is Tiny Tim who reminds us that this seemingly secular story is really about the true meaning of Christian charity in a world that most often prizes money over mankind.

Late in the story, Mrs. Cratchit asks her husband how Tiny Tim had behaved upon returning to their house, and Bob replies, “As good as gold, and better. Somehow he gets thoughtful sitting by himself so much, and thinks the strangest things you ever heard. He told me, coming home, that he hoped the people saw him in the church, because he was a cripple, and it might be pleasant to them to remember upon Christmas Day, who made lame beggars walk, and blind men see.”

Along the way, Scrooge learns a frightening lesson from the Ghost of Christmas Present, and we are all reminded that there’s a terrible price to pay for neglecting the interests of the poor. From beneath his great robes the ghost reveals the orphaned children of man: “They were a boy and a girl. Yellow, meagre, ragged, scowling, wolfish; but prostrate, too, in their humility. Where graceful youth should have filled their features out, and touched them with its freshest tints, a stale and shriveled hand, like that of age, had pinched, and twisted them, and pulled them into shreds. Where angels might have sat enthroned, devils lurked, and glared out menacing. No change, no degradation, no perversion of humanity, in any grade, through all the mysteries of wonderful creation, has monsters half so horrible and dread.”

Appalled, Scrooge asks, “Spirit, are they yours?”

“They are Man’s,” said the Spirit, looking down upon them. “And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it!”

Scrooge, of course, cannot deny it. He can only attempt to change his life and make amends before it’s too late.

The tale is riddled with such priceless moments and filled with reminders about the real meaning of charity in an often-uncharitable world. Times were hard in Victorian England. Times are hard today.

But despite high unemployment, high rates of bankruptcy and our worst-in-the-nation home foreclosure rate, Southern Nevadans never cease to astound us with their big hearts, good cheer, and generosity. At a time they couldn’t be blamed for looking inward and closing their doors, Las Vegas from all walks of life have reached out to their fellow man. Whether it’s canned food drives and toy collections, coats and blankets for the homeless, or cash for overdue rent payments for complete strangers, Las Vegans of all faiths and philosophies keep coming through for each other.

It should warm our hearts and hearths to know that tough times have not calloused our spirits. On the contrary.

More than ever we have shown our collective strength as a community that is not down and out, but on its feet and striving toward brighter days in 2013.


Father-Daughter Day at B & N

December 23, 2012

John L. Smith and his daughter, Amelia, got into the holiday spirit at the recent Stephens Press Authors Day at Barnes & Noble. They even met some pint-sized fans!


Author Extravaganza!

December 3, 2012

If you’re running out of ideas for those last Christmas gifts, never fear! John L. Smith and daughter Amelia will be at the Summerlin Barnes & Noble bookstore on Saturday, December 22nd signing books and sharing stories.

Join them – and other Stephens Press authors – at this book bonanza. Guaranteed to get you in the holiday spirit!


2012 Best of the West!

May 20, 2012

Congratulations are in order to John L. for his 2012 Best of the West journalism award. Here’s what judge Mary McCarty of the Dayton Daily News had to say:

“John L. Smith’s work begs to be described as ‘pull no punches,’ cliche though it may be,” the judge wrote. “I admired his lively writing style and hard-hitting stance on a variety of important issues, from second-hand smoke in casinos to the charity — or lack thereof — of the Nevada mining industry.”


Amelia and John Go Irish

February 29, 2012

Amelia and her dad, journalist and author John L. Smith, invite you to join their fight against cancer at McMullan’s Irish Pub  (4650 West Tropicana – Las Vegas) this Saturday, March 3rd at 4:30. Be a shavee, donor, or volunteer, and purchase an autographed copy of  Amelia’s Long Journey. 100 percent of the sales will go to St. Baldrick’s to fund childhood cancer research. With a little Irish luck, it’s bound to be a success!


A “virtual” journey with Amelia

May 18, 2011

If you missed John L. Smith’s presentation of “Amelia’s Long Journey: The Challenge of Writing What you Know” at the Clark County Library in Las Vegas, you can download the podcast through the Las Vegas-Clark County Library District’s website. If you were lucky enough to see the presentation, what a great way to remember the evening!

Amelia and John L. Smith are photographed during their visit to the Las Vegas Review-Journal on December 4, 2009. Photo by Craig L. Moran, Courtesy of the Las Vegas Review-Journal.


Erin Go Hairless

March 5, 2010

Hair today … gone on Saturday
John L. Smith
Thursday, Mar. 04, 2010

The lights go up and the hair comes off starting at 2 p.m. Saturday in the annual St. Baldrick’s Foundation fund-raiser for childhood cancer treatment and research. Headquartered at McMullan’s Irish Pub at 4650 W. Tropicana Ave., this year’s event includes participation by Fado at 9470 S. Eastern Ave. and Nine Fine Irishman inside the New York New York.

Daughter Amelia is scheduled to shave my lopsided noggin at 4 p.m. The event lasts until early Sunday morning and will include appearances by members of Cirque du Soleil and a host of celebrity emcees.

St. Baldrick’s raises the most money of any private charity for childhood cancer research.


And the award goes to …

November 13, 2009

CrystalAwardWebby Krissy Hawkins
Each year, the Vegas Valley Book Festival (VVBF) presents its Crystal Book Mark Award to an individual who has significantly advanced the cause of literature in the Vegas Valley. This year Jim Frey, chairperson of Nevada Humanities, presented popular columnist and author, John L. Smith, with the award in recognition of his outstanding contributions to the advancement of literature in the Vegas Valley.

Smith carries the distinction of being a fourth-generation Nevadan, an award-winning columnist for the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the author of a dozen nonfiction books, including Sharks in the Desert and Bluegrass Days, Neon Nights, as well as a contributing author to Restless City, the serial novel project of the book festival.

This event marked the second annual presentation of the Crystal Book Mark Award. The first went to Kris Darnall, one of the originators of the Vegas Valley Book Festival and a colleague at Nevada Humanities. The rules dictate that the award cannot go to anyone currently on the planning or literary committee of the VVBF and that the recipient must have made a major contribution to the encouragement of reading in the community through service or through a body of work that enriches, clarifies, or encourages reading and writing in and about the Vegas Valley.

This year’s presentation took place at the Clark County Library at a panel led by Smith entitled “Amelia’s Long Journey: The Challenge of Writing What You Know.” In Amelia’s Long Journey (Stephens Press) Smith tells of the joys of becoming a parent and raising a beautiful little girl, and the terror of almost losing her. With the skill of a journalist and the heart of a father, Smith lovingly chronicles Amelia’s life: her early carefree years, the diagnosis of a cancerous brain tumor, the surgeries, the treatments, the remissions, the relapse, the recovery, as well as the courage, humor, and optimism she showed throughout.

Amelia’s Long Journey is not only a story about a brave girl’s fight against cancer, but a story about a precious little girl’s love for life. Proceeds of the book benefit Candlelighters Childhood Cancer Foundation, Make-A-Wish Foundation of Southern Nevada, Nevada Childhood Cancer Foundation, and St. Baldrick’s Foundation.