Cover photo for Karen Smith's Obituary
Karen Smith Profile Photo

Karen Smith

d. August 22, 2022

Reston, Virginia

Karen Smith

Karen Smith, age 80, of Reston, Virginia, passed away on Monday, August 22d,2022 in her sleep of effects from post-polio syndrome and a circulatory disease.    She was preceded in death by her parents, Ward and Berniece Smith and brothers Jack, Richard, Terry, and Gene and sister Dorothy.   She is remembered by her son Aaron Otte, her daughter-in-law Traci Otte, and granddaughters Taylor and Holly, all of Reston, Virginia.  Karen’s younger sister Susan Stolmeier lives on Orcas Island in Washington state.   Karen was known by her many friends from life in Davenport, Iowa, Tucson, Arizona, and Reston, Virginia.   Susan and Aaron have planned a memorial with extended family in Iowa.  

1942-1960 (Michigan and Iowa)

Karen was born in small town southwestern Michigan and moved to Davenport, IA at the age of 8 with her family.   In the 1950s, Ward, her dad-  opened a business near the river front called “the Light House,”  a produce market which preceded Mister Homegrown, a popular local chain in the Quad Cities from the late 1960s to the late 1990s.    Her older brother Jack shipped off to, and returned from, World War II with the Army in the 1950s.

1962- 1989 (Iowa and Illinois - Davenport, Rock Island, Bettendorf)

Karen graduated Davenport Central High School (Class of 1960).   Two years later, she was married to Allen who she met while working as a bicycle delivery person in the sprawling Aluminum plant (ALCOA) in Riverdale.   She helped Allen write papers to get his associates degree at Black Hawk Community College.    During this marriage she had a very close relationship with Allen’s parents Loraine and Alvin, and sister Sheryl, and Allen became close to her family, too.  

In the early 1970s, Karen had an adverse reaction to her newborn son’s polio vaccine and contracted polio herself.    This resulted in a moderate handicap that affected her mobility, particularly on stairs and snow and ice.    This sharpened her interest in moving to a warmer climate.     Nevertheless, she stayed in the Quad Cities through two marriages so that her son could be near his dad (more on her move to Tucson later).  She was divorced from Allen in 1975.     She was married to Ron Shewman from 1978 to 1983.    Through these years she was very active in life visiting her parents and siblings.  She adored Ron’s kids Dan and Laura, and his large, warm, colorful family in central Iowa.    She was very close to her sister Sue (as they were the youngest two kids in a giant family) and her husband and kids.    She went for daily lap swims at the YMCA in Davenport, an exercise she could perform with the handicap she sustained in her leg from polio.   She was very social with her friends from the YMCA and from high school.     Karen was especially proud of her independence as a single mother in the face of her physical challenges.    Winter was especially hard for her because while she could walk without a cane most of the time, steps and ice made her nervous and were hard for her to negotiate.   This handicap made her particularly fond of, and disciplined to,  Monday-Friday morning swims.     Her close friends included Pat Dietz, Sandy Weerts, Brigitta Andersen, and Carol Witt.   

Karen’s sister Sue and her family moved to Puget Sound in 1985. 

Karen worked at the Rock Island Argus, Channel 8, and a small advertising company in Bettendorf called the Ohley Agency.    At these places Karen designed and sold advertisements,  and generated business by creating new contacts.

Karen was a hospice volunteer during these years, visiting people and learning to listen to them.   She cited this often as something she felt very good about.

1989-2008  (Tucson)

Winters were hard for a handicapped person in Iowa and Illinois, so as soon as her son enlisted in the Air Force in 1989, she moved to Tucson, Arizona, where her long time friend and high school classmate Paula Himmelstein lived.     Paula had moved there much earlier, and introduced her to the idea of living in the desert southwest.     Karen remained single in Tucson as she would for the rest of her life.   In Arizona,  Karen continued designing advertisements and finding clients to sell ads to Tucson’s new transplants  at a “welcome to Tucson”  company called “Welcome Newcomers” on the east side of town.     She worked there from 1989-2000 when she retired.   During her time in Tucson she re-enforced her old friendship with Paula Himmelstein and became a sort of honorary family member with Paula and her girls.   She made new friends like  Janina Latack, coworker Peggy Sanborn, and her boss LuAnn Koepke.      During this time she lost her very close friend Sandy Weerts back in Iowa, to cancer (1992).     Karen flew back to Davenport  after New Year’s in 1997 to say farewell to another friend before she succumbed to cancer, Brigitta Andersen.     

During this time Karen was able to devote time to writing, and she published short stories, and belonged to the Society of Southwestern Authors where she collaborated with other writers and submitted personal essays to its annual publication.  She also published a fictional book call “Heart Wounds and Other Crimes” during these years.    She used the pen name “Ann Isobel;” her middle name and her mother’s middle name  (though she changed the “a” “Isabel” to an “o,”  maybe a typo that stuck).

2008-2022 (Reston, Virginia)

In 2008 Karen’s son flew to Tucson to help her move to the Washington, D.C. suburbs where he lives with his wife Traci and their two girls Taylor and Holly.   Karen found an apartment in Reston, only three miles from them.   Karen became very close with Traci’s mother, Lil, and they lived in the same “fifty-five and over” community – “Thoreau Place-“  where they worked puzzles, babysat Taylor and Holly, and  made mutual friends.   Karen’s friends included Carol and Dennis Lund, Elethia, Mary Richardson, Richard Stopa, Bob Nemmers, Sharon Kennedy. Bob Mason, Vladimir Yackovlev, Loyes Spayd, Sandy White, Joan Rose, Peggy Harris, Vicki Beech, and Kathy Pugh.   Wally the property manager, and Allie Platt.    She enjoyed life at Thoreau very much and made friends with staff.    She was active in Thoreau place community and attended lively planning meetings and helped organize social events.   Karen spent the last year of her life at Potomac Falls Nursing home in nearby Sterling due to numerous health complications.  Not the least of these were complications that arose from polio.   This was a very hard year, where the challenges of nursing home living appeared as they do at every nursing home.    Despite this, she met many helpful and friendly faces.   At the very end, Karen was paid back by hospice, an organization she volunteered with in the 1980s.    Their unconditional, plain-faced care was a real reason to believe in the better  angels of humanity.    

 

AARON’S SUMMARY

Karen was a lifelong liberal.  As such she loved to verbally admire a good protest or a stand-in at a state capitol (name the decade or the cause she was in favor it!).   In her 40s she enjoyed a glass of wine in the evenings by herself, or with her friends Carol Witt or Brigitta Andersen.   She was saddened especially by the death of her sister Dorothy (“Dotty”) in 1980 and her friend and partner in life philosophy, Sandy Weerts.    She was divorced after thirteen years of marriage to Allen, and five years to Ron.    She was proud of her independence and maintained respect for her son’s Dad and was quick to point out his strong points despite their sharp difference in life philosophy.    Her commitment to exercise after polio inspired everyone around her;  family, friends, workmates and distant acquaintances.   She was the lady with polio who swam laps five days a week.    Karen was probably at the height of life in Tucson in her late 40s, 50s, and 60s.    During those years, her parenting years and divorces were behind her.   She basked in the newness of her Arizona surrounds- cool nights and the warm desert sun.   She thrilled to the scent and texture of desert broom and creosote on the air- and the light and space in the flat valley between the mountains.   Karen had her band of sisters, the Himmelsteins, her work friends, and many acquaintances in town.

Karen was always in favor of making a craft or a keepsake for a family member, especially her granddaughters Taylor and Holly. 

Karen was especially good at developing friendships with in-laws.  She enjoyed a decades-long friendship with Allen’s mother- Loraine Otte.    She listed Ron Shewman’s parents, kids,  and extended family as some of the best people she ever met.   She enjoyed a very close friendship with Traci’s mom, lil, in Virginia and they very much enjoyed being “the silvers” to their kids and grand kids together.    Puzzles, movies, and sweets were always on hand when the girls came to Thoreau Place during those very special years.

It is remarkable to note that while she certainly complained about health problems late in life, I don’t recall complaining about the handicap itself that came out of her polio.    

Mom was ..my Mom.  It has been very hard sometimes to talk to some of you about her because the relationship was long, complicated, and had its ups and downs.  I am sorry to the people whose emails I have not returned. A simple “thanks for the thoughts” would have sufficed from me.   I want to say a lot more, but that’s probably the only thing you can say.  Thanks to everyone reading this for being a part of, and the cause of, the very very good life my Mom had.   

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