Jane Howerton Smittkamp has spent 31 years as a devoted wife to her husband and loving mother to their two talented girls. She’s also the sister to Paducah Tilghman graduates, John and Clay Howerton. While a dedicated partner and mom, Smittkamp has created a world outside the typical ‘stay at home’ mom scenario that’s anything but conventional or ordinary. She's taken a seemingly ‘Pleasantville’ lifestyle and fostered a fascinating world full of dance, song, and adventure creating unbreakable bonds with her daughters, husband, and extended family.
At the age of four, Smittkamp started dance classes with the legendary dance instructor Rosemary Peterson. Every little girl in the community wanted to take dance lessons from the awe inspiring Miss Rosemary and Smittkamp was no different.
Originally from Chicago, Illinois, Miss Rosemary was not just an instructor but a performer and an amazing entertainer. At one time, she travelled with a Vaudeville show and toured with Bob Hope, Abbott & Costello, and others. She was an expert performer and teacher and proficient in dance acrobats. While performing Vaudeville in Europe, World War II began and she returned to the states as a performer and later as a dance instructor.
Luckily, all the little girls in Paducah, Kentucky, including Smittkamp benefitted from Miss Rosemary’s return. She opened a dance studio at N. 32nd Street and Central Avenue in the westend of town only blocks from Smittkamp's childhood home.
Miss Rosemary’s resume inspired many girls in the area to dance with the hope of one day becoming a dance instructor or owning their very own dance studio. Generations of women learned ballet, tap, jazz and other forms of dance from Miss Rosemary and Smittkamp was one of them.
Smittkamp’s mother passed away when she was in first grade halting dance lessons for close to a decade. Once starting Paducah Tilghman High School, Smittkamp picked up where she left off 10 years earlier.
During her high school years, Smittkamp took dance lessons from the well-known instructor, Dale Gentner. For over 25 years, Gentner was the recreation superintendent for the Paducah Parks Department and for many years was the choreographer for the Paducah Tilghman High School Choir. Assisting with some of the dance moves was former Rockette Lois Wooley.
In addition to dance lessons, Smittkamp participated in concert and swing choirs (swing choir was a song and dance combo) under the direction of Loretta Whitaker. Whitaker was a hard-nosed, no-nonsense choral director that made a lasting impression on any student that entered the hallowed choir room doors.
Smittkamp was on the drill team in high school coached by Ruth Gunther, a tough, high-energy drill sergeant with a bullhorn that demanded excellence from every performance. The thing is, Gunther got excellence from every performance. Practice until perfect was her motto.
After high school, the ‘barre’ was raised and Smittkamp’s education continued at Murray State University. Upon graduating from MSU, Smittkamp ‘Boot Scootin’ Boogie’ herself to Nashville ready to conquer the country music capital not as a performer but as a buyer for Castner Knott, a Nashville-based retail department store with locations in Kentucky, Alabama and throughout Tennessee. (Castner Knott closed its doors in 1998 after 100 years in business). It was in ‘Music City’ that Smittkamp met her husband and the couple have been Two Steppin’ ever since.
Once hitched, it was decided that the Smittkamps would move to Paris, Illinois for Doug Smittkamp to join the family business; Paris Transport Trucking Company. Shortly after moving, the family welcomed their first child.
Smittkamp was devoted to her girls, Mary Hunter and Lily. Much of Smittkamp’s life revolved around the girls’ activities. As she encouraged her daughters to be active, Smittkamp’s friends encouraged her to do the same. If the girls wanted to learn to ice skate, Smittkamp took lessons and entered competitions. If the girls were swimming, Smittkamp taught water aerobics. “The girls' activities jumped around and depending on their interests, determined my fitness routine.” said Smittkamp.
In the mid-2000’s, Smittkamp was part of a Christian Rock Band. For nine years, the group performed at churches, fundraisers, homeless and outreach shelters, church camps, anywhere God led them. “I had asked God for something to do to help minister to others. I never would’ve imagined a band.” Smittkamp continued, “I love to sing, but I’m no lead singer. That’s how I knew it was God’s will and so I just went with it.”
After the family moved to Terre Haute, Indiana, Smittkamp joined a community theater group. It was here she got bit by the acting bug. Unfortunately, she put away her tap shoes and didn’t participate in organized dance classes for the next five years. But staying active with the theater group and dancing in a couple of musicals kept Smittkamp occupied and happy.
It wasn’t until 2012 that Smittkamp started actively dancing again. Once again, friends encouraged her to not only teach tap, ballet, and jazz but to take classes. It doesn’t take a lot of heavy lifting for Smittkamp to challenge herself and set new goals.
Her latest love is choreographing for the Paris High School Drama Department. As one can see, the love for high school dance has come full circle. The PTHS choreographer, Gentner played a role in mentoring Smittkamp’s passion for teaching students the art of dance.
Since her new role at the high school, Smittkamp has choreographed six musicals, and two Paris Community Theater shows including White Christmas, Mary Poppins, Peter and the StarCatcher, Newsies, Joseph, Willy Wonka, and Tuck Everlasting. “My favorite is Newsies,” said Smittkamp. Newsies is based on the true events during the 1899 Newsboy strikes. The musical is joyful and exuberant about young people joining together to stand up against injustice.
“Working with high school kids has been a great joy. Most have had little to no dance experience. They start from ground zero and ‘rise up’ pulling off complicated dance moves. It’s exciting! They bring me to tears,” said Smittkamp.
Videos are available on Smittkamp’s Facebook page of mother-daughter dance performances. The movements will take your breath away. Smittkamp exemplifies a life with purpose as she strives for significance choosing to be a positive influence for family, community and the world.