Jennifer Shepherd, seated, is pictured with her two children Peter and Emily. Photo provided
Jennifer Shepherd, seated, is pictured with her two children Peter and Emily. Photo provided
Peter and Emily Shepherd can't remember a time when their mother Jennifer wasn’t involved in the theater – acting, teaching, directing, producing, set designing or sitting on various theater boards. 

Even though circumstances have changed in two short years, they are determined to make sure Jennifer remains active in the activity she loves.

For about 10 years, she taught drama at Warsaw Community High School and directed at least 40 plays there; previously produced a number of murder mysteries with a friend; and directed many plays for Center Street Community Theatre (CSCT) at the Wagon Wheel.

In 2017, Jennifer was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) that has progressed rapidly. The nervous system disease weakens muscles and, as nerve cells break down, it reduces functionality in the muscles. Jennifer’s losses have centered in her upper extremities and has caused a progressive decline in her ability to use her arms and hands. 

But, she hasn’t let her obstacles keep her from being active in her role as a board of directors member at the Wagon Wheel Theater or her work with CSCT.

She said, “This is a lesson in humility.”

Last year, as she was directing “Arsenic and Old Lace” and an interactive murder mystery, she was able to use her fingers to type notes in her phone. She was still able to give verbal directions as well. This season, she has adopted a volunteer supporting role as a friend to Melissa Jordan, who is directing “Lend Me a Tenor” for the community theater production Oct. 3-6.

Jennifer’s strength has lessened to the point where even speaking is difficult, but she is not about to stop contributing. With the help of Peter and Emily, and her boyfriend, Randy Clayton, Jennifer has learned to use a Tobii Dynavox computer program that is operated by eye contact. Included in the program are a number of icons for specific commands that Jennifer can activate by focusing on them with her iris, along with painstakingly typing from a keyboard using the same eye method. The computer can also interpret her voice and type out messages. Her handicapped-equipped van and power chair makes it possible to attend practices and plays.

Peter has inherited his mother’s ability to adjust and continues to work in partnership development for InGuard in Wabash. The firm is an insurance and technology and health initiative. He uses all of the skills in professional sales he learned at Manchester University to work onsite or at home as the needs arise. He has a role in the production of “Lend Me a Tenor” and makes sure his mother gets to every practice to give him support and pointers.

Emily has the same determination. She is taking a home study course in nursing from Ivy Tech and plans to work in labor and delivery after graduation. She works part-time at Expressions in downtown Warsaw as a receptionist and spends hours promoting her online clothing boutique, Saving Kays.

Savings Kays was started a year ago to honor her mother, Jennifer Kay, and to eventually help fund the foundation for