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Kaneland Connection: Watching the Bears; helping the troops

Joined by a crew that wore matching light-green shirts reading “Smitherman’s Brigade,” Justin Smitherman eagerly greeted all who showed up for his inaugural fundraiser Sunday afternoon at Schmidt’s Towne Tap in downtown Elburn.

The event featured raffles and items for auction. It also served as a viewing party for the Bears’ season-opening victory against the Indianapolis Colts, as crowds gathered on the outside deck at Schmidt’s. Smitherman, an Elburn resident, and his crew were selling the raffle tickets, with many winners announced at halftime.

Smitherman aimed high, with a goal of raising $10,000 to benefit Operation Support Our Troops, which provides postage for soldiers’ care packages. He said he raised about $6,500, but he wasn’t disappointed. He was encouraged by the enthusiasm of those who attended, and he was optimistic the event will grow.

“To me, that’s a success,” he said. “That’s $6,500 that Operation Support Our Troops didn’t have. And I think every year it’s going to get bigger and bigger.”

Those interested in his efforts can visit

Smitherman served in Iraq with the Air Force, and he said he knows those who are serving overseas appreciate the care packages.

“You don’t have a lot to look forward to – it’s the care packages and what letters you’ve got,” he said. “When you get them, you know that people care about you.”

He said although his time in Iraq was tough, the Air Force experience changed his life. He met his wife, Carly, who also was with the Air Force. They have been married for two months.

Carly Smitherman was at Schmidt’s, and as she looked around Sunday at a table filled with items donated by sponsors and saw the dozens who showed up to help, she said it was no surprise her husband would lead the charge for such a cause.

“He is always donating to anything to do with the troops,” she said.

Her father, John Dillavou, drove up from downstate Monticello for the event. He said he was amazed that his son-in-law had the passion to put together such an event.

“I would never think of being able to pull this off,” Dillavou said. “The guy is so organized. It’s amazing.”

West Chicago resident Jenny Pietanza was there dressed in a Walter Payton jersey. She brought a box filled with red bottles from her bank, Bank of America, and she was encouraging people to sign the bottles, saying that the bank would donate a dollar to the Wounded Warrior Project for each bottle signed. She said she was there to help Smitherman’s cause – and also to buy a raffle ticket in hopes of winning a widescreen TV.

Justin Smitherman said he was proud of his time in the Air Force, but he said there are other ways to help. He said joining the military is a “hard choice” for people to make, but that those who want to help can donate in fundraisers or work with the Red Cross.

“The military is not for everybody,” he said. “But it’s really, really good for a lot of people.”

• Al Lagattolla is the news editor of the Kane County Chronicle. Write to him at

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