For 22 years, Janis Smerdon was a fixture at the Carson City Fire Department. She was active in her church and Kiwanis. On the side, she altered and created wedding gowns.
"I don't know anybody here in the department who she didn't make somebody's dress for," said Fire Chief Stacey Giomi. "She made my wife's wedding dress and she made a bridesmaid dress for my daughter."
On Tuesday as she left work, a happy Smerdon told a co-worker she'd bring in bagels the following morning.
But the morning never came for her. Smerdon died in her sleep from natural causes, just seven days before her 63rd birthday.
When she didn't show up for work Wednesday morning, members of the fire department, whom Giomi said Smerdon referred to as her kids, went to Smerdon's west Carson City home. They found it locked up. They forced entry through the sliding door.
Amid 40 wedding gowns in various stages of creation, they found her in her bed, he said.
"I'm unbelievably floored," said Smerdon's only child, 37-year-old Debbie Abercrombie of Carson City. "She was young. She did so much."
In 2006, Smerdon was honored with a plaque for 20 years of service to the city. In recent months, with the budget crunch, she was relied on to fill in at City Hall, as well as work as office supervisor at the Fire Department headquarters on Stewart Street.
In her spare time, Smerdon was busy with Kiwanis, her church and her grandchildren, Charlie, 9, and Megan, 7.
In the friends that she made at Corpus Christi Catholic Church, Smerdon also found traveling companions, visiting Italy, Greece and Rome. She planned with her church family to visit Ireland in October, Debbie said.
"She's amazing with all of her activities and everything. She runs everything so smoothly. She was so busy all the time," Debbie said. "She never thought of herself. She thought of everybody else first. She just had a heart of gold."
Giomi said he was in awe of how Smerdon handled it all so effortlessly.
"I just marveled at that," he said. "Did I say it enough to her? Probably not. Does anybody? You hope you mention to her enough that you appreciate everything she does."
Smerdon's desk is empty now, and her co-workers, who were also her friends, are coping with their loss.
"She didn't have any serious medical conditions. It was just the ultimate shock," said Giomi. "Someone you see every day of your working life - 20-plus years for me - and one day she's there the next day she's not.
"She was the person who knew everybody's secrets and was willing to share her secrets with everybody. She was just that open and honest.
"We're still in shock."
Smerdon is survived by her daughter, grandchildren, son-in-law, Eric; sister Pat Stewart and her husband, Leon, of Carson City.
A vigil will be held 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Corpus Christi Catholic Church in Carson City.
On Wednesday, Smerdon's birthday, a Memorial Mass will be at 10 a.m. at St. Teresa of Avila Catholic Church in Carson City. Honors will be provided by the Carson City Fire Department Honor Guard.
• Contact reporter F.T. Norton at email@example.com or 881-1213.