Johnell Shepard: 1949-2020
Johnell Shepard, Summerdale, Alabama, who had been hospitalized since December 24, passed away on February 11, following a long and valiant struggle with Covid-19.
As the mother of NCHA Hall of Fame Rider Austin Shepard, one of the sports’ leading trainers, and grandmother of NCHA youth competitors Cade and Caylee, son and daughter of Austin and his wife Stacy Leathers Shepard, Johnell was an enthusiastic cutting fan who endeared herself to all who knew her, including the cutting family-at-large, who knew her fondly as Gma.
Johnell’s parents John Martinez, a member of the Army Air Corps, and Helma Laaks, met on a train in Germany following World War II. Although she did not speak English and he did not speak German, they fell in love. As a graduate of the San Francisco College of Art, John taught many mediums of art and during his career, he and Helma, also a talented artist, traveled and taught in this country, as well as in France and Germany, for many years before they retired to Alabama to be close to family.
Johnell was preceded in death by her parents, and by her younger sister and only sibling, Renea Jean Martinez. In addition to Austin and his family, of Summerdale, Ala., she is also survived by her daughter Stephanie Shepard Lapp and husband Jeff, of Corning, NY.
There will not be a formal memorial service at this time as Johnell would not want the people she loves to gather and risk getting sick. Her family asks that you love, honor her memory, and remember her by doing something to pay kindness forward, planting a flower or tree, or donating to a charity in her honor to the NCHA Foundation or St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital.