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2012 Walk to End Alzheimer's Testimonials

Thousands of people participate in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s, and though they walk for different people, they all walk for one reason: because they want to some day live in a world without Alzheimer’s. The Walk brings people and families closer while increasing awareness of the disease. The funds raised are vital to funding the programs and services provided by the Central Illinois Chapter.

Many thanks to Leslie Seiler, a member of the Peoria Walk To End Alzheimer's committee and a professional writer by trade, for penning these inspiring stories.

Illinois Valley Walk, Aug. 19

Why We Walk... Ron and Jolene Rynke, Peru

Jolene and Ron Rynke

Ron and Jolene Rynke hope that someday a cure for Alzheimer’s disease will be discovered. They are longtime champions of the Alzheimer’s Association and its mission—to raise awareness and funds for Alzheimer care, support and research.

This year’s Illinois Valley Walk to End Alzheimer’s at 1 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 19, at Baker Lake in Peru will be the couple’s 13th time participating in the event.

“Alzheimer’s is just something that’s dear to me,” said Jolene. Her mother, Helen Orisek, was never diagnosed with the disease, but Jolene suspects it likely was the reason for the change in her mother’s behavior and personality.

“My mom started out with little spells—all of a sudden she would go out of it,” Jolene said. “She would collapse or stare off into space.”

Jolene, with the help of her husband and other family members, tried their best to care for Helen. They even hired caregivers to help. But Helen’s condition didn’t improve.

“She was very weak,” said Jolene. “I wasn’t able to take care of her. She needed more care. I was having a very hard time.”

In order to provide Helen the best treatment and care, the family made the difficult decision to move her in August 1999 to LaSalle Health Care, now Heritage Health of LaSalle. It was there, in 2000, Jolene and Ron learned about the need for volunteers for the area’s first Walk to End Alzheimer’s.

“We mostly got involved with the small things,” said Ron. “We helped with the logistics of the walk, like putting up signs and soliciting businesses to set out cans for contributions.”

Over the next few years, Ron and Jolene watched Helen’s health decline. “She just kept getting steadily worse and didn’t know me,” said Jolene.

Ron’s heart also ached for his mother-in-law. “It was difficult because I didn’t know what to do to help. She was like a mother to me since I lost my own mother from cancer when I was 20.”

When Helen passed away at the age of 89 in January 2003, Ron and Jolene, didn’t stop participating in the walk. In fact, they grew more determined to raise awareness and put a stop to the disease. The couple will celebrate their 52nd wedding anniversary in September.

“I think we’re seeing more and more people with it,” said Jolene. “Caregivers need help desperately. It affects the whole family. We need awareness out there.”

Alzheimer’s affects one in eight older Americans, according to statistics from the association. Today, 5.4 million Americans are living with the disease and the cost of care for those with the disease is three times higher than those without it.

The Alzheimer’s Association Walk to End Alzheimer’s is united movement to reclaim the future for millions. This inspiring event calls on volunteers of all ages to become champions in the fight against Alzheimer’s.  

Canton Walk, Aug. 25

Why I Walk... Amy Pollitt, Canton

The late John Curless with great-grandchildren
Kali and Tanner.

Amy Politt is a new supporter of the Alzheimer’s Association Walk to End Alzheimer’s, but she has years of experience in dealing with the disease that 5.4 million Americans live with each year. Her grandfather John Curless lived with Alzheimer’s for about six years before his death March 31, 2010. He was 88.

Amy will participate in Canton’s 10th annual Walk To End Alzheimer’s at 9 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 25, in Wallace Park. It’s the second time she is walking in memory of her grandfather and the first year she is a Walk Committee member.

“If you’re not affected by it you don’t understand what it’s like,” said Amy of Alzheimer’s, a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior. She penned her experience with the disease and how it took control of her grandfather’s life into a poem entitled, “Grandpa, Tell Me the Days of Old.”

She shared the touching, heartfelt poem at last year’s Walk to End Alzheimer’s to a crowd of sympathetic strangers. Amy’s account resonated with many and moved some of them to tears. An excerpt from the poem follows:

One minute you live in a world long ago/Your mind is so foggy and you don’t even know. Your memory always seems to go to the past/Never in the present does it seem to last. It comes and it goes for this we do know/It always fades back to a time long ago.

It was especially hard for Amy to watch her grandfather’s health diminish. John and his wife, Patsy, had raised their granddaughter since she was toddler. When Patsy died in 1995, the relationship between John and Amy grew even stronger.

“He was pretty much my dad,” said Amy, now a mother. “I had two moms and two dads.”

In the years after his wife’s death, John suffered a heart attack and stroke. As a result, he had to undergo dialysis four hours a day three times a week. Not only had his mind begun to fail him, but his body was in a regular weakened state.

“It was really hard.  He was in constant pain,” said Amy. “His back hurt.  He couldn’t drive. He was really reliant on everyone else. That was not my grandpa. He was a farmer his whole life and didn’t rely on anyone.”

Tired of the treatment and unwilling to go into a nursing home to receive care for Alzheimer’s, John broached the subject of quitting dialysis with his family. It was a sensitive and difficult decision that Amy knew she had to support even if it meant her grandfather would no longer be a part of her life. 

“You don’t want them to suffer,” she said. “You don’t want them to hurt.”

John passed away two weeks after going off dialysis. Amy has no regrets.

“When he said he didn’t want to do it anymore—that he wanted his family behind him 100 percent—the weight of the world was lifted off his shoulders,” she said. “Quality of life is better than quantity of life.”

The Walk to End Alzheimer’s is the nation’s largest event to raise awareness and funds for Alzheimer care, support and research. This inspiring event calls on volunteers of all ages to become champions in the fight against Alzheimer’s.

Quincy Walk, Sept. 6

Why I Walk... Kristin Kanoy, Quincy

Kristin Kanoy and family

A veterinarian at Nuessen Veterinary Clinic, Kristin Kanoy learned of the Walk to End Alzheimer’s from a client in 2007. The mission of the Alzheimer’s Association and its goal with the walk pulled at her heartstrings—Kristin’s aunt, Jean Fryrear, died from early onset Alzheimer’s seven years earlier.

“She was a very special lady,” Kristin remembers. Helping with the walk “was a way for me to honor her memory.”

She has served on the Walk Committee as registration chair and walker/team recruitment chair, and has helped out in myriad other ways. “It’s a really worthwhile organization and a really neat event,” Kristin says. “It draws people of all ages and all sorts of families.”

Kristin’s team spirit carries over in her involvement with team Hope Walks, made up of members from Hope Lutheran Church. Hope Walks earned bragging rights as the top team fundraiser in the 2011 Quincy Walk – in only its second year of participation. It raised a total of $2,900 for the Alzheimer’s Association. 

Look for Kristin and her teammates at this year’s walk, too. They’ll be easy to spot with their colorful wooden walking sticks. Some of the canes are wrapped with family photos; one has the American flag painted on it.

McDonough County Walk, Sept. 15

Why I Walk... Pam McLean, Macomb

Pam McLean

In hindsight, Pam McLean can clearly recall the telltale signs that her father, Arthur Gordon Blake Sr., suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. Now, more than 12 years after his death, she still regrets not being able to do more for him—not being able to better understand what he was experiencing and what about the disease caused him to be someone other than himself.

“No one should be lost to Alzheimer’s and be alone like my Dad was,” she said.

The isolation Arthur lived with daily because of his illness is the driving force behind Pam’s longstanding commitment of being an advocate for the Alzheimer’s Association. She is participating in the 15th annual McDonough County Walk to End Alzheimer’s at 10 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 15 at Citizens Bank Plaza in Macomb. 

Pam became involved in the walk event the fall after her father passed away in February 2001. This will be her 11th year participating and raising money for the organization.

She’s consistently recognized and applauded for her fundraising efforts. For the last 10 years, Pam has held one of the top three spots for individual fundraising. She also personally gives additional money to be a family sponsor, so Arthur’s name appears on the walk T-shirts annually.

“This will be my 11th year raising money for the Alzheimer’s Association,” she said. “I do it to honor my Dad and I am very proud of the fact that I have raised approximately $10,000 in all over the years.”

Arthur began living with the disease in the 1990s, a time when Alzheimer’s was not a household word. Pam, her brother, Gordon Blake, and their mother, Leona May Blake, thought Arthur was simply getting old, and as a result, sometimes a handful to manage.

“It became easier to enter his fantasies with him, rather than argue with him about them,” she said.

He would order unneeded items from Publisher’s Clearing House, spending money wastefully. He refused to throw anything away. For example, he would not part with a 25-year-old calendar because it reminded him of the salesman who had given it to him, Pam said. One time, Arthur forgot how to use the microwave and almost started a fire when he set the device for 60 minutes instead of 60 seconds. He also hallucinated, claiming to have communicated with his parents, who had been dead for years.

“He would wander back and forth in front of the bookcase,” said Pam, citing another memory. “When asked (what he was doing), he would respond that he was ‘looking for his mind.’ I thought he was joking because the Dad I grew up with had a wonderful sense of humor. Now, I realize this was a serious plea for help that I did not understand.”

With his mind in an altered state, Arthur’s physical strength also started to wane. 

He had trouble walking, getting up out of his chair and going to the bathroom. Leona, a registered nurse, maintained his care as long as she could, but soon it became too much. The family hired a caregiver to help her, which eased Leona’s worrying and provided her freedom to run errands.

Arthur lived several years with his illness before it was diagnosed as Alzheimer’s. In 2000, when it became clear that caring for him was taking a toll on Pam’s mother, the family moved them into Wesley Village Retirement Community. Leona lived in an apartment, while Arthur resided in the Alzheimer’s unit, receiving the around-the-clock care he needed until he passed away.

“He still knew us at the end,” said Pam. “My sweet Dad was belligerent and hard to deal with sometimes. The personality change was very hard to accept.”  

Besides raising money for the cause, Pam has signed up to participate in TrialMatch studies focused on preventing the disease through the use of diet, exercise and mental stimulation.

“I hope I live to see this disease conquered. In the meantime, I intend to support the Alzheimer’s Association’s efforts to educate, advocate and find a cure,” she said. “It is horrible to have someone you love look at you with ‘cow’ eyes and know that the person you loved is no longer really ‘there.’”

Knox-Warren Walk, Sept. 22

Why We Walk ... Joan "Hag" Whitney, Knoxville, and Peggy Johnson, Victoria

Each time a Walk to End Alzheimer’s event takes place, more people are educated about the disease’s devastating affects and more funds are raised for Alzheimer’s care, support and research. Held annually in more than 600 communities nationwide, this inspiring event calls on participants of all ages and abilities to reclaim the future for millions.

One of those Walks, the Knox-Warren, is celebrating its 20th annual Walk to End Alzheimer’s at 9 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 22, at Hawthorne Centre in Galesburg. Volunteer Joan “Hag” Whitney has been involved with the event since its inception.

“I am so passionate,” about the cause, said Joan, who lives in Knoxville. “I have so many friends that have family members with Alzheimer’s. I can’t know exactly what they are going through. I can only imagine and I really feel for them.”

She got involved in the Walk while working at a company that helped sponsor the event.

Each year, Joan has been a member of the Walk Committee and organized a team. This year is no different. She’s serving as the Logistics Chair, a vital position in making sure things run as smoothly as possible the day of the Walk, and again is spearheading a team. 

“We have such a good committee,” she said. “We work very well together.”

There have been a few changes over the years to the Knox-Warren Walk, such as the date and location, but consistently it’s grown, not only in amount of funds raised, but the number of walkers participating. The first year, about $2,600 was raised. In 2011, just shy of $30,000 was collected.

“It’s something I really, really care about,” Joan said of her longtime service to the Walk. “I hope someday we have to look up that word—Alzheimer’s—because we don’t know what it is—it’s a thing of the past.”

Also a member of the Walk Committee is Peggy Johnson of Victoria. She’s been with the committee for about 10 years, serving mostly as co-chair.

“I help make sure everything correlates together,” Peggy said. “I’m the to-go-to person to contact for the committee members.”

Her first contact with Alzheimer’s and dementia patients began in 1988, the start of her career in the healthcare industry. For the last 20 years, she’s been specializing in Alzheimer’s care.

“Alzheimer’s was rare back then,” said Peggy. “But now it’s evolved with people knowing and realizing what a devastating disease it really is.  It’s skyrocketed.”

At Seminary Manor, a nursing home in Galesburg, she works as the coordinator for Garden Court, a specialized unit for patients suffering from the moderate to late stage of Alzheimer’s and dementia. The facility has a second unit for early to moderate stages of Alzheimer’s patients call Memory Lane.

“Someone needs to be there for them and try and meet their needs even though they can’t tell you,” said Peggy. “Someone needs to be there for them to make sure their dignity and quality of life can be upheld.”

In her years of dealing with the illness, Peggy feels the families with loved ones suffering from Alzheimer’s have it harder than the patients themselves.

“They (the patients) exist in the moment,” Peggy said. “The family members have the memories of the past and they are dealing with the present and know what the future has in store for their loved one.”

She wants to put an end to the heartache and pain she’s witnessed. And the only way to do that is by getting people to participate in the Walk in order to raise funds for treatment and research.

“I do know that the funds we have raised in the past have been put to good use,” Peggy said. “We’re always hearing of the new scientific medications and trials they are doing to try and reverse the disease and find out what’s causing the disease. We know what we’re doing is getting used in the right manner.”

Joan echoed Peggy’s sentiment: “No one has to worry whether or not those funds are sent some somewhere else.  No one ever has to worry about needing something or wanting something. 

“The Alzheimer’s Association always has programs. You can call them.  There are people there that can give you help. It’s just plain obvious that the Central Illinois Chapter is there for their counties. They are very, very visible.” 

Rock River Walk, Sept. 22

Why I Walk... Jill Pfeiffer, Dixon

Jill Pfeiffer

As coordinator of the Alzheimer’s unit at Dixon Healthcare & Rehabilitation Center, Jill Pfeiffer and her team of dedicated staff, care for 23 men and women suffering from the disease.  The close relationships she’s developed with those residents, including the ones who have passed away, are what motivates her to be involved in helping find a cure for the debilitating disease.

Jill is part of a team from Dixon Healthcare that participates each year in the Rock River Walk to End Alzheimer’s. This year’s walk—the 18th annual—is at 9 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 22, at Lowell Park in Dixon.

Made up of about 15 people, the team consistently is a fundraising leader, earning a spot in the top three for raising the most money. On average, team Dixon Healthcare raises $3,000 annually for the walk.       

“We strive for that No. 1 spot, but usually we make it in the top three,” she said.

Jill is also a member of the Walk Committee, helping organize the event months in advance. Now in her third year on the committee, Jill focuses not only on making sure the walk is a success, but recruiting new people to join and support the movement.

“It’s become a passion,” she said. “We need to build awareness and be more knowledgeable about the disease. It’s imperative that we find a cure as fast as we can.”

Jill said specialized Alzheimer’s units like the one she works at are in demand because the number of people with the disease continues to grow. While the unit at Dixon Healthcare has room for two more residents, it’s common that many facilities have a waiting list.

“It’s a great need in the area,” she said, noting the Rock River chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association is great for support. “We work with the local Alzheimer’s chapter and are involved with them throughout the year.” 

Many of the residents Jill interacts with daily mistake her for one of their loved ones. Memory loss is one of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s.

“Sometimes I’m a grandchild or a mom,” she said. “I just play along with the role. I do it every day. I don’t argue. There is no sense in arguing at that time. They think that’s what is happening, so you just play the role.”

It’s also common for people with Alzheimer’s to revert to a different time in their past. They may recall memories from when they were much younger or during their work life.

“You play into their world,” Jill said. “We’re not in our world when you enter our unit. You’re in their world. You’re in 23 different worlds every day when you talk to them.”

The Walk to End Alzheimer’s is the nation’s largest event to raise awareness and funds for Alzheimer care, support and research.  This inspiring event calls on volunteers of all ages to become champions in the fight against Alzheimer’s.

Tazewell County Walk, Sept. 22

Why I Walk... Judy Davis, Pekin

Judy Davis

The Alzheimer’s Association has a strong ally in Judy Davis of Pekin. She’s a determined advocate for the organization wherever she goes, spreading awareness about the disease and trying to get others involved for the good of the cause.

To honor the memory of her aunt, Judy is participating in the Tazewell County Walk to End Alzheimer’s at 9 a.m., Saturday, Sept. 22, at Mineral Springs Lagoon in Pekin. She has been walking in the event since its inception in 2004.

“Alzheimer’s is a disease that knows no boundaries,” said Judy. “It has no preference.  It can hit anybody at any time.”

The disease took hold of her beloved aunt Louise Leslie in the 1990s. Judy recalls those last six or seven years of Louise’s life in a Morton nursing home as “heartbreaking.” Louise died in September 2001 at the age of 89.    

“It was sad that such a lovely person didn’t know any of us,” she said. “The light in her eyes was gone.”

Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States. It’s also the only one in the top 10 that cannot be prevented, cured or even slowed.  

Judy’s walk day experience spurred her to get involved with the Alzheimer’s Association. After walking in Tazewell County’s inaugural walk, the following year she wanted to do more and be more hands-on, so she joined the Walk Committee.

“I got involved because I have seen what (the disease) does to people and how it affects families,” she said. "I’ve been trying to get other people to recognize this situation and get involved. It’s such a worthy cause. I want (awareness) to grow and get people interested to raise the funds to make research possible to find a reason for it.”

Her efforts have not gone unnoticed. As a member of the Women of the Moose in Pekin, Judy’s passion for the cause has attributed to the group becoming a corporate donor for the walk.

She’s also recruited a dear friend, Judy Prechel, also a Moose member, to join the movement after she lost her mother-in-law to Alzheimer’s. Both are part of the Walk Committee and attend meetings together. 

Judy’s hope is that one day there will be a cure for Alzheimer’s.   

“There is nothing like the feeling of looking at someone that you love and they don’t know who you are,” she said. “We need to put an end to this. Hopefully, we’ll have a breakthrough before long and it will be a possibility.”

The Walk to End Alzheimer’s is the nation’s largest event to raise awareness and funds for Alzheimer care, support and research. This inspiring event calls on volunteers of all ages to become champions in the fight against Alzheimer’s.

Peoria Walk, Oct. 7

Why I Walk... Gwen Garrett Allar

Gwen Garrett Allar participated in last year's Walk to End Alzheimer's to support her mother, Bev Garrett. Bev served as the primary caregiver for Gwen's father, John, an active, spirited man who began exhibiting memory issues in 2000.

"I don't know if my dad realized how challenged he had become, but my mom certainly did.," says Gwen, a Chicago resident. "And so I walked to show my support for all she was going through as a caregiver."

Through every stage of the disease, the Peoria County family's close ties to the Alzheimer's Association's Central Illinois Chapter helped them cope and gave them the chance to connect with similar families. "My parents were very involved in the Alzheimer's Assocation's Early Stage Support Group and especially looked forward to dining out once a month with the group," Gwen says. "My mom recieved many practical caregiving tips from other families who were having similar experiences."

This year's Walk will be special for the Garrett family, as they are serving as the 2012 Chapter Champions and will tell their story at several Walk events.

Central Illinois was moved by the details of John's tragic death this past Feburary. He had wandered away from his rural Peorai County home one wintry afternoon, not even wearing a coat. A massive search effort lasting nearly a week ended when a local reporter familar with the area found John's lifeless body in a creek at nearby Jubilee College State Park.

"My father was very spirited," Gwen remembers. "My hope is that sometime in the near future, technology will help keep people safe when they wander. There is a very real need for tracking devices for individuals with Alzheimer's."



Alzheimer's Association

Our vision: A world without Alzheimer's disease®.
Formed in 1980, the Alzheimer's Association is the world's leading voluntary health organization in Alzheimer's care, support and research.