Boomers: Fundraising 5k event to battle Alzheimer?s slated for July 3
Summer resident Joanie Sullivan remembers when her father, Jim, first started losing his memory. “He was accepting of it at first. He could see it coming. He said, ‘I figure I have ten more years.’”
Joanie and her husband, Rick, convinced him to move from northern California to Colorado to be near them. He willingly gave up driving. But when the time came to put him in a facility, he had trouble, Joanie says. “Because he had very good moments, and he would think, ‘What am I doing here?’”
At about the same time, Rick’s mother was saying Rick’s father, Dan, was “slipping.”
“We would see him occasionally, and he seemed fine.” They were retired and living in Florida, and were big golfers, Joanie says. But their lifestyle changed when Dan couldn’t keep track of the game anymore.
Soon, Joanie and Rick were dealing with the slow loss of both of their fathers to Alzheimer’s.
Unlike Jim, Dan didn’t willingly give up driving. Joanie and Rick were visiting when Dan took off in a golf cart. They saw the stress it put on Rick’s mother. “[Her] blood pressure was going through the roof.”
She continued to care for her husband, her load lightened only by his weekly time in adult day care.
“When he didn’t want to go, she would tell him how much they needed him there,” Joanie says. Rick’s mother appealed to a heart that still responded to the needs of others. His “volunteering” at the adult daycare was her one break, Joanie explains.
Finally, at the encouragement of Rick and his sisters, their mother placed him in a home. He passed away 10 months later.
The Scheiner/Sullivan patriarchs died within six months of one another: Jim Scheiner in October 2004; Dan Sullivan in March 2005.
“My daughter-in-law, Heather, said we should do something to commemorate them,’” Joanie says. Heather put together the first annual Shake Around the Lake Alzheimer’s fundraising 5k in 2009. The sponsors are all family businesses. Money collected from the sale of T-shirts is donated to the local Alzheimer’s Association.
The there-and-back route starts at the Sullivans’ cabin on Two Sisters Lake and at its farthest point follows the Wisconsin River. “People go as far as they want and turn around. Some people come and don’t run. Some walk a little ways. They just want to contribute,” Joanie says.
The only advertisement has been in the lake association newsletter, she notes. “We normally have around 80 people.”
With Joanie’s sister, two brothers and cousin also on Two Sisters Lake, and another cousin with a cabin on the river, there was a guaranteed crowd. But that first event turned out to be more than a family reunion, and it continues.
“We meet all our extended neighbors,” Joanie says. “It’s a fun way to get together.”
After the 5k, everyone gathers for a cookout. Lake Tomahawk merchants have been very generous in their donations to the meal. Herb and Bev Olson, Joanie’s neighbor across the lake, came the first two years. Herb, in his early 80s, had been battling Alzheimer’s for several years. He sat in a chair and was entertained by neighbors while Bev walked.
The very good moments
Alzheimer’s often marks the departure of the loved one into someone unrecognized because of aggression. Occasionally, the aggression and confusion retreat ever so briefly and family members see their loved one return.
Herb spent the last 10 months of his life at Friendly Village in Rhinelander. In the end, he lost interest in talking and eating. Bev would make the trip in from McNaughton sometimes twice daily to feed him, which took a patient hour to get even a small amount into him. After one such quiet marathon supper, his grandsons came to his wheelchair to say good-bye.
“Goodnight grandpa,” they said, hugging him. His eyes still closed, he replied softly. “Goodnight, honey.” The first words he had spoken all night. The last he would speak to them.
Another moment came weeks before he died, when from his unresponsive state, he sang the phrase, “Happy birthday to you,” to his daughter on the phone. “I just about fell on the floor,” Bev says.
In June 2011, Herb died and Bev came to the Shake Around the Lake for the first time without him. At 80, she walked the entire course. She has attended every year since.
This year, the sixth annual Shake Around the Lake is scheduled for July 3. The public is welcome to attend. To register, call Joanie Sullivan at (970) 879-1508.
Jill Olson is a freelance writer who lives in Rhinelander. Her articles also appear in Northwoods Commerce magazine.