By Tammy Daniels
05:37AM / Monday, October 02, 2023
Organizer Donna Smith introduces the white flower that signifies a cure for the disease.
ADAMS, Mass. — The dedication of Dorothy Lefebvre's family to ending Alzheimer's was inescapable on Saturday morning.
At least 50 members of Team Gramz Fam — most sporting gray T-shirts with Lefebvre's likeness on them — participated in this year's Walk to End Alzheimer's on the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail. They've raised $77,000 over nearly two decades.
"My grandmother had four children, all four are here. She had 13 grandchildren, all 13 are here, and she has 12 great-grandchildren, 10 of which are here," said her granddaughter Sarah Reardon. "Our goal for this year is just, honestly, just to raise as much as possible. This was our second biggest year that we've had. I think we're up over, I think it's over $5,000 or $6,000 now."
Lefebvre, a longtime assessor's clerk and assistant town clerk in Cheshire, was diagnosed around 2003. She died in 2007 but not before participating in research to help others with the disease, as had another of Reardon's family on the other side. Her great-grandfather had been in medicine trials that had in turn helped Lefebvre have a few more years with her family.
"She did brain scans as part of like research, and she didn't like doing it but she had always told us I want to do this for the next generation," Reardon said. "So that's what we're hoping to do is just help get rid of it eventually, but also help the next generation."
Colorful flowers were held up by participants at the Adams Visitor's Center to indicate how they were being effected by the debilitating disease: blue for those experiencing the loss of awareness, purple for those who lost a loved one and yellow for caregivers. A couple of Lefebvre's youngest descendants held the white flower — indicating the end of the disease.
"Wouldn't it be beautiful to have this white flower? But until that day happens, we must not back down," said Donna Smith of Home Instead, an organizer of the local walk. "We must continue to lead the way because together we can end Alzheimer's. Let's hold up our flowers and celebrate this idea."
Berkshire County teams have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past two decades to fund research for Alzheimer's disease and to support families dealing with the disease beginning with the Memory Walk that was first held at Tanglewood. The fundraising walk moved to Adams a few years ago and now takes place on the rail trail with participants walking to Cook or Lime Street and back.
At least 50 teams and numerous individuals were on the slightly wet rail trail on Saturday morning, working toward this year's $80,500 goal.
According to the Alzheimer's Association, more than 6 million Americans are living with the disease, and one in three seniors dies of Alzheimer's or dementia. Another 11 million Americans are providing unpaid care. It will cost the United States $345 billion this year alone and the association is predicting $1 trillion by 2050.
Alzheimer's is a progressive dementia that reduces its victims' ability to interact with and understand their surroundings. It has no cure but there has been success in temporarily slowing the effects.
Mary Whitman has been involved for all 22 years of the walk and, on Saturday, was ringing a bell to encourage walkers. Her mother, Angela "Tillie" Abuisi, had died in 2009 of the disease.
"For the last 22 years, I've advocated, keep myself current with what's going on so that I can be a help to people that are just finding out because I remember what it was like to go through and so, here we are 22 years later," she said.
Alzheimer's isn't just a matter of forgetting things, she said, but rather not comprehending — losing the meaning of things.
"People need to know not to be afraid of it, you know, and to just make yourself aware of it," she said. "Our walk especially has always been a really good walk for families, for camaraderie, because after the walk is over, you see some people mingling ... you really need to be able to talk to somebody who's going through what you did, because there are no two people that are the same with this disease."
Smith said the Alzheimer's Association has a nationwide network of advocates to speak up for the needs and rights of those facing the disease.
"Ultimately, the end of Alzheimer's will come through research. The money you raise helps the association fund some of the most promising studies in the field. Currently, the association is investing more than $360 million in more than 1,000 projects in 53 countries," she said. "And we are seeing the results of your efforts. ... This is amazing progress that could more time for those facing Alzheimer's. More time to hug the people we love. More time to laugh together. More time to share moments that matter."
As of Saturday, the local walk had achieved 82 percent of its goal for this year. Donations can be made here