ST. JOHNSBURY — Downtown St. Johnsbury was awash on Sunday morning in the color purple and fabric flowers symbolizing the roles of those with Alzheimer’s or dementia, their family and caregivers, for the Alzheimer’s Association Walk to End Alzheimer’s.
Nancy Poulos, chair of the committee for the Northeast Kingdom Walk to End Alzheimer’s, who lost her beloved mother to the disease, welcomed hundreds of walk participants, including those living with the disease, survivors of those lost to “this horrible disease,” friends, family, and caregivers. The walk returned after last year’s interruption forced by the pandemic.
People were asked to hold up their flowers to indicate the colors they chose.
For Darryll Rudy, blue was the color he raised high, standing close to his partner, Barbara Edelman, in front of the St. Johnsbury Welcome Center, where the event kicked off and returned to after a loop downtown.
Rudy’s blue flower meant he is living with Alzheimer’s or dementia, and Edelman’s yellow flower symbolized she is his caregiver.
As the event got underway and the poignant raising of the flowers to indicate one’s relationship to the disease, Edelman put her arm firmly around Rudy, standing close to the front of the opening ceremony.
Among the hundreds of participants and many teams were students from St. Johnsbury Academy as well as from Lyndon Institute, middle school football players on the Raiders team, teams from local nursing homes and rehabilitation and memory centers including the Pines Rehabilitation & Health Center, and Summit by Morrison, who brought residents in vans and pushed them in wheelchairs.
Mimi Keenan McCaffrey, a longtime faculty member from St. Johnsbury Academy, lost her father, Kerry Keenan, to dementia in 2018, and said, “For me, it’s so important because I lost my dad to dementia and my father-in-law now has Alzheimer’s.”
“So this is an important day for my family and for our community and for the Academy,” said McCaffrey, who helps to coordinate teams with the National Honor Society to participate in the annual walk.
Being present to honor those now fighting the diseases as well as to honor the memory of those who were lost to dementia and Alzheimer’s is important - as is raising money to help find a cure, stressed McCaffrey, and her 16-year-old daughter, Kaylee, also walking.
Kathleen Brennan, 97, who lives at the Summit by Morrison in Whitefield, NH, where one of her daughters works, was surrounded by her family including her daughters, her step-children and more, was all smiles as she sat in her wheelchair, the star of the show, wearing a purple baseball cap; purple is the color for the Alzheimer’s Association and its many events to raise awareness and money to help fuel research for a cure.
One of Brennan’s daughters, Jean Curnyn of New York, was in Vermont for the event, to be with her mom and family to participate in the walk.
“She has dementia,” shared Curnyn. “She’s had dementia for the last four years.”
Brennan, her mom, took her family to Ireland when she turned 90, and her decline began not long after, said Curnyn, saying her mother moved to New Hampshire two years ago to be cared for at the facility in Whitefield. Four more of Brennan’s daughters were also at the walk including Mary Beth Reardon, and Suzy and Katy Curnyn as well as Sheila Vaughan.
Her son, Kevin Curnyn, was not able to be at the walk, ” … he’s here in spirit,” said Mary Beth, standing at her mom’s side before the walk got underway.
She said the siblings ” … are getting to that age, it’s scary … we joke, and say, ‘I’m having a moment,’ but it’s scary.”
Reardon said, “I can’t believe how many young people are here!” as the family was surrounded with students from local high schools and middle schools and even younger, many wearing school T shirts or uniforms to show their school and team spirit.
As she oversaw the opening ceremony, Poulos said, “We’ve waited a long time for this. It’s good to have everybody here in person today!”
“It’s an honor to be part of this wonderful event,” said Poulos, saying the group was rallying to fight “this horrible disease.” She thanked the events many levels of sponsors who helped to support the event, and whose generosity led to another successful Northeast Kingdom Walk to End Alzheimer’s.
The names of the many sponsors were listed on banners hung outside the St. Johnsbury Welcome Center during the event.
Poulos said in the United States more than six million people including more than 13,000 in Vermont, are living with Alzheimer’s. She said some 11 million unpaid caregivers are helping to care for those people.
The cost of the disease is in the hundreds of billions each year, said Poulos, who said the disease is “destroying our families, our finances and our future and it’s time to end it.”
The funds raised through events like the Walk to End Alzheimer’s help to accelerate global research, she said.
More than $54,000 was raised by the start of Sunday’s walk, of a $57,000 goal - 95 percent of the way there the online calculation showed; Poulos asked those present to donate just a little more to hit the goal.
“I have faith we’ll do it!” she said.
Poulos told the crowd, ready to begin walking, “Alzheimer’s is not stopping, but you know what? Neither are we!”