By Bob Jackson
Marybeth Jamieson never dreamed that her husband of 21 years, Cliff, wouldn’t be with her to participate in their second Walk to End Alzheimer’s.
When he died in May, she knew she had to get out and walk anyway.
“I know it’s only been four months since Cliff passed, but we had to be here,” the 55-year-old Struthers woman said. “You have to do it for the other people that are going through this.”
Jamieson and dozens of her friends and family members were among hundreds of people who met Saturday morning in Boardman Township Park for the Alzheimer’s Association Greater East Ohio chapter’s annual Walk to End Alzheimer’s. It’s the agency’s biggest fundraising event, and this year’s goal was $56,000, said Helen Paes, development director. Last year’s goal was $42,000.
“Every year we do better,” Paes said. “The trend is upward because the need is growing. Nearly 50 percent of all Americans know someone who has Alzheimer’s, so this is a public-health issue that needs to be addressed.”
She said Alzheimer’s is the nation’s sixth-leading cause of death, affecting some 5.4 million people nationwide. There are about 60,000 Alzheimer’s patients locally.
Cliff Jamieson, a former elementary math and science teacher in Struthers, was in his early 50s when he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease, forcing him to retire from his job. He also had been a sports coach in the Struthers, Liberty and Girard schools.
Last year, he and Marybeth formed a team and took part in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s for the first time. They’d planned to do it again together this year, but the disease took him away sooner than anyone had anticipated. He was 56.
“He got sick in March, and from March to May it was just steadily downhill,” Marybeth said. “To see someone you love, a spouse, going downhill and losing their dignity like that — it’s sad.”
She said her husband’s greatest fear was that he would eventually not recognize his family, but it never got to that point.
“He didn’t want to live like that,” she said.
Despite the way Alzheimer’s ravaged his health and robbed him of his memory, Marybeth said Cliff never once complained and always maintained a positive outlook.
“Cliff had a good life, and I learned so much from him about enjoying life,” said Marybeth, 55. “I hope I am that courageous if anything like that ever happens to me.”
Marybeth said she resigned from her job at a medical office in Struthers because she wants to devote more time to volunteering and helping others who are going through the Alzheimer’s experience.
“I want to connect,” she said.
Alzheimer’s patient Karen Wilson’s story was similar to Cliff Jamieson’s, in that she was fairly young — in her mid-60s — when she was diagnosed. Until then, she had been active in the community, serving as a longtime director of the Youngstown Area Arts Council, president of the Junior League of Youngs-town and founding First Night Youngstown.
“At one time, she was one of the most well-known, well-connected people in the community,” said her son, Scott Wilson. “She was so outgoing, so smart. To see her now, just a shell of what she used to be, is very sad.”
Karen Wilson moved into Vista Center of Boardman more than two years ago and was the facility’s “VIP representative” for the walk, said Maureen McCarty, activities director. Karen, now in the end stages of Alzheimer’s, attended the event in a wheelchair.
“We are here to walk with her and to help further Karen’s cause of fighting for a cure for Alzheimer’s,” McCarty said. Some 75 people joined the team in support of Wilson. She said many of them were from the Poland United Methodist Church, of which Wilson was a life member.
Paes, who once served on the Junior League with Wilson, said the difference between then and now is “pretty significant.”
“She was always so robust, vibrant, caring ... those that I really remember about Karen,” she said.
Several other healthcare facilities that offer Alzheimer’s services also participated in the event, including Briarfield Healthcare Centers, owned by Ed and Diane Reese.
“On a beautiful day like today, it’s just good to see all the health care facilities in the area come together for such a great cause,” said Ed Reese. “Hopefully, someday there will be a cure, but until then we just have to stick together and keep up the fight.”