‘You can find joy in the journey’

Music, balloons, enthusiastic greeters and booths set in a large circle welcomed more than 700 participants to the Tacoma Walk to End Alzheimer’s at the University of Puget Sound. Family members, support staff and friends gathered on Sept. 11 with a common cause: To raise awareness and funds to end Alzheimer’s disease.

Alexander Sokoll, communications and outreach coordinator for the Alzheimer’s Association in Washington, said, “Not only did we hit our fund-raising goal, but we broke a record for the walk in Tacoma. Folks had a great time.”

The walk is held each year in more than 600 communities nationwide – Bremerton is another one – and all money that’s raised helps support care and research efforts.

Becca Verda, marketing manger for the Washington chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, said participants at the walk in Tacoma learned about Alzheimer’s disease, advocacy opportunities, clinical studies enrollment, support programs and services. The participants also honor those affected by Alzheimer’s disease with the poignant Promise Garden ceremony.

The fund-raising goal was $157,000 was topped at $158,000, with donations still being accepted through the end of 2016. According to Verda, last year’s event raised over $107,000.

The Washington chapter, which has been hosting walks for nearly 30 years, “is one of the founding chapters of the Alzheimer’s Association network, and we have been present in Washington since the 1970s, when a group of caregivers started talking to each other and got together when they needed more support and services. It has grown since then, and now we are a national organization with over 50 chapters across the U.S.,” said Verda.

Families gain much needed support and make new friendships through the Alzheimer’s Association.

Karen Marez Johnson, who had a team at the Tacoma walk last month, helped her dad care for her mother when she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. “I was a single mom and a full-time teacher during this process but only lived about 20 minutes away, so I could be there to help,” she said.

Johnson’s dad was dealing with a cancer diagnosis of his own and was extremely grateful for her help as they teamed up to care for their loved one.

“Mom was diagnosed in 2008, and we lost her in October 2014,” said Johnson.

Her parents had been married one week shy of 58 years when Johnson’s mom passed away.

“She was his high school sweetheart, his bride, and he took great pride in taking care of her. I tried to be there to support him,” Johnson said.

Johnson’s Walk to End Alzheimer’s team was named My Sunshine, and her jazzy hat carried a photo of her mom in her garden. The team’s nine participants included her 18-year-old son, Trey, who said he visited his grandmother once a week.

Although their journey was difficult, Johnson is grateful for all the support she received and new friendships she has made through the Alzheimer’s Association.

“You can find joy in the journey no matter how heartbreaking it is,” she said.

Tracy Kirke, whose mom, Viana Perry, died in 2008 from Alzheimer’s, led a team called Memory Gladiators along with co-captain Trish Cross, whose dad lives in an adult family home.

Kirke credits the Alzheimer’s Association and the friends she has made there for supporting her through the struggle.

“I felt alone and helpless, and then got involved. It made me feel better when I could do something,” she said.

Lisa Beiermann, whose mom died of Alzheimer’s at age 76, said she misses her every day.

“She and I were best friends, and it was sad to see such a smart, strong person lose her memory and her dignity,” Beiermann said.

Beiermann’s team was nicknamed Carolyn’s Rocking Angels, in honor of her mom’s love of Elvis Presley.


Joan Cronk, who wrote this article,

Karen Marez Johnson and her son, Trey Marez, participated in the 2016 Walk to End Alzheimers in Tacoma. (Joan Cronk/for Senior Scene)
Karen Marez Johnson and her son, Trey Marez, participated in the 2016 Walk to End Alzheimers in Tacoma. (Joan Cronk/for Senior Scene)

is a freelance writer.