Reminder Assistant Editor
WESTFIELD Today more than five million people in the United States are living with Alzheimer's, a disease without a cure.
But on Sept. 23, the Alzheimer's Association is giving those people hope as more than 1,200 people will be participating in the annual Memory Walk at Stanley Park.
The Westfield Memory Walk is one of 10 walks throughout Massachusetts that raise a total of $1.25 million for the Alzheimer's Association.
The Memory Walk is the largest fundraiser of the year for the organization, Annie Clattenburg, Memory Walk liaison for the Alzheimer's Association said.
The funds raised allow the Alzheimer's Association to provide support groups, a 24-hour helpline and educational programs for those diagnosed with the disease and also for family members caring for those affected. The organization also donates a portion of the proceeds to researchers searching for a cure.
However this year people will be walking not only in memory of loved ones that have fallen victim to the disease but also in memory of the Alzheimer's Association's most dedicated volunteer, Arthur Ford who passed away earlier this year.
According to Virginia Sinkoski, coordinator of Community Programs for the Alzheimer's Association this is the first year that the Memory Walk has been dedicated to anyone.
"We all agreed that this was a way of honoring him and keeping his memory alive," Sinkoski said. "He was a great guy and we miss him very much."
Sinkoski said she first met Ford in 1998 after his wife passed away from the disease. He came into the Alzheimer's Association office with memorial donations and said he was eager to help. From then on, Sinkoski said she kept him busy.
"The [Memory] Walk was his real love," she said. "We'd get done one Walk and he'd be looking toward next years."
Clattenburg said he raised thousands of dollars over the years with the Memory Walk. Ford also got a team of family members together to walk and raise funds each year. The group was called "Mackie's Team" in honor of his late wife Mary, who's nickname was Mackie.
Not only was Ford heavily involved with the Memory Walk Sinkoski said, but he also participated in support groups for those caring for loved ones with Alzheimer's. She added that he would often share his stories as a way to help other caregivers.
Even with the death of Ford, Mackie's Team will still walk this year. Ford's 12-year-old granddaughter Kelsi Ford has taken over the team and the fundraising efforts.
"It's really hard to be walking without him because he was the main part of the walk," Ford said. "It's going to be different without him."
Ford added that she is working diligently to continue her grandfather's efforts to help find a cure.
"We saw my grandmother suffer and we don't want other people to suffer like that," she said. "My grandfather wanted to find a cure and he put a lot of effort into it."
Although there is no minimum for pledges collected, Ford said she is looking to raise $10,000 through letter-writing campaigns and a website that the Alzheimer's Association helped her create.
Clattenburg said the largest single pledge ever was $14,000.
Participants in the Memory Walk can collect pledges to walk the half-mile, 1.5 mile or three-mile course through Stanley Park.
The day's events will begin at 9 a.m. with registration, Clattenburg said, and there will also be a variety of other events throughout the day. Participants will have the opportunity to pay tribute to loved ones who are battling or have died from the disease by posting photographs on the Wall of Memories.
There will also be live entertainment for children and adults with clowns and magicians and a performance by local band "Your No Good Buddies."
Dan Daniels a band member of Your No Good Buddies said the band keeps coming back to perform at this event this is their fourth year because "it's very important to get the word out about Alzheimer's." Daniels added that he also had a friend who had an early onset of the disease and died.
"We adopted it as our disease as there is a connection with our baby boomer generation," he said. "We are getting up there in age and who knows if it will strike members of the band."
Sinkoski said it is very important to continue this event every year because of the support that it provides those affected by the disease.
She said she wants people to know they are not alone and that the Alzheimer's Association is always there to help them whenever they need it.
For more information about the Memory Walk or the Alzheimer's Association go to www.alzmass.org.