The Alzheimer’s Walk returns to Farmington this weekend, to once again bring attention to a serious disease that over time steals both a sufferer’s mind and personality.
The Alzheimer's Walk begins with registration at 8 a.m. Saturday at 111 E. Liberty St. A special ceremony will take place at 9, followed by the walk at 9:30 a.m.
While every case is different, what remains a constant is that living with Alzheimer’s — whether one is afflicted by the disease themselves or becoming a caregiver for an affected friend or family member affected by — is never an easy proposition.
Leroy Milfelt, founder of Milfelt Auto Body in Ste. Genevieve, succumbed to the disease several years ago. His wife, Darlene Milfelt-Klein, shared memories of caring for her spouse while he suffered from the disease.
“The reason we’re involved in this is, my husband died 17 years ago," she said. "He was suffering from vascular dementia. I think we were blessed that he didn’t live to get into the late stages. As hard as it was to lose him, I would have hated to see him go through that. I was his caregiver for all of those years.
“This has been a passion for us, because I lived firsthand with someone who has Alzheimer’s. It’s 24-hours a day — you don’t get away from it. It’s really hard to see someone that you love that has lost their identity, their personality and they are not able to function as a normal individual.”
After undergoing open heart surgery at the age of 55, Milfelt began showing signs of Alzheimer’s at a relatively young age compared to most victims.
“At about 57 I started noticing him having some problems," Milfelt-Klein said. "He was getting forgetful, didn’t have short-term memory. As it went on, [although] he had done auto bodywork all of his life, when he got in the car he didn’t know the radio from the glove compartment. He knew nothing. He knew he was not well, he still wanted to come to work, but he knew he couldn’t work, he couldn’t drive.”
Although Alzheimer’s first takes away short-term memory robbing them of their present surroundings, victims often retain memories from decades ago. Klein observed that Milfelt suffered from the same issues.
“He was an avid hunter,” she said. “They would go out to Wyoming. He could tell you every shot he fired, every step he took, but he couldn’t remember what he had for breakfast.”
According to Milfelt-Klein, since her husband had a heart condition, doctors thought that he died of a heart attack triggered by the stress of the disease.
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“He was very gentle," she said. "There’s all stages of Alzheimer’s. Some get violent, some get angry — he was real passive. He was a joy to take care of, but it was still hard. He died at 66. I feel he was real fortunate, he didn’t have to go through those worst, last stages of Alzheimer’s.”
A couple of years after Milfelt’s death, his widow decided that she wanted to do something, both to honor his memory and to prevent others from experiencing the same suffering.
“We first started out with a raffle, and then [our son Rodney] jumped in with the idea of doing scooterburgers," Milfelt-Klein said. "Scooterburgers is from a group of guys that rode scooters here in town and they decided that they wanted to do something for a charity. They started our world famous scooterburgers, and that has been a big moneymaker for us. We have been doing this since 2014, and right now we have raised over $41,000 for Alzheimer’s.
"This year we are already over $10,800. We hope to get to $45,000. I have just been real adamant about it. We had mouse races, we have raffles, we have already had two scooterburger events. We still have two more events — one in November and we may come up with one in October. We’re still going strong.”
Milfelt-Klein said that Rodney took over the body shop and operates it in the same building. He and some local friends started doing fundraisers several years ago in connection with a club that they started.
“We rode the 50cc scooters that we can ride on the street,” Rodney Milfelt said. “Myself and a lot of the community, we started a scooter club. We actually progressed where we made it an LLC. One year we went to Indianapolis to an actual drag race for 50cc scooters. While we were there, we found a place called Lucas Brothers Hamburgers. The hamburgers were very interesting. We got to watching them make them.
“A friend of mine, who is passed away, was a local attorney. He came up with the idea that we should make burgers or something and do benefits. We decided to make what we call the ‘scooter burger’. Come to find out, Lucas Brothers closed. We took their hamburgers and put our little twist on them. We do some special things to them. All we do are benefits.”
As a natural extension of the body shop business, Milfelt has created a one-of-a-kind tribute to his father’s memory and to help find a cure Alzheimer’s.
“In 2007 I was on the internet just looking for wrecked cars in junkyards and ran across my dad’s very first wrecker that he bought in 1965 when he went into business,” Milfelt said, “He actually went into the wrecker business before the body shop. I found it in Potosi, went and looked at it and it was my dad’s wrecker, because it still had his name on it. Trees were growing through it — it was trash. I bought it, brought it back here and left it sit out here in front of the shop a month or so for everybody to see it.
“I’m going to restore this thing. About last year — about 12 years later — I started on the body and thought we’ll do something for Alzheimer’s. So it’s lettered on the wrecker, ‘pulling to end Alzheimer’s’ and it’s got some other logos on it, but we’re dedicating it to dad and Alzheimer’s. I’m trying to get it ready to lead the parade in Farmington for the Alzheimer’s walk. It’s been an uphill battle with it, but it’s turning out pretty neat.”
For more information about the Alzheimer's Walk, call 317-626-9098.