First Carson memory walk raises funds, awareness for battle against Alzheimer's

The bells tolled 9:30 a.m., the bagpipe played "Scotland the Brave," and 180 people started out from the Capitol steps on the Alzheimer's Association Memory Walk in Carson City Sunday.

It was the capital city's first walk to raise funds for and awareness of the disease, which affects a rapidly growing number each year.

"It's not just a health concern, it's a tidal wave," said Wendy Knorr, executive director of the association's Northern Nevada chapter. About 9,000 people have Alzheimer's in her 12-county region now, and that number is expected to jump to 32,000 as baby boomers age in the next 30 years, she said.

"And for those 9,000 patients, there are 76 beds," said Lynette Schweigert, event manager. "That means the responsibility for care rests with the family, usually an older man or older woman."

Funds raised -- estimated at about $12,000 -- will go toward support for caregivers.

"The money all stays in Northern Nevada and will go toward support groups, education for caregivers and professionals, a help line and respite for families," said Schweigert, who has organized 12 memory walks in Reno.

The Carson City event was dedicated to the memory of Ayer Tonge, who died while helping organize the walk with his wife, community chairwoman Barbara Tonge.

"It's a really big thing for me," she said, "and the turnout was a really nice surprise."

"Barbara's commitment, even during the hardest time in her life, made this event a success," Schweigert said into the microphone after walkers returned to the Legislative lawn.

Tonge thanked the Carson senior center for giving her time away from her full-time job there to work on the walk.

"This is a really important issue," she said. Her daughter, Karen Easton, organized the food for the walk, including donated Starbucks coffee, sandwiches, fruit, cookies and bottled water.

"Sooner or later, I imagine everyone will have an experience with Alzheimer's," said Ann York, one of the first to finish the one-mile walk.

She wore a photograph of a smiling Ayer Tonge in his honor.

"He was a really great guy," she said. "He had a really good personality, drove for Meals on Wheels, was a good dancer -- everyone who met him said that he was nice."

Other people honored the memory of loved ones lost to Alzheimer's at the Remembrance Pavilion, also organized by Schweigert.

Colorful flags could be bought and written on with fabric pens.

"We'll take all the flags to every walk, every year so they'll just get bigger and bigger," Schweigert said.

Seventy volunteers helped out with the walk Sunday. The event included hundreds of donated raffle prizes, an advocacy table, a penny pond and massage tables.

Paul Dancer from News Channel 8 volunteered to tape a documentary, which will be used by the association to raise awareness.

Elise Anderson of Memories on Wings, who met Schweigert at the Sparks farmers market, donated the cost of a 12-dove release to start the walk.


The Reno Memory Walk is Oct. 19. Nevada has the only Memory Ride in the nation. Participants will gather with their horses on Oct. 4 in Yerington. For more information, call the Alzheimer's Association at 786-8061.


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