Editor’s note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the familial relation of the members of the Friends Forever team. The story has been modified.
The streets surrounding Main Park were a sea of purple Saturday morning, and the bright T-shirts and flowers sprawled out into downtown Washington as nearly 300 people walked to raise funds and awareness for Alzheimer’s disease.
Organizer Peggy Killian said seeing the hundreds of people, from young children to 90-plus-year-olds, each year is almost like a homecoming.
“There’s just a good feeling of seeing people back together,” she said. “People show up every year because (this cause) resonates with them.”
Among the teams that participated in the walk was “Friends Forever,” a team made up of the Lakebrink, Nolting and Schoene families. The team has walked for five years now in memory of the late Shirley Lakebrink and the late Mary Schoene, lifelong friends who both passed away from Alzheimer’s.
“To come here and see other local families, you look around and think, ‘Man, we’re not alone,’ ” said Nancy Schroeder, daughter of Shirley Lakebrink. Her sister Kathy Lakebrink added that caring for a person with Alzheimer’s “takes a village.”
Kate Schroeder said she once saw a good friend from work attending the walk who she didn’t know also had a family member with Alzheimer’s. She was able to talk to the friend after the walk and establish another support network.
“This walk is a connection center,” Kate Schroeder said, adding that the family looks forward each year to seeing fellow teams such as Pogos Pack and Bea Strong.
Participating walkers carry pinwheel flowers, with the colors symbolizing the walker’s experience with Alzheimer’s disease. Orange flowers mean the walker supports the push for a cure, yellow means the person is currently caring for a loved one who has the disease, purple means the person has lost a loved one to the disease, and blue flowers are carried by those who have themselves been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
Organizers said they hope the amount of money raised — $1.5 million since 2010 in Washington — will allow the walk to one day include the option of a white flower, for those who have been cured of Alzheimer’s disease.
Organizer Stacy Tew-Lovasz said that while the Walk to End Alzheimer’s is the biggest day of the year, the organization fundraises for Alzheimer’s research year round. This year, the group hopes to raise $190,000, and Tew-Lovasz hopes that the increased turnout this year compared to last year will help them get there. As of Saturday at noon, the annual walk had raised more than $104,000.
“(Being back) feels powerful,” she said. “Instead of letting Alzheimer’s run over us, people (are saying) ‘I can do something about this. I can fundraise. I can raise awareness.’ We’re feeling very powerful today.”