Volunteer Spotlight: Dan Cohen

The Alzheimer’s Association counts on over 35,000 volunteers nationwide to help fulfill our mission. During National Volunteer Week, the Alzheimer’s Association Illinois Chapter would like to extend our gratitude to our volunteers for all they do in the fight to end Alzheimer’s disease. In this article, we feature Illinois Chapter volunteer, Dan Cohen.

My name is Dan Cohen, and I was born and raised in Moorestown, New Jersey, a short ride from Philadelphia. I attended Syracuse University for four years prior to taking my current job as sports anchor/reporter at WREX-TV, Rockford’s NBC affiliate in Northern Illinois. My parents still live on the East Coast, and my brother and sister are based out East as well. Prior to going into TV, I was an avid performing arts department participant in high school, and took six years of voice lessons. I still sing from time to time, but my spare time away from work is mostly spent staying active – CrossFit, hiking, golf. I’m also an avid reader, podcast listener, TV viewer – basically anything that tells a good story.

My personal experience with Alzheimer’s disease stems from my maternal grandfather being diagnosed in the mid-2000s. It was a long, difficult battle, unfolding during my high school and early college years prior to his death in 2010. He was my first grandparent to pass away, and it was really hard on all of us, especially my grandmother, who was his primary caregiver. She lived more than eight years after him prior to her passing in February 2019. I have taken the pain of my experience and channeled it into the work I do for the Association. I want to make sure other families’ experiences are a little easier and they have the resources they need to care for their loved ones affected by Alzheimer’s.

I have been an Alzheimer’s volunteer since 2016. I have served as a community representative for the Illinois Chapter, an emcee for three Walks to End Alzheimer’s events, a participant and fundraiser for those walks and have recently taken on a new role as Community Educator.

My decision to volunteer for this great organization is pretty straightforward – to help my community navigate the turbulence of this disease. It is costly from an emotional and financial standpoint, and anything we can do to make the experience a little easier and provide necessary resources to those affected by it makes it worthwhile to put in the time to volunteer.

We can all do a little bit to make the world a better place. Because Alzheimer’s disease has such a wide reach and affects so many people, anything you can do to help makes the worlds of those dealing with it a better place. A high tide lifts all boats – you can help lift the tide by volunteering for us.

IWCA Spotlight: Mary Smigielski

I am an employment attorney. I have been practicing employment law for 25 years, and am a partner and head of employment law in Chicago for Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith, which is the 9th largest law firm in the country.

I joined IWCA because my mom has Alzheimer’s. My mom, Mary, was always an adventurous and vibrant woman. She was a nurse, the office manager for my dad’s medical practice, President of the Medical Auxiliary for the State of Wisconsin, and she started a very successful party consulting and coordination business when she was 55 years old. My dad was the love of her life until he died just shy of their 50th wedding anniversary. She was a doting mother of four and grandmother of seven. Nothing made her happier than being a mom; unless is was being a grandmother. She was an amazing mom. She is now 91 years old, and although she holds my hand, she doesn’t know who I am. It is heartbreaking to have witnessed this incredible woman slowly lose herself to Alzheimer’s. It is a cruel disease, and I believe awareness, research and support of family and friends are crucial. The power of this organization is immense and I believe it can truly make a difference.

By: Mary Smigielski

Lost and Found: Memories of my Grandmother

By: Candice McCloud

A few years after I graduated from college and early into my professional career, I came upon an opportunity to create a scholarship at my Alma Mater: Southern Illinois University Carbondale. I knew I wanted to give back to future students who were in my position – i.e. minority students in the College of Business. What I didn’t know was what I wanted to name said scholarship; I just knew it had to truly mean something. Naturally, I sought advice from the chairman of my personal board of advisors: my mother.

My mother shared with me was that she always wanted to honor the memory of her mother- an educator for over 30 years – by giving to a foundation in her name. The Gloria Dean Battles Scholarship has, for the past 9 +, years granted students at SIU with funding for relief from expenses (such as books, rent, supplies, and classes) which allows them to focus more on their education.

This scholarship has meant so much to my family, and ties so closely to my memories of my late grandmother. In my earliest memories, I would come home from school in my grandmother’s house in Rochester, throw my bags down and then enter Mrs. Battles’ classroom. My grandmother would sit us down and begin teaching us lessons. I loved this pretend time with my Grandmother. We would raise our hands, ask questions and often run up to her “desk” to use the stapler or rotary pencil sharpener.

These same early memories of my grandmother were made during the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s. What was a fun, after-school game to me was my grandmother’s involuntary reenactment of her time in the classroom. At that time, I did not know the difference. It was hard for me to understand at eight years old what was happening to my grandmother, my mother and my entire family.

Over the next several years, the “game” ended, and the reality of my grandmother’s condition slowly revealed itself to me. I had to watch my mother – who was at the age I am now – witness her mother slowly and then altogether suddenly… forget.

When my grandmother passed away, I remember the feeling of being betrayed by Alzheimer’s. I was saddened and ashamed that my only real memories of her were of her with the disease. I wished so hard that I could remember her from the stories that my mother shared with me. Stories about pumpkin carving in her kitchen, sending cards and phone calls on birthdays. For me, my grandmother always had Alzheimer’s.

It took some time, but I began remembering that I did, in fact, have precious memories with my grandmother. She just so happened to have Alzheimer’s. I have memories of dancing with her in my room, with music only she heard playing in her head. Memories of seeing her laugh in the moment and of her humming to the music in church. And of course, I have the memory of playing a student in her “classroom” after school. Those are the ones I remember and will never forget. Gloria Dean Battlers was a mother, a matriarch, an educator, and my grandmother; and she just so happened to have Alzheimer’s.