Alzheimer's Association draws a crowd at first Eisenhower Park walk


Hundreds of people carried purple, yellow, orange and blue pinwheels at Eisenhower Park in the opening ceremony of last Saturday’s Walk to End Alzheimer’s, hosted for the first time in East Meadow by the Long Island chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association.

Those who had lost loved ones to Alzheimer’s had purple pinwheels. Those who were caring for someone with the disease had yellow ones. The orange pinwheels were for those who have not been directly affected by the disease, but wanted to contribute to the cause.

The blue pinwheels were reserved for those with Alzheimer’s or a related disorder, explained Joan White, 54, of Seaford, who has dementia. She then held up a white pinwheel as well, which represented the fight for a cure.

“This disease was my whole life growing up,” said Courtney Henley, 27, of Westbury, explaining that her father, Mike, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s when she was 9 and, until she was 20, she helped her mother, Karen, take care of him.

Courtney carried a purple pinwheel and wore a shirt reading “Henley’s Heroes” as she walked with her mother and her brother Brandon, 25. Mike Henley died in 2012, at age 47, after 11 years with early-onset Alzheimer’s.

“We saw what my dad went through,” Courtney said, “and I don’t want anyone to have to go through that.” Now the Henleys are active members of the Alzheimer’s Association, and have attended many of its walks.

More than 5 million people in the U.S. have Alzheimer’s disease, and some 16 million more are caring for them, according to the organization. It is the sixth-leading cause of death nationwide, and it cannot be cured, prevented or slowed. “I could give you all of the statistics about the disease,” said Douglas Davidson, the executive director of the association’s Long Island chapter. “But it doesn’t hit home until you’re dealing with it.”

Alyson Irom, of Roslyn, and her brother, Andrew Klein, see the impact of the disease firsthand in caring for their father, Stanley Klein. Irom and her team, Stan’s Fans, raised the most money at the walk, a total of $21,550.

The second-most-generous donor, raising $20,000 on her own, was Hayley Mayer, of Roslyn. Mayer chaired the walk and held an orange pinwheel to symbolize her dedication to finding a cure for the disease. “It’s important to make a difference, firsthand experience or not,” she said.

The goal of the first Eisenhower Park walk was $200,000, said Ann Healy, the chapter’s director of communications. Money was still coming in on Monday, and Healy added that she was confident the association would surpass that number.

The Alzheimer’s Association held its first fundraiser, which was called the Memory Walk, in 1989, and has since organized hundreds of walks across the country. On Sunday, the Long Island chapter will hold another one at Belmont Lake State Park in North Babylon, and a third is scheduled for Oct. 14 at Suffolk County Farm in Yaphank.