Weldon Schumacher was an unusual man. I suppose I am not the only daughter to think that of her father. Strong and quiet as a New England oak tree, he worked so hard that even on Saturday he wouldn’t quit until everything on his list was finished. I don’t remember him ever putting anything down where it didn’t belong, even a piece of clothing. His amazing drive helped him succeed in business. He believed that if you “live right” you stay healthy and all will be well. When he started forgetting, he did his best to cover his deficits. We finally knew something was wrong when we heard the following story. As part of his business duties, he sat on several corporate boards. He seemed to know that it was time to retire. One board gave a dinner in his honor, as was their tradition. The retiree was expected to give a speech, which was the major part of the program. Ordinarily, he would have been well rehearsed and everyone would have been interested in what he had to say. Another board member told the family that when it came to be his turn, he said, “Thank you. I have nothing to say,” and sat down! Everyone was shocked. While Dad wouldn’t (couldn’t?) talk about it, there was something very wrong.
Fast forward a few years to 1981 and you see my family, Chuck and our two sons, Jay and Clarke, moving to Naples to help care for my dad. My mom was really struggling, having always depended on Dad’s quiet strength and leadership. She had no one to talk with about his disease and the problems she was having. Back then, Dad’s doctor called it “organic brain syndrome.” A lot has changed since then! Searching for someone for Mom to talk with who understood what she was going through, I found a group starting to meet in Naples. There were six of us that first day. The second meeting, Chuck joined us. We said that we had an office and the equipment to do mailings, so we would volunteer to send out reminders of meetings. And thus, the Alzheimer’s Support Network was born!
We are still “sending out the notices” and Clarke, having grown up with his grandfather’s illness and his parents’ efforts to grow an organization, is now the Executive Director of the Network. His grandfather would be so very proud of him!
As he became more confused, Dad lost his language. We always said of him, “He doesn’t say much, but what he says is worth listening to.” We don’t know if he didn’t want to speak or if he couldn’t, but he was reduced to “yes” and “no” and often confused those two words, moving his head to indicate the other answer. We were spared hearing the confusion he experienced, but we also didn’t have those clues into what was going on.
He did live well, but it didn’t spare him from developing a devastating disease. I like to think that there are reasons for things that happen if we could only understand them. No one would wish a dementia on anyone, but in Dad’s case, he became the Founding Father of the Alzheimer’s Support Network, the reason for its birth. I think he would have liked that.
One final note: after Dad died in 1990, his only sibling, Evelyn, came to visit. I asked her to put a leaf on the tree for my dad, her brother. The tree was quite new then and had few leaves. She didn’t hesitate. She wrote Weldon’s name on a leaf and put it right at the center of the tree. I thought that was appropriate.
Shared with love and gratitude,