Alzheimer’s disease impacts others besides those who’ve been diagnosed. Valerie Halvorson can attest to that. Valerie’s father was living in Pampa, Texas when he was diagnosed. At the time, Valerie was a teacher in Olympia.
“I was 2,000 miles away,” Valerie says. “And though they would visit often, it was hard for me to tell really what was going on, and my mom didn’t want to admit it. In 2005, I started to notice little things, but it wasn’t bad. In fact, my dad even played his trumpet at my wedding in 2006 and did a beautiful job.”
As time went on, Valerie noticed more abnormal instances in her father’s behavior.
“He’d tell a story over and over or he’d misplace something and put it in a really strange place. He put the keys in the freezer one day and we spent hours looking for them. Then there were times he’d leave a restaurant without paying. You know the little folder they put the bill in? He’d take it with him to the car and my mom would notice as they started driving away.”
Valerie’s mother took on the role of caregiver, but due to her own physical limitations, she needed assistance in providing care for Valerie’s father.
“In 2011, she began having lots of problems with her knee and needed a knee replacement; so she asked me and my older daughter, Terra, to be there during that time to help with him. We both went down in the summer of 2011. The knee surgery didn’t go well at all. Terra and I had school starting back up and I’m an only child, so we weren’t quite sure what we were going to do.”
That’s when Terra, who was an incoming high school junior, made a decision that greatly benefited the family.
“Terra decided she was going to move to Pampa by herself, so that’s what she did. We put my dad in a home at that time and Terra was there to support my mom and visit my dad. If it hadn’t been for Terra during that year while we were trying to find jobs, I don’t know what we would’ve done.”
Along with supporting her grandparents, Terra excelled in track and cross country, eventually earning a full-ride scholarship to Texas A&M Commerce and a master’s degree. In 2012, Valerie and her husband, Jeff, moved to Pampa to join the rest of her family. While there, Valerie discovered the Alzheimer’s Association, something she wished she’d known about sooner.
“I didn’t know much about it until about the time my dad passed away. One of my friends from high school, her mother has it. She knows my story, so she reached out to me and the first thing I asked was, ‘Have you been in contact with the Alzheimer’s Association? Because they can offer you lots and lots of help that you wouldn’t even think to ask for.’ I feel that those of us who have lost someone should speak out on it and that will certainly get the word out.”
The Halvorsons’ efforts in the cause have truly been a family affair. Valerie, Jeff, Terra and youngest daughter Roselyn have all been involved. The four were together for the family’s first Walk to End Alzheimer’s in 2017 in Dallas.
“I didn’t know how large it was going to be, I was so impressed by the sheer number of people that gathered there in Dallas. It was just a sea of purple. Everybody had purple on and it was purple everywhere. It was pretty incredible when everybody held their flowers up. I felt like ‘Hey, all these people are coming together for a common purpose.’ I was just astounded.”
To contribute to the family’s efforts, Roselyn set up a lemonade stand to raise money for the Walk. The stand was the scene for a powerful moment for the Halvorsons.
“One of my favorite memories was when a hearse pulled up to the lemonade stand. A woman stepped out and said she just lost her mom to Alzheimer’s and handed us $20. She didn’t even take any lemonade. She just said ‘I wanted to thank you for what your doing.’ That was a really special memory.”
The Walk is a very common way of being involved, but on top of that, Valerie and Roselyn have found another way to give back.
“When my dad was in the nursing home in 2013, one of the things they had was a pageant for the girls in the community. So Roselyn, our cute little three-year-old, entered. They picked residents of the nursing home to be the judges. Roselyn got up there and she waved and blew kisses and had the most fabulous time. She was crowned the queen of the nursing home and I thought it was the cutest thing. That’s kinda when we got started in pageantry.”
The Halvorsons moved back to Washington State in 2017, settling in Omak. After continuing on the pageant circuit, Roselyn thought of a way to combine pageantry with the cause that meant so much to them. That was the start of the Omak Miss-Forget-Me-Not Pageant.
“She came up with the idea. She said ‘Mom, we should do a pageant like they did at the nursing home and raise money.’ And I was like ‘Okay. I guess I’ll be a pageant director. Never thought I’d do that, but I will.’ We started posting on Facebook and telling everyone in town we could think of. Now we have twenty-five girls in it. It’s a crown-all so everyone that comes out, talks about their connection, introduces themselves and participates in the pageant gets crowned. We’re already over $2,100 dollars this year as a team so we’re doing really well, and I’m really proud of all of them.”
Valerie currently teaches 7th Grade English at Omak Middle School and will be walking with her team in Wenatchee September 8. Whether it be her students or her pageant participants, Valerie knows that no matter your age, you can be impacted by Alzheimer’s.
“My students know about the work that I do, and they all know about Omak Miss-Forget-Me-Not. Amazingly enough I had a couple of students this past year that have grandparents that are suffering, and they always come to me to get support and just a listening ear. “
“It affects the kids too. Roselyn saw so much herself. She saw him declining, and she knew, even from the time she was two to the time he passed. She’d see the good days and the bad days — and the other little kids in the nursing home, there was a connection between them because they all had grandparents or great grandparents that were suffering. It’s like with any other disease like cancer, the kids are affected just as much as the older members of the family.”
Join Valerie and thousands of Washington and Northern Idaho residents for the Walk to End Alzheimer’s. Register at alz.org/walk.