Kentucky voices: Teri Shirk on the legacies that inspire quest for Alzheimer's cure

Every life is a legacy, the gift of stories and accomplishments from the past to be shared with children, grandchildren and extended family.

We at the Alzheimer's Association are the recipients of many a legacy. Sometimes it is simply the gift of funds for our mission, but sometimes it comes in that wonderful, familial way, in stories and accomplishments that we can share. Stories that inspire others to help us in our fight to end Alzheimer's.

Lois Gray of Lexington passed on March 19, having lived with Alzheimer's for many years. Lois was an icon in the business and non-profit communities, taking over the family construction business when her husband died in 1972 and also dedicating her time and energy to enriching the lives of others through the arts and education. Lois Gray's story illustrates how Alzheimer's first invades and then gradually razes even the most focused of minds.

Trudy Mudd was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's in the late 1980s. She passed from Alzheimer's on March 27, nearly 25 years later. Trudy leaves us the legacy of her children, who celebrate her life and fight against the disease that stole her from them far too long ago. Each year, the Mudd sisters host the annual Steamboat Race party in Louisville, where hundreds of individuals come for an evening of fun and leave having donated nearly $20,000. That is enough to fund 2,500 calls from families to the Alzheimer's Association's 24 hour Helpline. The 7th Annual Mudd Sisters Great Steamboat Race Party is May 2, from 5 to 11 p.m. at the KingFish Restaurant in Jeffersonville.

Al Webb of Louisville is still creating his legacy to the Alzheimer's Association. When diagnosed, Al became a new kind of hero for everyone affected by this disease. As an individual living with Alzheimer's, he is sharing his fight publicly, telling us his stories as they happen. Al and his wife, Barbara, are giving the Alzheimer's Association the gift of themselves, their struggles and fears, and more often than one might think, their humor and positive perspective.

New Albany construction titan Bob Koetter is one of three siblings in his family of five children to be diagnosed with Alzheimer's. That puts Bob's son Jack Koetter and Jack's four brothers at heightened risk for the disease. Bob can no longer run his companies or tell his stories, so Jack has stepped up. His legacy for us will be his service on our board of directors. He asked to join the board after visiting his father at the retirement center one day and feeling powerless. So he drove across the Ohio River and asked what he could do. Jack works to raise awareness of Alzheimer's in Southern Indiana and vows to stay involved with the association for a long time to come.

We at the Alzheimer's Association of Greater Kentucky and Southern Indiana are so grateful to Lois Gray, Trudy Mudd, Al Webb, Bob Koetter and thousands of individuals in our chapter living with Alzheimer's. The gifts we receive from them ignite us with the passion, drive and personal connection to keep moving our cause forward. The ultimate legacy of those who have lived with Alzheimer's will be a cure. Just ask their families how important that is.

Teri Shirk is president and CEO of the Greater Kentucky and Southern Indiana Chapter of the Alzheimer's Association. To learn more about Alzheimer's and services offered by the Alzheimer's Association, visit www.alz.org/kyin or call 1-800-272-3900.