August 7, 2017 2:00 PM. Debra dropped me off at my favorite home improvement store as I was on a mission. I knew they had dimension lumber 3/8 thick and I was sure I remembered the isle it was in. As I walked through the door I heard one of checkers tell another one, “Hey Jerry, that’s him”. I glanced back to see who else was in this part of the store, no one but me. I ventured on to the location I remembered, found exactly what I was looking for. I am sure I had a smile on my face as I walked back to the same register where I walked in. I recognize the checker as a regular and she commented that she saw my picture in the paper. “I was sure it was you, I even told other employees that you were in the store”. I was surprised, it took a few minutes for it to register that she was referring to the article about the “Art to Remember” series at the Joslyn Art Museum.
Next week is the anniversary of my Diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease; I can’t believe it’s been two years. I’m amazed when I am out in the public how many people I talk to know someone with Alzheimer’s, an aunt, grandparent, a friend or neighbor. As I was paying for my large $2.00 purchase, the checker commented about a relative with Alzheimer’s. While leaving the store I told the nice lady I was diagnosed 2 years ago and jokingly told her I didn’t remember what I had for lunch yesterday. I did remember however, exactly where the item of lumber was in the store and that my wife was in the car timing me and I would make it back to the car in record time! I think she knew I was joking about being timed.
Let’s go back in time to December 15, 2015. Elizabeth Chentland and Clayton Freeman from the Nebraska Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association and I are sitting in the conference room at the Joslyn Art Museum. The idea being discussed was offering a free program to individuals diagnosed in the Early Stage of Alzheimer’s Disease. Other similar programs such as the Minneapolis Institute of Art’s “Discover Your Story” tour designed for individuals and their families in the early and middle stages of Alzheimer’s have been very successful. The Metropolitan Museum of Art (MoMA) in New York City is well known as the largest Art Museum in the United States. MoMA is also well known for “The MoMA Alzheimer’s Project”. The decision was made by MoMA in 2006, and funded by a grant from MetLife Foundation to develop a program for people affected with Alzheimer’s disease. They were one of the first museums in the country to do so. The goal is to make art accessible to people with dementia.
Sitting in the conference room in December of 2015 I have several memories. The most striking is one piece of art depicting an Indian Chief in full headdress. For some reason, maybe my southern Kansas heritage, this piece of art reminded me of my dad. At the time, dad was fighting brain cancer. Everyone at the table agreed that we shared a vision to try and make the dream of a program at the Joslyn to share art with those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s a reality. The burden of work was on the Joslyn Art Museum. Research would need to be conducted, approvals for the program would have to be obtained, and funding the program would also be necessary. I met an individual that day that I greatly admire and is one of the shining lights from the Joslyn, Susie Severson. Susie is the Director for Adult Programs at the Joslyn. More about Susie later.
February 8, 2016. Sitting on a stage in the Joslyn Art Museum in front of over 30 docents and others from the Joslyn, my goal was to tell my story, other presenters there also to enlighten the audience about persons living with a form of dementia. I recounted the memory I had of the initial meeting the previous December sitting in the conference room, looking at the Indian Chief, remembering Dad. The presentation was difficult for me because we lost Dad to brain cancer in January. To me, looking at the piece of art and associating it with a past memory or a person was very special. A piece of art reminded me of Dad. To this day, I remember sitting in the conference room looking at the painting of an Indian Chief. I sometimes forget what I had for lunch the day before, what I went to the basement to get, or one of the 4 items I went to the grocery for, but I remember the painting and I remember Dad.
July 23, 2017, 2:00 PM, Joslyn Art Museum. It was a good turnout at the Joslyn for our bi-monthly tour. As always Susie is at the front door to great everyone as they walk in. The tour, as always, was fantastic, a lot of interaction between the presenting docent and the audience. We do not know ahead of time what the docents have in store for us. We may be singing America the Beautiful, listening to music, or smelling the scent of a pine cone while looking at a piece of art set in a forest. The docents truly make the art come to life. The docents also do not know who in attendance have a diagnosis and who the caregivers/family members are.
The “Art to Remember” Program at the Joslyn Art Museum is one of the programs that I feel privileged to be part of since I began volunteering at the Alzheimer’s Association nearly two years ago. I could go into facts and figures about why programs like this work, but in my mind I don’t need to. I am living proof that programs like this work. I remember when we were discussing the possibility of this program I thought, we can do this. We may not be in NYC, or in Minneapolis, however, right here in Omaha, Nebraska, we have a fantastic Art Museum, an extremely capable group of people at both the Joslyn and the Alzheimer’s Association working on the project. We can do this, and it happened.
The article in the Omaha World Herald features my favorite docent. Sharon Martin is passionate about life, art and people. She has a personal connection to Alzheimer’s as do most people. Sharon is one of the heroes of the Art to Remember tour. This program I firmly believe would not be existence today if it weren’t for the efforts of Susie Severson. Susie tends to operate in the background, she is present at the tours, silently watching, never bringing attention to herself. Susie doesn’t want the attention, sorry Susie you deserve the attention, thank you on behalf of all of us for your commitment to this program. I also want to thank Blue Cross Blue Shield of Nebraska for funding the program.
That’s all for now, if you missed the article in the Omaha World Herald, the shortcut is below.