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Family touched by Alzheimer’s disease, raising money for research By Michael Armitage Guest Writer

“I’m fine, I just have a lot on my plate,” Sharon Simecek would tell her family when her organized personality started showing signs of forgetfulness and disorganization. Her daughter, Kim Simecek, along with other family members, could see that Sharon’s days were becoming a struggle, so they decided that it was time for an “intervention.” Sharon recalls knowing that “things weren’t working,” but she blamed it on those around her. She finally was convinced by her family to talk to her doctor, who originally did not disclose what they were looking for as he sent her for an MRI and PET scan. The news was hard to hear for a vibrant woman still young in her 60s. It was Alzheimer’s

disease. Sharon moved to Milan in 1964 from Phoenix, and married Keith Simicek of Milan in 1966. Family is very important to Sharon, who was a stay-at-home mom until their kids were in college. She worked as a travel agent in Ann Arbor before joining Air Transport International, where she worked for nine years as the director of In-Flight Services. Community service is also an important aspect of her life as she served on the Milan school board for 12 years, is active at Peoples Presbyterian Church in Milan and served on the Greater Milan Area Community Foundation board for four years. Unlike other forms of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease gets worse over time, and is always terminal. It’s caused by changes in proteins and chemicals in the brain, although the cause of

these changes is still unknown. The rate at which a patient deteriorates varies between individuals, and there are products on the market to slow the rate of deterioration such as Aricept for early stage patients and Namenda for moderate to severe cases. Early signs of the disease include memory loss, which is usually first recognized by those around them. As the disease progresses, many have trouble making decisions, keeping track of and managing time, learning and remembering new things, completing tasks such as cooking, and are sometimes at a loss for words. “It’s going to be a long and hard journey for the whole family,” noted Sharon, who said she has been grateful to those around her for being supportive. She becomes very emotional when thinking of the future, and

the possibility of some day not recognizing who her husband, kids or grandkids. “It’s a terrifying way to end life. I’m not going to remember how I lived my life; there is nothing I can do about it.” Sharon said she is able to recognize the person, but is not always able to place who they are. She has had to make several changes in her life already, including increased supervision of day-to-day activities. Some tasks such as answering the phone, cooking, and using electronics have become difficult. She has also stepped down from the Greater Milan Area Community Foundation board. “I continually feel like I’m losing my mother,” said her daughter, Kim. She reminds herself, especially when times get frustrating, that the frustration needs to be focused on the disease, and not

her mother. Kim moved back to Michigan nearly two years ago to help with the needs of her mother. Once back in Michigan, she became a partner in Leaf, Barley & Vine, which is located in downtown Brighton. “I’m an image of my mom when she was 20 years younger,” Kim said, comparing their style, organization, motivation and energy. The thought of being in her mom’s shoes in 20 years is a scary one. The statistics are just as scary. In 2005, there were 4.5 million cases. That number is expected to rise to 16 million by 2050. Some predications indicate that by 2025, one in four people will suffer from Alzheimer’s in their lifetime. Sharon wants to bring attention to this disease that has no known forms of prevention,

cause, or cure. She wants people to be able to not only be comfortable talking about the disease, but also to those suffering from the disease. She also wants to build a network of those with the disease to be able to talk about their experiences. Even through the tough emotions caused by the struggles of the disease, Sharon still has a sense of humor. She says that there is no sense in denying the prognosis or dwelling on it, she instead wants to stay busy with the things she can still handle. Kim and her business partner, Greg Strouse, teamed up to bring awareness to Alzheimer’s disease and multiple myeloma, a terminal disease that took the life of his wife, Bonnie Strouse, with “Passport to a Cure. The event was held Sunday at their business, Leaf, Barley & Vine in Brighton.

Local Girl Scouts enjoyed Milan Public Library in the 1950s the Milan Village The Girl Scouts office. The library enjoyed spending shared the space. time at the Milan Today, the library in the 1950s. library is located This fact was capin a brick addition tured on film, perhaps just west of the by a professional “power plant.” photographer, with On the left, the industrious young Brenda Anderson ladies working hard is shown in full to shine up the glass Girl Scout unidisplay case. A can of Gold Seal form, including “Glass Wax” sits on MARTHA CHURCHILL the barrette, as she works hard to keep top of the display case, while the memthe glass clean. bers of the troop, dressed in full Behind her, a sign indicates this uniform, rub the spots out of is the right place to find mysterthe glass. The “glass wax” has a ies. The next person is an attracprice tag of 59 cents, clearly visible when I use the zoom feature tive woman wearing a lovely on my computer. hat. She is the Scout leader, In about 1950, the library was Marvel Jones. In about 1950, no longer located in the Old women and girls often wore Fire Barn at Main and County hats, usually for special occastreets. The library was located sions. Setting up a Girl Scout display at the library was just in the present-day Milan City such an occasion. Hall building, the one with the smoke stack, built by Henry Shirley Yeager is dressed up in her Girl Scout uniform, a Ford as a power plant for his white shirt with the “trefoil” industrial complex. After Henry Ford finished his pin and badge. The “trefoil” is still used today by Girl Scouts industrial activities in Milan, and looks just as good as ever. his former power plant became


The girl on the right is Patty Jones, daughter of the Scout leader. Patty’s uniform looks impeccable. The number 9 appears on her sleeve. Even her socks are part of the uniform, with the trefoil design on the anklets. She looks like she is working hard to clean the glass, but I suspect she put down her cleaning supplies as soon as the photographer was finished taking this shot. A note on the back of the photo says it was donated to the Milan Area Historical Society by Ann Jones, daughter-in-law of Marvel Jones. I don’t know when she donated the photo, but it is extremely charming, and a treasure for

local history lovers. The historical society has other pictures of Milan-area Girl Scouts at various times, in parades, camping and hiking. Most of them don’t identify the individuals. This one is a real treat because everyone is named. Anyone with pictures of Girl Scouts, or anything else, please write the names on the back, along with the date. Don’t do it for yourself. Do it for your grandkids. Do it for your community. Just do it, please.

Anyone with pictures of Girl Scouts, or anything else, please write the names on the back, along with the date. Don’t do it for yourself. Do it for your grandkids. Do it for your community.

Martha Churchill is a freelance writer. She can be reached at

Girl Scouts tidy up the glass showcase in the Milan Public Library in about 1950. Brenda Anderson (left) is pictured with Scout leader Marvel Jones, Shirley Yeager and Patty Jones.

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