When memories fade

Pam Savoy knew something was wrong when her mother-in-law would get ready to leave the bowling alley before her match was over. An avid bowler, Ruth Savoy hit the lanes five days a week, and enjoyed mixed doubles. But then she started to get read...

Pam Savoy knew something was wrong when her mother-in-law would get ready to leave the bowling alley before her match was over.

An avid bowler, Ruth Savoy hit the lanes five days a week, and enjoyed mixed doubles. But then she started to get ready to leave when there was still a game to be played, Pam Savoy said. She would forget when it was her turn to bowl and which lane to bowl on.

That was the first sign Ruth Savoy was suffering from Alzheimer's disease.

Then, Pam and her husband Todd, only had family to rely upon to help them care for Todd's mother. Memory Lane didn't exist.

Now, the couple is a big supporter of the program. The annual Ruth Savoy Memorial Mixed-Doubles Bowling Tournament at Village Lanes supports it.


Memory Lane -- the only adult day care program specifically designed for people with Alzheimer's or other forms of dementia in Superior -- got its start in 1997, three years after Ruth Savoy died.

Four days a week, caregivers can get a break between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m.

"We're hoping by July to add Friday," said Diane Nelson, who runs the program for Northwest Community Services Agency. Currently, the service is available Monday-Thursday. Nelson, who has been a caregiver for both of her parents, said she won't turn anyone away who simply needs a break.

"There's opportunities for socialization," said Sherry MacGregor, who recently organized a walk to raise money to support the program. Money raised helps support scholarships for people who simply can't afford the $35 per day fee for the service and to cover transportation costs for participants. The walk, a craft and bake sale, and the bowling tournament raise more than $1,000 for the program. Matching funds provided by Wal-Mart will double the donations, MacGregor said.

With health care services for seniors moving away from nursing home care, programs like Memory Lane's are becoming even more critical, MacGregor said. At the same time, government funding for programs is being cut. Fundraising helps.

In the morning, program participants can visit and enjoy a snack, and every day, Meals on Wheels delivers lunch to the facility in Hawkes Hall on the University of Wisconsin-Superior campus. The Aging Resource Center of Douglas County assists with transportation.

"We try to keep them busy from the time they get here until the time they leave," Nelson said. However, the people participating in the program aren't forced to participate in structured activities.

"We used to have an activities schedule, but I found that didn't work," Nelson said. "We just go with the flow and see how the day goes."


Some people enjoy having tea when they arrive in the morning. Others bring movies from home to share with others. Some just visit.

Still others, like Mary Larrabee, like lending a hand when they can. When the phone rang, Larrabee answered it and quickly turned it over to Nelson, who she teasingly calls "the warden."

"I like coming here," said Larrabee, who was hand-crafting a Mother's Day gift for her sister.

Todd and Pam Savoy, who started an annual bowling tournament in 1994 in Ruth Savoy's memory, decided to use proceeds to benefit Alzheimer's patients at the suggestion of Todd's sister.

Pam Savoy learned about Memory Lane through a customer who had time to run errands because he could leave his father there, and now the tournament's proceeds benefit the program.

The annual tournament runs from about mid-February to mid- to late-March at Village Lanes.

"She loved to bowl," Pam Savoy said of her mother-in-law. "She especially loved to bowl the mixed doubles at Hennessey's Three Star Lanes. She bowled just about every shift in that tournament. So when she died, we thought it would be nice to have a mixed doubles tournament."

With six siblings, five in the area, Todd Savoy said it was Ruth's children who took care of her as long as they could. His job, among other things, was to try to keep his mother's finances in order.


Denese Odermann said the program has been invaluable for her family. Her 94-year-old aunt, who lives with Odermann's brother and sister-in-law, is a participant. Her aunt has now been participating for about two years.

Initially, Odermann said, her aunt wasn't terribly social and didn't like going there, but once she made a connection with another participant, she began "going to Diane's" and meeting her friends.

"My brother and sister-in-law could not still be working without this place," Odermann said. "It's just a wonderful thing for them, and for her, and a safe environment. It helps a lot of families. I couldn't do it 24-7 ... it's just a nice program."

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