North Bay resident supports Association for more than 25 years

Having both a grandmother and then, thirty years later, a mother with dementia, Joan Marks knows what it’s like to be a caregiver. Because of her experience with the disease, she decided to give back to the Alzheimer’s Association® by not only volunteering her time but also donating funds and encouraging others to do the same.

Joan's grandmother who had dementia
Joan’s grandmother

Two times a caregiver
As a child, Joan Marks grew up with a grandmother who was forgetful. Joan’s grandmother was never diagnosed, but most likely had some form of dementia.

Joan watched her mother take care of her grandmother for close to 15 years before she moved into a long-term care community. Joan’s grandmother passed in the early 1960s.

Joan on her graduation day with her mother who would later have Alzheimer's
Joan (left) and her mother

Then, in the 1990s, Joan’s mother’s needed care. This time there was a formal diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. At the time, Joan was living in Marin and her parents were in Colorado.

“I knew what it was like to live with someone with the disease,” said Joan. “My father was the principal caregiver and my sisters lived about 50 miles away. I was the long-distance caregiver.  I supported my parents through phone calls and was able to convince my dad to attend a nearby support group.

“My mother became shier. She used to write notes for herself to help her retain information and memory. She would look at the date on the newspaper several times a day to orient herself to time and place.  She was able to do that really close up to the time she passed in 2005.”

Joan volunteers at the Memory Walk for the Alzheimer's Association
Joan at the Memory Walk

Volunteering her time
In 1993, Joan was introduced to what was then the San Rafael Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. At that time, there were more than six chapters serving the Northern California and Northern Nevada territories.

Joan eagerly began to volunteer her time to the Association. At first, she began to participate in what was then the Marin County Memory Walk, the predecessor to the Sonoma-Marin Walk to End Alzheimer’s. Next, she joined the San Rafael Chapter’s board of directors.

In 2001, the five chapters located in Northern California came together to become one big chapter.  Joan then became a member of this new board of directors. Eventually, Joan would go on to also serve on several committees including both the Programs Committee and the Reason to Hope Committee.

“As a nurse, I had some volunteer time,” said Joan. “Volunteering is important to give back to the community. I wanted more people to know about Alzheimer’s. I wanted them to be aware of what could be done. There is more that can be done now than when my mother was going through the disease.”

Setting the example
Because of her time spent volunteering, Joan knew the quality of services the Alzheimer’s Association provided. “They’re a good organization,” said Joan “They’re responsible, and they’re making some progress with the disease.”

Joan wanted to do more than just volunteer her time. At first, she began by donating funds to towards the Walk. However, Joan felt that she could make a bigger impact. When she joined the planning committee for Reason to Hope, a fundraising event that encourages people to support the work of the Alzheimer’s Association, Joan knew this was her opportunity.

As the Chair of the event, Joan and her husband Gordon made their first major donation of $20,000 which encouraged others to donate. That year, the North Bay Reason to Hope raised almost $70,000.

Joan and Gordon proud supporter of the Alzheimer's Association
Joan and Gordon

Encouraging others to donate
Over the past 25 years, Joan and Gordon have continued to donate to the Alzheimer’s Association, and always support Walk to End Alzheimer’s®. With the challenges families and nonprofits are facing due to the pandemic, once again they wanted to do more.

“This year there is a lot of need,” said Joan. “We felt that we’d like to see our money go to something worthwhile.”

Working with the Alzheimer’s Association, Joan and Gordon decided to encourage others to donate by providing a matching donation. For every dollar a Walker raised, Joan and Gordon would match that donation, dollar for dollar, up to $25,000. Joan said, “It was fulfilled within an hour.”

Supporting the Alzheimer’s Association
The Alzheimer’s Association is the leading voluntary health organization in Alzheimer’s care, support and research. Joan knows that the funds she and Gordon have donated to the Alzheimer’s Association over the years have made a huge impact, aiding in both research and increasing access to programs and services for caregivers and those living with dementia.

“Alzheimer’s can be an isolating disease,” said Joan. “It’s important to get as much information out as possible. We’d like to get rid of this disease. We need a more effective treatment and research is the primary resource for that.”

You can help support the Alzheimer’s Association by making a donation. From telephone support to online education programs and promising worldwide research initiatives, your donations make a difference in the lives of those impacted by Alzheimer’s disease.

Learn more: