Grieving husband paints truck purple to raise Alzheimer’s awareness
When Tom Rush’s wife Linda died from Alzheimer’s he wanted to make sure others knew about the disease. He decided to paint his truck purple. Now Tom and his purple truck drive around the greater Sacramento area promoting the Sacramento Walk to End Alzheimer’s. Tom has made it his personal mission to spread awareness and raise funds to end Alzheimer’s.
The Donut Hole
Tom met his wife Linda in San Pablo at a restaurant called the Donut Hole where Linda was a waitress. “I’d go in with a buddy of mine,” said Tom. “We’d spend time on the pinball machine, racking up free games all day long. When I met Linda, I asked her out and she went with me.”
Tom and Linda were married for almost 50 years.
Delaying the doctor visit
Tom began noticing that Linda wasn’t understanding or remembering conversations. He thought there was something wrong with her hearing. “I told her she needed to see a doctor,” said Tom. “She wasn’t hearing what was being said.”
Linda was embarrassed by her diagnosis and didn’t want anyone outside of her immediate family to know. Facing stigma can be a concern of people living with Alzheimer’s and/or their care partners. People living with Alzheimer’s report being misunderstood because of the myths and misconceptions others have about the disease.
Honoring her wishes, Tom didn’t share Linda’s diagnosis. He cared for Linda every day until she died in 2019. “We were 48 days short of 50 years of being married,” said Tom. “It’s been over two years and I’m still not over it. I love her and miss her so much.”
The same year Linda was diagnosed, Tom saw a flyer in a local business advertising the Sacramento Walk to End Alzheimer’s. He knew this was something he needed to support and created his team, Team Snail.
The team’s name was one that Tom, Linda and their friends had used nearly 30 years prior when they participated in the Bay to Breakers in San Francisco. “We walked in the Bay to Breakers and we were slow,” said Tom. “We decided to call ourselves Team Snail. We had hand painted t-shirts.”
After Linda passed, Tom and Linda’s family came out to the Walk in full force. Family recruited friends and in 2019 Team Snail had approximately 155 members. They were one of the largest teams in the country that year.
“I have one of the best teams I could ever get together,” said Tom. “I have family members nationwide who all sign up for Team Snail. I encourage them to start their own team, but they always come back to Team Snail.”
Recruiting team members
Team Snail isn’t just made up of family members. Tom also recruits people he meets in the community. “I have 20 neighbors that are Team Snail members,” said Tom. “I started pulling members from my barbershop. I went to a restaurant and introduced myself. Now I’m a regular and they, in turn, support us. I’m trying to get them to start their own team.”
Tom also uses Facebook to help recruit people for his team. “I worked for Chevron for 25 years,” said Tom. “I have a lot of friends on Facebook from Chevron. Once you put your story out there it’s amazing what people will do for you.”
The purple truck
After Linda passed Tom was having a hard time raising funds. He wanted to support the Walk but didn’t feel like he was doing enough. He wanted something that would really get people’s attention. Tom took his truck, painted it purple and added the Walk to End Alzheimer’s® logo on the side.
“I’d never seen a purple truck with a Walk logo on it and Team Snail,” said Tom. “I thought, ‘we can get this done.’
“As soon as I took it on the road, I started getting people honking and giving me thumbs up and things like that. I knew it was going to happen. I knew I’d made a good decision.”
Tom drives his purple truck around neighborhoods in the Sacramento area. He hands out flyers and hopes people will see the truck and try to find out more about Walk.
Almost free balloons
As of the posting of this blog, Team Snail has already raised over $25,000 but are hoping to raise $50,000 before Walk day. To achieve this goal, Tom works with his team members and community connections to sell items and ask for donations.
“We have an Alzheimer’s information table we set up in front of Walmart,” said Tom. “We give out pamphlets on Alzheimer’s disease and the 24/7 Helpline (800.272.3900). We also hand out ‘almost’ free balloons because most parents will make a donation for the balloons.”
Tom doesn’t just give out helpful information but also has custom made Walk to End Alzheimer’s/Team Snail items such as paperweights and baseball caps. Additionally, he asks local companies, like his barbershop, if he can put out a purple Walk donation piggy bank.
“We’ve had bake sales and garage sales,” said Tom. “All of the proceeds go to Team Snail. This is just the beginning; we have more ideas.”
Tom encourages other fundraisers to utilize their team. “Find people who will work behind you,” said Tom. “If someone doesn’t want to help with one thing, maybe they can help with something else.”
An amazing day
This year Tom is looking forward to seeing all of the other teams and sponsors on Walk day. “Just showing everybody that here we are,” said Tom. “This is something we can do to help get to a point where there is no Alzheimer’s. It’s a festival and it’s fun and it’s an amazing day.”
You can join Tom’s team, Team Snail or form your own team and join us for the Sacramento Walk to End Alzheimer’s on October 2 at Sutter Health Park in West Sacramento. Not in Sacramento? Find a walk near you at alz.org/walk.