Mother daughter duo on the California-Nevada border bond over Alzheimer’s
Jeanne Reuter and her daughter Sheila Reuter were surprised when their husband/father, Dick, started showing signs of cognitive decline. However, because of his diagnosis, this mother daughter duo found themselves raising more than $40 thousand over the next 13 years in support of the Alzheimer’s Association®. Despite his death 12 years ago, they continue to honor his memory by joining the Walk Committee in the hopes of making a positive impact for fellow Nevadans in their fight against Alzheimer’s.
A mountain man
Dick Reuter was your typical mountain man. He loved living in the snowy Sierra Nevada mountains where he could backpack, hunt and fish. His daughter Sheila said, “He was a tree feller his whole life. He was strong as an ox and sharp as a tack.”
As a younger man, Dick was the mountain manager for what was then known as Squaw Valley but is now called Palisades Tahoe. “One of the men that worked with Dick started making chair lifts for a new ski resort called Kirkwood,” said his wife, Jeanne. “He asked my husband to come and see the new place. Dick decided to go and be the mountain manager there and build the ski resort.”
Dick continued to work at the Kirkwood Ski Resort for 17 years, helping with the avalanche work and taking care of the snowpack. When he finally resigned, it wasn’t to retire but instead he changed careers and returned to a job he’d done in his youth, felling trees. Jeanne said, “He wanted saw dust in his pockets.”
The wrong house
As a man of the mountains, Dick knew all the trails in his neighborhood. When Jeanne and Dick were returning home from the lodge to get their mail, Jeanne didn’t think anything was out of the ordinary when Dick took a different trail home. While Jeanne made it home, Dick never did.
Knowing the neighbors’ house was unlocked, Jeanne went next-door to see if Dick had mistakenly entered the wrong home. “I went in, and my husband was just walking downstairs from the loft,” said Jeanne. “I told him, ‘Honey this isn’t our house.’”
A few days later Jeanne found Dick sitting under a tree looking at another neighbors’ house. When she asked what he was doing, he told her the house was locked and he couldn’t get inside. Jeanne had to remind him again that this home wasn’t theirs.
Jeanne wasn’t the only one who noticed something was going on with Dick. Sheila and her siblings could tell something wasn’t right. “We didn’t know about Alzheimer’s at the time,” said Sheila. “Dad was a tree feller his whole life. He spent his life on chainsaws. One day he was showing me how to clean one of his better saws and I remember watching him put it back together wrong. That’s when I knew something wasn’t right.”
A California diagnosis
According to the Alzheimer’s Association 2023 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures report, Nevada is one of 20 states deemed a neurology desert. This means that they are projected to have fewer than 10 neurologists per 10,000 people with dementia in 2025. In 2021, Nevada had 43 Geriatricians statewide to cover the 49,000 people over the age of 65 living with Alzheimer’s.
Despite living in California, Sheila and her family always felt like Nevada was their home. “We do all our shopping and education in Nevada,” said Sheila. “We always felt more connected there.” Dick even used the VA in Nevada. However, when it came to finding a neurologist, they were lucky to have the option of one close by in the California side of Tahoe.
In 2007 Dick was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
Learning about Alzheimer’s
While the Reuter family didn’t know much about dementia when Dick was first diagnosed, they quickly learned a lot through trial and error and the help of the Alzheimer’s Association. “Caring for Dad taught us a lot,” said Sheila. “Now we know better. It’s difficult for [people living with the disease] to make a decision, even with something like food. We’d give Dad different nuts and he’d just stare at them and didn’t know which one to eat.”
Jeanne became the primary caregiver for Dick. “Mom pretty much took care of him,” said Sheila. “I tried to fill in when I could.” However, Jeanne knew she needed more support, but Dick wanted to stay in his own home. Jeanne’s son purchased a house in River Ranch, California giving Sheila the ability to move in with her father to better help care for him.
As the disease progressed, Jeanne saw the need for hospice care. However, the family was unable to find the care they needed in either Kirkwood or River Ranch which prompted Jeanne to move to Gardnerville, Nevada. There, Jeanne was able to get the in-home hospice care Dick needed.
“We were Nevada residents for a while,” said Jeanne. “I talked him into coming back to Kirkwood with me. I told him it was time for the annual barbeque party and meeting for the homeowners. He didn’t understand but he agreed to go. He spent a few days there and then passed away.”
Finding Walk to End Alzheimer’s
Around the time Dick was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Sheila learned about the Alzheimer’s Association in Reno, Nevada. It was through them that the Reuters learned about Walk to End Alzheimer’s®.
Held annually in more than 600 communities nationwide, the Alzheimer’s Association Walk to End Alzheimer’s is the world’s largest fundraiser for Alzheimer’s care, support and research. This inspiring event calls on participants of all ages and abilities to join the fight against the disease.
“We’ve been walking on Walk day every year since,” said Jeanne. “We are so connected with Nevada now even though I had lived in California for many years.”
Sheila said, “Sacramento was the next closest [Walk] to us. [It made more sense] to hook up with the Sparks team in Nevada.”
Continuing to Walk
Despite Dick’s death in 2011, the Reuters continued to Walk and were surprised that friends and family still wanted to donate. “We started in 2010 with a [Walk] team [that] included my mom’s mom and sister plus friends,” said Sheila. “This last year we finally got two of my siblings, Eric and Carolyn, to join in [the Walk] too. We have had two friends consistently join us through the years and it’s a tradition now to meet up once a year for the Marina Walk and then picnic and Ferris wheel ride at Sheel’s to catch up on the year’s news.
“About a dozen others have joined in on occasion. We have a huge following and generally reach the Elite levels of fundraising. Thus far, in the 13 years participating, Reuter’s Rooters has raised over $43 thousand in honor of my father Dick Reuter and all those affected by this disease.”
Joining the Walk Committee
For the past several years, Sheila has been asked to join the Walk Committee, but she felt like she was too far away to participate. This year, Sheila decided to go for it. While she is regularly visiting her mother in Nevada, once a month, Sheila drives from her home in California to Jeanne’s home in Nevada to take the Zoom Committee call.
While Jeanne isn’t formally on the committee, since she has been in the room while the Committee calls are taking place, she’s become a sort of honorary member. “We both kind of attend,” said Sheila. “[The Committee said,] ‘Sheila you will work on team recruitment and Jeanne you can participate on Walk day.’”
The biggest thing this mother daughter duo has gotten out of their time on the Walk Committee is learning how the funds they’ve been raising all these years have gone to help other caregivers like them. “There are so many people who have to help their relatives and a lot of them have to quit their jobs,” said Jeanne. “I think someday we’ll have figured out how to have more caregivers and payment for them because it’s such an important job.”
For Sheila it’s all about the statistics the Association provides their volunteers. “It’s been an eye opener to learn how much Alzheimer’s is going to grow and how many people are going to get [the disease],” said Sheila. “I think education is really important. [We are] able to share the research the Alzheimer’s Association is doing for potential treatments. I pass these stats on to donors.”
Both women love to get to the marina early on Walk day. They enjoy seeing all the people who come out in the community. Not just the participants but also the vendors. Jeanne said, “I love seeing what services they offer. It’s pleasant to see how much care there is in the community.”
For Sheila it’s more about the participants, “You see all the people and you know we’re all connected and affected by Alzheimer’s. You see grandmas and kids. It’s a range of people affected.”
Because of Alzheimer’s, Jeanne and Sheila were brought closer together to help support a common cause – to find a cure for Alzheimer’s and all other dementia. “My mom and I have been good friends and done many things together like hiking, skiing, trips in U.S. and abroad, Martin Luther King Jr. Walk, etc.,” said Sheila. “As her caregiver these last seven years at Kirkwood we got really close and I consider her my best friend.”
Sheila and Jeanne will continue to participate in Walk to End Alzheimer’s, but they also plan on expanding to include some advocacy work in Nevada. “Even though I’m still officially a California resident, I want to continue to focus my [Alzheimer’s] advocacy efforts on Nevada, since [Mom] is now a Nevada resident.
“What better way to celebrate Mother’s Day than focusing on something we have done together for so long in honor of my father?!”
Walk to End Alzheimer’s in Reno-Sparks is on October 14 at the Sparks Marina. You can make a donation to Sheila and Jeanne’s team, Reuter’s Rooters, start your own team or join the Reno-Sparks Walk Committee at alz.org/northernnevadawalk.