Robert Durham

Rob Durham is no stranger to the fight against Alzheimer’s disease. Having served as a board member with Alzheimer’s Association for about 15 years in various roles and committees – from marketing to fundraising and recruitment, the president and CEO of the family-owned HKM Direct Market Communications has shown his commitment to raising awareness to ending the disease.

It is because of his commitment that the Alzheimer’s Association Cleveland Area Chapter will be honoring former board member Mr. Durham, 60, of Chagrin Falls with the Champion Award – the organization’s highest honor – at its dinner event, A Celebration of Hope, tonight (Thursday) at FirstEnergy Stadium.

Mr. Durham said he got involved with Alzheimer’s Association because of the help the organization provided for his family when his father, George Durham, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. “We lived [the disease] for a long time, and during that time I wanted to get involved with the Alzheimer’s Association because of our family’s experience and my dad,” he said.

“About 25 years ago, my dad seemed to start to get a little bit forgetful.” Mr. Durham said he and his family at first believed it was fatigue from working, but they noticed the symptoms more as they progressed. “Even my dad noticed. He’d say, ‘Hey, I’m getting a little goofy, aren’t I? I can’t remember things,’” Mr. Durham recalled. “That’s when we started learning a lot more about Alzheimer’s.”

The Durham family then reached out to the Alzheimer’s Association, doctors, friends, family and others who had experience with the disease.

“We really didn’t know what to do about it. We didn’t know much about [Alzheimer’s],” he said. “So we surrounded ourselves with a village of people to learn more about it.”

Mr. Durham expressed how helpful the Alzheimer’s Association was for his family in encouraging them to seek out adult counseling classes that gave them a better understanding of the disease.

“My dad lived with Alzheimer’s for about 13 years,” he said. “He was basically very healthy, except for the doggone Alzheimer’s.” Mr. Durham added that his family learned about the importance of keeping his father engaged through the counseling, and they made an effort to include him in activities and events like taking him to movies, ball games, plays and trips both local and international.

“He actually had a pretty good life until about the last year or so,” Mr. Durham said, recalling that the last year was when living with the disease was the hardest. “He just seemed to disintegrate, and it is a long and painful goodbye.”

George Durham passed away at the age of 75 in 2006. Mr. Durham praised his mother, Dolores, for staying by his father’s side through the last six to seven weeks of his life. “My mom was an angel,” he said about her commitment to caring for his father, thankfully with the help of caretakers and doctors.

When he joined the association, he said, he “served in various roles and led different committees. I spoke to some groups through the years. Basically, I was an advocate for the Alzheimer’s Association. I did a little bit of everything.”

Mr. Durham said he wanted to make sure people could continue to have access to the programs that helped his family. “If people hadn’t done what they had done (for the organization) before my dad was diagnosed, we might not have had those programs available to us.”

A Celebration of Hope is set to raise $355,000, according to the local chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. The money raised from the dinner event will support research and local caregiver programs and services of the organization.

“You’re hoping that every dollar raised gets us a little closer to the cure,” Mr. Durham said. “The interesting thing about the Alzheimer’s Association is that they’re one of the few philanthropic organizations that really want to go out of business. Every day I think we’re inching closer.”

For his future plans for his involvement with the Alzheimer’s Association, Mr. Durham said he has considered volunteering as a test subject to help further research on the disease since Alzheimer’s runs in his family. He has considered rejoining the board in the future to be more directly involved. “I’m going to continue to be a man for Alzheimer’s, no doubt about that,” he said. “[Alzheimer’s Association] is one of the organizations – it’s always going to be important to me and my family.”

Mr. Durham will be joined at the event by his mother, his wife Liz, his brother Scott and sister-in-law Mary Alyce and other family members.

“It’s a very big honor for me, personally,” he said on receiving the Champion Award. “It’s not really about me. It’s about the disease. It’s about my dad’s journey, our family’s journey. It’s about helping others. [The Alzheimer’s Association’s] mission is a world without Alzheimers. So let’s help close their doors.”

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