J.C. Elmore liked to make up songs.
He’d be driving around and Elmore would start making up random lyrics, typically set to the tune of a Hank Williams song.
“We always said he missed his calling as a songwriter,” grandson Philip Axtell said.
His lyrical skill is one of the fondest memories his grandsons have of Elmore, who died in 2015 from Alzheimer’s disease, a degenerative brain disease that depletes a person’s memory and cognitive abilities.
The four Axtell brothers – Philip, Branden, Daniel and Michael − are co-chairs for the 2019 A Walk to Remember in honor of their grandfather. Now in its 27th year, the walk is a fundraiser for the Alzheimer’s Resource Center and is set for Oct. 5 at Westgate Park in Dothan. The goal is to raise $100,000.
Known as DaDa to his grandchildren, Elmore was a regular fixture at the “Table of Knowledge” at Ray’s Restaurant in Dothan and owned five or six different automobile dealerships during his life. He was in the Exchange Club and an usher at his church. He was humble, his grandsons said.
Elmore, who was 86 when he died, grew up in Dothan and played football at Dothan High School under Coach Rip Hewes. Elmore was “old school” about money, grandson Branden Axtell recalled – so much so that Branden had trouble convincing Elmore to visit Dakota Coffee Works when it first opened even though Branden worked there. Elmore couldn’t see spending $1 on a cup of coffee when he could get it cheaper at Ray’s. Elmore did eventually visit the coffee shop.
“I think he thought that dollar coffee was too fancy,” Branden said.
The Alzheimer’s Resource Center provides support for families of those who have Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. The bulk of its operating budget comes from the annual fundraiser. The local walk is not affiliated with any national fundraiser so all the money stays with the local center, which covers Southeast Alabama and four counties in Florida.
Those who chair the fundraising event each year are typically caregivers of someone diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease or have had someone they love face the illness.
When their father was away for work, Elmore was there for every school or sporting event the brothers had scheduled. He doted on his wife, Augusta, who was a local school teacher. They were married for more than 60 years. He called her “Gusta.” In hindsight, his grandsons said, J.C. was showing some signs prior to Augusta’s death, but the disease really took hold after she died in 2012. He was diagnosed in 2013.
“Our grandfather was just a great man,” Daniel Axtell said. “He was the kind of the guy that if you asked him for something, he’d give you the shirt off his back … It’s just a terrible disease; it robbed him of his mind. His body was still there – it just robbed him of his mind. It was heartbreaking to me to see him ask for his Gusta.”
Michael Axtell said so many people don’t realize the Alzheimer’s Resource Center can help guide them through their time as a caretaker. Michael lived with their grandfather the last two years of his life. It was difficult, he said, to watch his decline. Elmore maintained much of his physical strength through his disease, so keeping up with him was a challenge at times. He became afraid of water and would fight getting into the shower. He forgot the basics of food and would try to eat frozen items.
“It was so unreal to see the degradation of somebody who you love get to a point to where they didn’t even know you,” Michael said. “To be able to live through that and go through that daily grind − this is somebody who cared for you and now you have to care them. It’s so hard to see them when they don’t even know who you are.”
Part of this year’s goal has already been raised through sponsorships from local businesses. Two other fundraising events prior to the walk are being held. ScreenTech on Kelley Drive in Dothan will host a mattress sale with prices discounted 50-80% on Sept. 5 and Sept. 6 from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sept. 7 from 8 a.m. to noon. Proceeds will benefit the Alzheimer’s Resource Center.
And on Tuesday, Sept. 17, from 2-8 p.m., Hots Deli on Westgate Parkway in Dothan will donate 15% of a customer’s ticket if they mention they’re supporting Alzheimer’s when they order.
Each year, the walk chairs do a lot of work to raise the money that keeps the Alzheimer’s Resource Center’s doors open, the center’s executive director Kay Jones said during the event’s kick-off held earlier this week. They write letters seeking donations and speak publicly to raise awareness, she said.
“And even more important, opening up their hearts and sharing their families and personal experiences with us,” Jones said.