A Walk to Remember


Alzheimer’s is defined as ‘a progressive disease that destroys memory and other important mental functions’. Sadly, for the loved ones of those suffering from this incurable illness, it destroys so much more.

Mark Diederichs knows all too well what Alzheimer’s looks like because eight years ago, his mom received the diagnosis. Bernice Diederichs was 73 and it started as simply as her beginning to forget things. Not uncommon for a person in their seventies to have some trouble remembering, but there was a history of Alzheimer’s in her family, so she got tested. The test revealed she was in fact the second generation to have the disease.

Research shows family history and genetics can be an indicator of a person’s likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s and there are certain lifestyle factors researchers know can increase risks, but even armed with all this information there is still so much we don’t know.

Mark says the hardest part about the illness isn’t actually his mom’s well being, it’s the toll on his dad. As he points out, his mom is comfortable and well cared for. While she doesn’t remember much about her life, she spends most days sitting quietly.  If one thing can be considered a comfort – it’s that she is content. For the first seven years after her diagnosis, it was Marks’s dad, Gerald, who took care of her.  By June 2014 however, the disease’s progression made her day-to-day needs too much for Gerald, now in his eighties, to handle. The decision was made to move her to a place where she could be comfortable and receive the care she needed. It’s been difficult for Gerald to make the transition.  He still spends most of his time sitting quietly with her during visiting hours. By her side is where he wants to be, even on the days she doesn’t remember why he’s there.

As of today, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s. Fortunately, there are people trying to change that. The Alzheimer’s Association’s annual event ‘Walk to End Alzheimer’s’ is the world’s largest event dedicated to raising both awareness and funds for Alzheimer’s support and research. Held annually, the event is spread over 600 communities across the nation.

Mark and his family have participated in the Fond du Lac County walk for four years. Each year, their team raises money and makes the trek held at the Moraine Park Technical College grounds in support of Bernice and in the hope a cure will be found. The first year they walked and donated only their own funds, but each year since they have sought the help of others. With the generosity of friends and corporate sponsors, they have been able to grow their yearly donations to over $5,000. Mark has found corporate sponsors like ANIMART eager to help his team walk towards a cure.

Mark is proud to walk side by side with the team of people who work hard to make this event happen. And if there is one thing Mark Diederichs knows; it’s teamwork. It’s the very core of his family, his business and how he’s always finding ways to give back to those around him.

Mark and his wife Laurie are one of six families who make up Breeze Dairy Group, LLC.  The Wisconsin based operation is made up of three farms; Lake Breeze in Malone, Pine Breeze Dairy in Pine River and the third - still in planning stages - in Taylor County.  So far the group has created over 100 jobs in the communities they serve.

At Lake Breeze Dairy, they support the neighboring farms as well. Mark and his team are strictly dairy – they do not raise crops to feed their herd. Instead, they purchase the feed from neighbors. They in turn sell manure to those same farms to fertilize the fields to provide the feed their herd requires. Working together to sustain their families, the families of their employees and the environment all while creating a product for which demand never ceases.

In addition to Alzheimer’s research, the farmers who make up this network are equally supportive of other worthy causes as well, such as the local food bank and Habitat for Humanity. Whether donating food, building a house or providing the means to accomplish a task, leave it to farmers to get it done. When the Fond du Lac Habitat for Humanity’s ‘ReStore’ was moving to a new location, Mark was one of many local volunteers who lent a hand – as well as equipment – to the cause. Together, they got the contents of the entire store moved in just four hours. The event was aptly called “Moo-ving Day”. 

When it comes to family, staying in touch and caring for their parents, Mark and his five siblings take a collaborative approach, too. All six of them live close to one another, making monthly gatherings easier. The two sisters of the family take care of Bernice’s legal and medical affairs, and the brothers help Gerald find ways to stay active, sometimes just by getting him out to the farm.

Alzheimer’s disease has certainly presented the Diederichs Family with difficulties, but they continue to persevere, refusing to be defeated by the illness. Rather they choose to come together and find ways to give much needed help. Recently Mark came across a quote which he says really helps to put things in perspective. “Our ability to handle life’s challenges is a measure of the strength of our character.”


Anyone interested in learning more about the event ‘Walk to End Alzheimer’s’, or signing up to participate can do so at http://www.alz.org/sewi/in_my_community_walk.asp

About the Author:
Shelli Manning is a freelance writer who has partnered with ANIMART to share the human interest side of individuals in production agriculture and communicate their passions which contribute to our unique American Story. She is the published author of Little Fish, as well as a motivational speaker on women’s issues and an advocate for the reduction of domestic violence.