THOMASVILLE — Organizers are happy with the turnout for the ninth annual Dr. Jim Neill Memory Walk for Alzheimer’s Awareness.

The walk, held Saturday at Southwest Georgia Technical College, garnered more than 100 participants and is on its way to reaching the set goal of $25,000.

“We’ve got more than $20,000 right now, and we still have monies coming in,” said Gail Lancaster, walk chair and executive director of Plantation Manor. “Several individuals and corporations that were at the walk said they would be sending donations to the Alzheimer’s Association, and we’ve received donations from those who wanted to help but did not attend the walk. The official count is in November, but I feel confident we’re going to meet our goal.”

Participants enjoyed the morning and helping a good cause.

“It was very well attended,” said Powell Waite, who walked with his wife, Susan. “Everyone had a great time, the Thomasville firemen and police cooked hot dogs, the Thomas University jazz band played and we released the balloons into the air. It was exciting to see them go up.”

Participant Ann Cone brought her husband, who has dementia, to the walk. She said the balloon release was the most impressive part of the event.

“I can’t explain it. It’s just a feeling I have when I see those balloons go up,” she said. “They all bunched together and a strong wind came, and we didn’t see them anymore. I was standing by a lady who lost her mother this year, and I put my arms around her and told her that balloon was for her mother. It’s almost like the spirit of the person is going up there with the balloon.”

Betty Sawyer, who heads up the Plantation Manor/Archbold Northside Support Group, received the Georgia Alzheimer’s Association Horizon Award (a dinner will be held Nov. 6 in Atlanta), given to a volunteer who goes above and beyond the call of duty in the fight against the disease and helping those who suffer from or have loved ones with Alzheimer’s.

Nancy Goode, programs director for the Alzheimer’s Association of Southwest Georgia, said Sawyer is very deserving.

“She has the most active support group in the state, helps with fund-raising and our annual conferences,” she said. “I’ve never had Betty tell me ‘no,’ and she’s such a champion for us.”

Sawyer said the award is “a real honor.” She is the first recipient from Thomasville.

Sawyer also has a soft spot for the balloons.

“I always cry because, when I see the balloons go up, I see my husband Walt’s balloon going up,” she said. “It’s very special for all of us who’ve had loved ones die from this disease.”

Waite said participating in the Memory Walk helps spread awareness of Alzheimer’s while it raises funds for medical research.

“We know the incidents of Alzheimer’s are going to increase as we all get older and this is the overriding reason to bring notice of the disease to the community,” he said. “Alzheimer’s is severe medical problem that must be faced and we’re trying to raise money for that.”

The walk is in honor of the late Dr. Jim Neill, a well-respected and loved Thomasville physician who had the disease.

“I’m very pleased with the turnout,” said his widow, Betty Claire Neill. “We need to continue the fight in the search for a cure for Alzheimer’s.”

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