MARQUETTE - Jack Morris was a genial gentleman.
"A lot of people called him 'Smiling Jack'," said Suzanne Morris, Jack's widow. "He was a good-hearted guy."
Serving several years on the Negaunee City Council, Morris was mayor of Negaunee at one time.
Participants in the 2011 edition of the Walk to End Alzheimer’s start out, spirits undampened by heavy rain. This year’s walk will begin at the Marquette YMCA. (Journal file photo)
"It was at the same time (pitcher) Jack Morris was famous with the Detroit Tigers," Suzanne Morris said. "So when my Jack was in parades, he'd always wear a Detroit Tigers cap."
The funny, smart husband she knew was taken much too soon after fighting a battle with Alzheimer's disease. That's why, even eight years after Jack's passing, Suzanne is an active member of the local council of the Alzheimer's Association-U.P. Region and why she will join hundreds of others in the Walk to End Alzheimer's next Saturday, Sept. 22 at the YMCA in Marquette.
Suzanne and Jack Morris had been together for about 20 years when some puzzling symptoms started to afflict him.
"He was having a lot of visual issues," Morris said. "He couldn't see things quite right. We went to the eye doctor and he said there was nothing wrong. So we went to Jack's regular doctor who said it might be Alzheimer's."
But as is the case with that disease, making the diagnosis was a matter of a neurosurgeon eliminating other possibilities, she said.
"They did a spinal tap, an MRI... they ruled out everything else, then said it was Alzheimer's."
Jack was just 55 when he was diagnosed in 1994.
"It was a shock," Suzanne said. "Other things had started, like him not balancing the checkbook. He and I had been perfectly matched. We had always gotten along so well, but then we started getting fussy with each other until the diagnosis. Jack never fully accepted it."
Retired after 21 years in the Army, Jack Morris had been a medic in Vietnam, then worked in the medical field, first in Denver, then in Marquette County, where the family moved to give Suzanne a chance to come home. Suzanne Morris had lived in Negaunee during her teen years, attending St. Paul Catholic School and then Negaunee High School, graduating as a member of the Class of 1968.
Neither Morris had ever expected Alzheimer's to invade their lives.
"Being a caregiver is a day by day thing," she said. "But you go along. You adjust to what's going on. It's a lessening of abilities. Some things may be minor and then BAM, something major happens. It's a gradual regression, I guess.
"The best thing I can tell someone who's going through this is to get into a support group. That helped me tremendously."
With the support of Suzanne as well as his children, Rebecca and Robert and his grandchildren, Kristina and Karin, Jack's battle was waged at home for the first five years, then at the Jacobetti Home for Veterans, where he passed away in 2004.
"It was when he went into Jacobetti, probably about 1999, that I got involved with the local Alzheimer's (organization's) board," she said. "I can't ever let it go now. I really feel compelled to help as much as I can."
Some years, Suzanne has organized a team for the Walk to End Alzheimer's. This year, she's going to be walking with some friends.
"It's a great event," she said.
This year's walk will start with registration at 9 a.m. Sept. 22 at the Marquette YMCA and the opening ceremony at 9:45 a.m.
"There are two routes," said Ruth Almen, regional director of the local Alzheimer's Association chapter. "One is a short loop, right around the bike path that heads north toward (Presque Isle) and then turns left immediately and comes back to the Y. The longer route will cross Lakeshore (Boulevard) and head down to Mattson Lower Harbor Park, circle around the park, then come back down the bike path to the Y."
Coffee and treats will be available before the event and activities for kids of all ages will be part of the day.
"This year we will be adding a powerful new piece to our pre-walk welcome and thanks called the Promise Garden," Almen said. "This is where we will ask those gathered to hold up their flower (which we provide) to show who they are in relationship to Alzheimer's ... the person with the disease, a caregiver, those who have lost someone to the disease and those who are concerned friends, family and neighbors."
For more information, visit act.alz.org/marquette county or call 228-3910.
Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253.