For a fundraiser aimed at a disease of forgetting, enter thousands of hard-core rememberers.
The Bridge Center of Austin will be among 150 bridge groups across North America participating in a sunrise to sunset bridge-playing event June 21 called “The Longest Day.”
Sponsored by the Alzheimer’s Association and the American Contract Bridge League, the event takes place on the longest day of the year, conjuring the challenges facing Alzheimer’s patients and their caregivers each day. More than 5 million Americans have Alzheimer’s, the fifth-leading cause of death in the United States for people 65 and older.
On that Friday, all of the table sanction fees the American Contract Bridge League collects from studios around the country will go the Alzheimer’s Association. And locally, 100 percent of the Austin bridge league’s $8 game fee will go to the Alzheimer’s Association. The local center is expected to exceed its pre-game day goal of $25,000 — an amount that includes a $10,000 match from local philanthropist Dick Rathgeber and his wife, Sara, both avid bridge players.
The Alzheimer’s Association is teaming with the American Contract Bridge League in this year’s event because research has shown that intellectually stimulating activities such as playing bridge — a game of intense memory and concentration skills — can help reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia, said Amelia Frank, a spokeswoman for the Capital of Texas chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, and Darbi Padbury, a consultant to the American Contract Bridge League.
“Bridge and the brain — it has such a correlation,” Padbury said. “It has really resonated with 167,000 (American Contract Bridge League) members in North America. They really feel passionately that this is what keeps their minds sharp and active.”
The social stimulation that bridge provides also carries benefits, according to research and the players themselves.
“It just expands your social network something fierce, besides the mental benefits,” said Rosemary Kelley, founder of the Austin Bridge Center, which has more than 400 active players.
In addition attracting bridge groups, the Longest Day event challenges other fundraising teams to form around the country and engage in any daylong activity their members are passionate about — or participate in an entirely new activity — to raise awareness and funds for Alzheimer’s care, support and research.
Laura Delfeld, director and teacher at the Bridge Center of Austin, said it was Dick Rathgeber who drove the local group to higher fundraising heights.
“When we first approached him, we told him our goal was $2,500,” Delfeld said. “He winced and immediately said, ‘You need to do better than that.’ He then urged us to set our initial goal at $5,000, saying he would match it dollar for dollar. He opened our eyes to possibilities we never considered.”
Having almost reached its pre-event day goal, the Bridge Center is aiming to be among the top five fundraising teams in the country.
Delfeld said many of the local bridge center’s players have family members and friends who have been affected by Alzheimer’s. One of them, Nell Dale, has written a poetic memoir of her late husband Alfred George Dale’s journey with Alzheimer’s and is donating all proceeds from the sale of her book, “French Fries, Ice Cream & Cucumber Sandwiches,” to the Alzheimer’s Association.
Al Dale, who died in 2009, was a former chairman of the computer science department at the University of Texas. Nell Dale, a former faculty member in the department, was one of the first women to earn a Ph.D. in computer science in the early 1970s.
Dale believes her husband’s Alzheimer’s started about 10 years before he was diagnosed, when he retired as department chairman but didn’t want to go back to teach. She said his Alzheimer’s was exacerbated by anesthesia from surgery, and he went down mentally and physically after that, regressing to a childlike state.
Last month would have been the 50th wedding anniversary of Nell and the “wonderful, kind English gentleman” she married — a graduate of Exeter College, Oxford, who won a scholarship to UT and who loved French fries, cucumber sandwiches, classical music, worldwide travels and above all family — and whom she accompanied along a journey of 46 years.
Contact Shonda Novak at 512-445-3856.
Alzheimer’s resources, information:
Alzheimer’s Association: www.alz.org
Capital of Texas Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association: www.alz.org/texascapital
Or call 800-272-3900or 512-241-0420
If you go
The Bridge Center of Austin at 6700 Middle Fiskville Road will host an all-day bridge event June 21 as part of a national campaign to raise money for the Alzheimer’s Association. The games will begin at 5:30 a.m., and the last will run from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. The center will offer free lessons to the public: new players, noon to 2 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m.; former players, 9:30 to 11:30 a.m.; and those making the transition from social bridge to duplicate bridge, 3:30 to 5:30 p.m.
To preregister and for the schedule, go to www.bridgecenteraustin.com or call 512-300-2743.
Other events will include a silent auction, and raffles for games with two local players ranked among the top female players in the world, Mildred Breed and Tobi Sokolow.