"I Am The River"
By Ken Reilly
Ken Reilly of Oconomowoc finds great joy in watercolor painting. It’s a new hobby for this 65 year-old man who was diagnosed with younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease almost six years ago. Ken, who attends Shorehaven’s Adult Day Center, was first introduced to this new skill through Memories in the Making®, the creative arts program of the Alzheimer’s Association. Ken’s wife, Beth, confirms his love for this newly acquired skill by saying, “Ken’s face lights up every time he arrives at Shorehaven and sees the tables set up for painting.”
Ken and Beth were childhood sweethearts. She was just fifteen, and he was seventeen when they met in high school. The couple has been together for 47 years and in all that time, Beth can’t recall a previous time where Ken exhibited any interest or talent in art. “He was a very good woodworker and did some creative drafting while working in the home building industry,” said Beth. “But I never saw him demonstrate any other artistic abilities. When he started in the Memories in the Making program, he took immediate interest and has painted many beautiful pictures – of which he is very proud!”
Beth is also very proud that Ken’s painting, “Wolf River”, has been selected as the signature piece for Treasure, the first annual fundraising event in the Milwaukee art community to benefit Memories In The Making. “This painting is something that Ken can still feel really good about,” said Beth. “It’s given him a spark. Memories in the Making has provided a light in his life, which sometimes seems to be a very dark and empty place.”
Creating artwork has become the treasured activity for many who are unable to communicate verbally - the voice used to powerfully express thoughts, emotions and memories. The paintings become the treasure of families as they reveal that the essence of their loved one is still there – waiting to be rediscovered beneath the dementia. Ken doesn’t talk much anymore, so Memories in the Making has given him a voice to share his stories with friends and family. “Alzheimer’s is a cruel disease that over time takes away the essence of who a person once was,” explains Beth. “We owe so much to this program! It has helped to bring back memories of past times while Ken has created a legacy of artwork for our family.”
Memories in the Making is currently offered in 18 different care facilities throughout Southeastern Wisconsin, and is also offered to members of the general public who are living with Alzheimer’s or a related dementia.