Fred and Irene Ruekert were on their honeymoon in 1974 when they were called to the Mayo Clinic. Frank Ruekert, Sr., the family patriarch, was struggling with Alzheimer’s disease and his condition was declining rapidly.
Alzheimer’s disease runs in the Ruekert family. Not only did Fred’s father succumb to the disease when he was in his 60’s, but Fred’s brother, Frank, Jr., was only 57 when he lost his battle to the illness. And years later, the unthinkable happened. Fred Ruekert was also diagnosed with this cruel disease when he was just 54 years old.
Life in Waukesha was happy for the newlyweds. Fred made his name in the city as a civil sanitary engineer, working at Ruekert & Mielke, an engineering firm founded by his father in 1946. He and Irene raised six children and were active in the community. In 1978, Fred became a volunteer basketball coach at St. Mary’s of Waukesha, where he touched the lives of hundreds of children and their families throughout the years.
Seven years ago, the roof caved in on the couple’s happy life. Irene could tell there was something seriously wrong with Fred. “He’d put in hours and hours at work, and come home not knowing what he did all day,” said Irene. “He developed crutches at work. He set reminders on his computer to tell him what to do and he’d have tons of Post-It notes he’d written himself fall out of his pockets.”
The jig was up. Fred, who had tried in vain to mask his memory loss, was unable to continue in his job and took early retirement. Irene was heartbroken as her worst suspicions were confirmed – a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. Fred is now 60 years old, and isn’t able to speak anymore.
Irene has been a full time caregiver for years, and understands better than anyone the challenges and stress that families face when caring for an individual with Alzheimer’s or dementia. “There’s no shame that Fred has Alzheimer’s,” she said. “It’s an illness and it needs to be conquered. But that will happen.”
It must happen. The Ruekerts are hopeful, but they worry about what the future might hold for their six children and seven grandchildren if this disease isn’t stopped.