My grandfather, Jacob “Jake” Rippen was the toughest man I have ever known. He sounded like Nikita Khrushchev and looked like Ray Nitschke. Jake grew up in Siberia and came to America without speaking the language, and after selling vacuum cleaners door to door he became a successful restaurateur and property owner.
When he was 82 years old Jake caught a man trying to steal his car and beat him to a pulp. They put Jake in jail for assaulting the car thief and he could never understand why he was arrested for stopping a “goniff.” Jake wore a three-piece business suit when he played catch with me and refused a baseball glove, because he said they were for “babies.” He taught me to maintain a car (wash weekly and wax monthly), use tools properly and to take pride in a job well done.
My grandfather took his own life in 1967 when I was 11 years old. He was 86.
My parents told me (and everyone else) that Jake had a heart attack and for the next 20 years that was the story I knew until my mother finally told me the truth. Jake Rippen had Alzheimer’s disease or some form of dementia, although in 1967 we called it senility. Jake was aware that something was wrong, as he was having problems with memory and cognition and it was rapidly getting worse. He left a note for my grandmother informing her that he didn’t want to be a burden to her or live out his life in a nursing home. Jake went into the garage, turned on his car and succumbed to the fumes.
Since 1967, much has changed, and today we are acutely aware of Alzheimer’s disease and doctors and scientists are working diligently to find a cure. Back then, my family lacked the understanding to properly deal with my grandfather’s suicide, so I make sure to devote time to Alzheimer's awareness on my radio program and in my written work. It is estimated that nearly 500,000 new cases of Alzheimer's disease will be diagnosed this year, and according to Dr. Evelyn Granieri of Columbia University Medical Center, “today a person at 85 years of age has a fifty percent chance of suffering from some type of dementia.”
I recently met Ira Fenig, of Greenwich, Connecticut, who has raised nearly $400,000 for Alzheimer’s research over the last four years and his dedication is admirable. “My mother and sister both suffered from Alzheimer’s and eventually died from complications,” said Mr. Fenig. “It seems like we all know someone who’s been affected by Alzheimer’s. There are very few families that have escaped this disease.”
Mr. Fenig started going to marches and walks six years ago and now spends a significant amount of time raising money. “The first Alzheimer’s function I went to was at Richard’s (Clothing Store) in Greenwich,” he said. “I thought about my mother and sister and I started to cry. I knew I had to do something.”
Every year Mr. Fenig and Barbara Zaccagnini hold a fundraiser at Alba’s Restaurant in Portchester, New York (October 21, 2018), and people also contribute year round through this link to the Alzheimer’s Association Connecticut Chapter.
I still think about my grandfather every day. Thank you, Mr. Fenig.
Rob Taub has enjoyed an eclectic career in film, television, radio, and journalism. He has interviewed everyone from pop stars to presidents and he has written more than 250 articles for People Magazine, FoxNews.com, SI/Cauldron, The Huffington Post, and Thrive Global. Rob is a respected Diabetes Advocate and Obesity Ambassador, writing and speaking regularly about Type 2 diabetes and health. Follow him on Twitter @robmtaub or at www.RobTaub.com. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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