Los Altos hairstylist Eric Ringo remembers a day in 2012 when things took a turn for the brighter for his family. It was the day his parents, whom he calls “working-class people,” let down their guard and accepted a charitable donation to soften the blow of caregiver fees.
Ringo’s mother, Alice, was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease at the time, and he convinced her and his father, Peter, to embrace help. Two years later, Ringo’s father had a heart attack and his health began to decline. Peter died only after his son promised to look out for Alice.
“He had a seizure one morning and he said, ‘I thought I was going to go today, son,’” Ringo said of his father. “He said to me that day, ‘I don’t want to leave her.’ So I texted a friend of mine that and asked (what) I should say. ‘Tell him you’ll take care of her.’ So I did. A week later, he passed.”
For the next eight months, Ringo spent days with his mother when she was totally aware of what was happening and remembered that her husband was gone. Other days, the reality of the situation wasn’t digestible, he said.
“She knew he was gone, but she didn’t know,” Ringo said. “I (was) walking her around the park in a wheelchair and she said, ‘I have to get home right now.’ I said, ‘How come?’ and she said, ‘My husband might come pick me up.’”
After losing his mother, the Los Altos business owner was open about the challenges of loving someone with an illness that causes memory loss. His Facebook page features posts acknowledging the anniversaries of the deaths of his parents.
“As a kid, we want our parents to live forever,” Ringo said, sitting at a table in his downtown Los Altos salon, Hair at Eric Ringo’s, last week. “I kind of found with my dad that if he wanted to go, he could go.”
Four years later, Ringo said he has found a way to combine his passion for taking care of his tribe with giving back to the organization that chipped in “a few extra dollars” in his parents’ final days – partnering with the Alzheimer’s Association to raise $3,000 for The Longest Day. The fundraiser, named for the longest calendar day (Friday, June 21), is an alternative to the charity walk/run such support organizations have embraced.
“The symbolism of the day of the summer solstice is that it is the day that we fight the darkness of Alzheimer’s disease,” said Michele Boudreau, director of communications for the Alzheimer’s Association’s Northern California and Northern Nevada chapter. “If a walk isn’t someone’s thing, or even if it is and they want to do something that’s personal to them, there’s a world of ideas (for fundraisers through The Longest Day).”
Ringo contacted Boudreau and the association’s fundraising manager Steven Krzanowski and his team to find out about hosting an event. Together, they came up with a wine and cheese night at his salon June 1 aimed at celebrating dual accomplishments: Ringo’s drive to give back to a foundation that aided him personally and his 20-year anniversary operating out of Plaza South.
Circle of support
It was Ringo’s first experience planning such an event, but he didn’t have to do it alone. As a Paul Mitchell brand-based salon, Ringo had the benefit of the sales division donating products for giveaway baskets. On top of that, his community of clients and friends gathered around in support.
“I was really grateful to my two friends (Randy and Cheryl) for their help,” Ringo said. “They love this kind of stuff. (My friend) Laura had her iPad and we had a big giant vase with the Alzheimer’s sticker on it that people could put checks or cash in.”
As of Monday, Ringo exceeded his goal, raising approximately $4,000, according to a message he sent to the Town Crier. He is grateful for the money pouring in beyond the day of his fundraiser; some of his clients have pledged to donate at their next appointments, and he has been spreading word of the cause to neighboring business owners.
Boudreau said Ringo’s online fundraising platform will remain open through the end of August.
No matter how much more he raises, Ringo will hold onto the experience as a positive one. In a journal entry he penned after the event, he summarized the entire process – planning, advertising, executing – as “cathartic.”
“Many people have gone through what I have, but when we share (that) with people, we realize we are all very alike,” he wrote. “It seems to resonate then.”
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, there are approximately 31,000 people living with Alzheimer’s disease and 78,000 caregivers in Santa Clara County.
To donate to the fundraiser in Alice Ringo’s name, visit act.alz.org/site/TR?team_id=550350&pg=team&fr_id=11896.
For more information on the Alzheimer’s Association, visit alz.org.