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Planting Memories at Vinson Hall

Azalea bushes planted at the Sylvestery in honor of loved ones with Alzheimer's Disease

With shovels in hand and memories in heart, a dozen people dug into the ground at the Sylvestery at Vinson Hall last week to plant azalea bushes in honor of loved ones.

For Evelyn Watson and her husband, Douglas, it was a chance to honor her parents, Frank and Evelyn Koch.

"My mother was here at the Sylvestery and passed away last August," Evelyn Watson said. "We have very fond memories of this place."

The chance to plant a flowering bush to beautify the campus of the assisted living community on Kirby Road was one that they couldn't pass up.

"My mother was a gardener. She loved flowers," she said. "The Sylvestery was a wonderful place for all of us. This will helps us remember her. Even though we miss her, every time we drive past here we'll remember her."

The planting celebration was a collaboration between the Vinson Hall Corporation and the Alzheimer's Association of the National Capital Area, organized to allow people whose lives have been affected by Alzheimer's disease, and those who have loved ones living at the Sylvestery, to remember their family members.

"When you drive by and see these pink azaleas, it'll be a nice way to remember those who suffered from Alzheimer's in a really beautiful way," said Holly Morris, director of communications for the Sylvestery and Vinson Hall.

"We were looking for a way to brighten up the community and the surrounding neighborhood," said Alison Humora, a representative of Vinson Hall. "This is a really special way to remember and honor people with Alzheimer's."

THE PLANTING WAS also a way for family members to meet other families affected by the disease.

"This is not a disease that just affects the person who has it," said Cindy Elliott, a representative of the Alzheimer's Association's office in Fairfax. "This disease affects a myriad of people. And we want you to know that we're working as hard as we can to find a cure, to find treatment. I'm looking forward to the day when I don't have a job."

For Lisa Trangsrud and her daughter, Amy, it was a chance to honor her father, Fred Maxfield. "My dad's a resident here and he loves flowers," Lisa Trangsrud said. "He has a severe memory impairment ... he calls his orchids daffodils, but even though his head is all scrambled, his hands are fine."

He still enjoys working with his flowers, planted outside his window at the Sylvestery, she said.

"This is a disease that takes a different course with everyone it touches," she said. "He still comes out for walks every so often to see the flowers."

Rebecca Smith took the opportunity to bring out her mother, Dorothy, a two-year resident of the Sylvestery, to show her the bush she planted in her honor.

"She deserves this. She deserves every bit of time and love I can give her," Rebecca Smith said. "I'm doing this for my entire family."

Smith said her father, former Navy Captain Peter Sterling Smith, had Alzheimer's and died four years ago, and the bush she was planting was for him as well.

"This whole community was started after World War II by a group of Navy wives, and we're so happy to have Mother here," she said.

Ruth Chertkvo wanted to take the opportunity to remember her husband, Morris Chertkvo, who died six years ago from Alzheimer's.

"We were apartment dwellers. I don't think we ever had a garden. My gardening experience is limited to repotting my geraniums on my balcony," Chertkvo said with a laugh. "I thought he'd like this."

She was also honoring the memory of Mary K. Sprung, the mother of a friend, who had lived at the Sylvestery.

"This is just a lovely thing to do," she said. "When my husband was diagnosed with Alzheimer's, my way of dealing with it was to learn everything I could about it. I really do feel that knowledge is power."

Having the Alzheimer's Association to help her through the early days was "a godsend," Chertkvo said.

Marie Mihalski is a two-year resident at The Sylvestery, said her daughter, Barbara Eckert.

"She loved to garden, so I thought this would be a very appropriate thing to do for her," Eckert said. "She has lovely peonies and roses at her home."

WHEN SHE TAKES her mother for drives, "she still notices trees and greenery," Eckert said. "These plants will live forever and she will also, in my mind. A lot of people will be able to drive by here and see the flowers and appreciate it."

AG&E Inc., a landscaping company from Merrifield that does the groundwork at Vinson Hall, donated the plants.

"The pink azaleas were a special request from Holly," said Susan Helander, an enhancement manager for AG&E. "These are redbud azaleas. They're a good, hearty bush that will bloom in the spring."

The amateur planters "did a great job," she said. "As long as the plants receive water, they'll do just fine."