APPLETON, Wis. - A few times a week, you'll find Walt and Aline Zerrenner on a date at Carmella's restaurant in Grand Chute. Their love story began in the summer of 1964 when they met on a New Jersey beach. Now, they're celebrating 52 years of marriage, children, grandchildren and traveling the world together. It was a fairytale journey until Aline was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease nine years ago.
"It was not in her family you know, and it just caught us both by surprise," said Walt.
Initially, they blamed Aline's forgetfulness on the aging process, but the warning signs became more severe.
"One day she got disoriented when she was driving, and she should've been home in ten minutes. It took her 45. She had no explanation, and it actually scared her a little bit too."
Aline eventually forgot how to cook and consistently repeated herself.
"She's a former math teacher, so she might have asked you that ten times already, and I'll say, 'Try ten squared,' you know, and she likes that, and she'll laugh about that, and then usually forget what she was going to ask me anyway," he chuckled.
Walt said humor, patience and the support of the Alzheimer's Association have gotten him through these tough times.
"Whether it's through their helpline or support groups or their educational events, they help families and they help people connect to those different resources that are difficult to find on your own," said Sarah Kons, an attorney with Hooper Law Office.
Kons is helping organize the Alzheimer's Association's first ever Purple Gala and Tap for a Cure fundraiser on Thursday, May 31st from 5:30pm to 10:00pm at the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center in Appleton.
"I think the Tap for a Cure side is going to be a lot of fun. It's going to be a good opportunity, especially with the local breweries that are participating, to really see what's out there in the community," she said. "The dinner should be a good time as well. We have some very respected chefs that are going to be preparing some things for us, so the food should be excellent."
The money raised will help fund services for families dealing with the disease. Walt runs a support group.
"We just share and talk, and sometimes we laugh, sometimes we cry," he said.
Walt knows what the future holds. He had to move Aline into a care facility.
"I've seen other residents come and go, and I know that's down the path for me too, that day that she will not recognize me, and then the next thing, death is inevitable."
Walt hopes proceeds from the fundraiser will also help researchers find new treatments and get closer to finding a cure. Until then, he's treasuring every moment he has by enjoying his weekly lunch dates with the love of his life.
"We accept the things we can't do together anymore, but enjoy the ones that we still can do."
NBC26's Stacy Engebretson will serve as the emcee for the Purple Gala. She will share how her grandmother's battle with Alzheimer's impacted her family.
Attendees are encouraged to wear purple which is the color for Alzheimer's awareness.