Rev. Dr. Cynthia Huling Hummel tells Rotary: Be Bold For Change
By Lori Ruhlman
The audience was riveted as the Rev. Dr. Cynthia Huling Hummel told of her personal journey with Alzheimer’s disease at the Lodge Thursday during the Skaneateles Rotary Club’s annual International Women’s Day celebration. And when she finished, 150 people jumped to their feet in applause.
Hummel put a personal face on a disease that 5 million Americans are living with today, and she did it in a way that was inspirational and thought provoking. Her kernels of wisdom — handed down from a mother who was bold, brilliant and pragmatic – could guide people in any tough situation, even a diagnosis as devastating as Alzheimer’s disease.
Hummel was 50 and studying for her doctorate when she first experienced symptoms. “I couldn’t remember the classes I had taken, the books I had read or even my professors and fellow students. It was very upsetting and it started me on a quest to figure out what was going on with my brain,” she said. Eventually she had to give up her ministry, which she loved. (She was a Presbyterian minister).
With her mother’s voice in her head (“If at first you don’t succeed to try, try again” and “Into every life, a little rain must fall”) she boldly marched on, taking on the cause of Alzheimer’s disease as her new mission. She continues to perform with two music groups, to exercise and to embrace life.
“I had an epiphany thanks to my mom- and the lessons she Imparted to us: lessons about not feeling sorry for ourselves, that everyone has their cross to bear, stepping up to a challenge and doing what we could do to make a difference. I could sit back and wait for someone else to do something or do it myself. And so I decided volunteer for the Alzheimer’s Association.”
Rotarian and event chair Amy Tormey had introduced Hummel as a woman who fits the International Women’s Day motto of being “Bold for change.”
Her hard work as a national spokesperson is helping the Alzheimer’s Association bring awareness and raise funds for research for a disease that threatens to cripple society in a few years.
“As we celebrate International Women’s Day, it is important for us to take a moment and consider the impact of Alzheimer’s disease on women and men, on individuals and families and all who are directly and indirectly affected. There is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease. It is fatal. Alzheimer’s took my mom in 2014 and in the last years of her life, she wasn’t sure who I was,” Hummel said.
“There are more than 5 million Americans who are living with Alzheimer’s disease – and 2/3 of them are women. Moreover, approximately 2/3 of those caring for those with Alzheimer’s disease are women — women who are juggling work and caregiving, women who have had to stop work to care for a parent, a spouse, a loved one with dementia, women who are raising children and caring—24-7-365. It is exhausting,” she said.
Hummel praised Rotarians for never standing back. “Rotarians are bold people who see a need, who step up and get the job done. When I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Jamaica, it was the Rotary Club of Black River that raised the money for the school that I was helping to start- a school for special needs children. Rotarians don’t sit around on the sidelines waiting for someone else to do something. Rotarians are not spectators. Rotarians are bold leaders. YOU are doers. Look at what you have done for polio. You stepped up together and raised funds for research- and now you are boldly tackling Alzheimer’s. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
Rotary International has taken on Alzheimer’s disease after helping to nearly eradicate polio throughout the world. It started with one Rotary Club on Martha’s Vineyard, and grew to include Rotary international. The reach is far. Rotary is made up of more than 33,000 Rotary clubs in over 200 countries.
She doesn’t consider herself brave, she said. “But I am bold. I know that what I do can and will make a difference. So on this International Women’s day- where we salute those who are being bold for change, I want to thank you Rotarians for being bold for change, for linking arms with us, for partnering with us as we work by side raising awareness and funds for Alzheimer’s. Together we can make a difference. Together we will End Alzheimer’s disease.”