Hal Blotner is considered a “hero” by the Alzheimer’s & Dementia Alliance of Wisconsin. Not only was Blotner a compassionate caregiver for his wife, Sue Blotner, for eight years before she died from Alzheimer’s disease four years ago, but, in the past 10 years, he’s helped raise more than $136,000 for the group.
Blotner, 92, also volunteers by helping to facilitate a support group for men who are caregivers for a loved one with Alzheimer’s or other dementia.
This month, he’ll lead “Team Blotner” — now in its 10th year — during the Alzheimer’s Walk Sept. 29 at Warner Park. This year, Blotner is chairperson of the 20th anniversary walk and will be celebrated for his achievements.
Born in Massachusetts, Blotner attended the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana after getting out of the Army. In 1949, he moved to Milwaukee, where he met his wife.
Sue’s father bought a small vending machine business in Madison and asked Blotner to join the company. “And the way he phrased it, ‘It’s not that I want you, I need you,’” Blotner said.
So, the couple moved to Madison in 1953 and raised three sons off Midvale Boulevard on the West Side.
Blotner spent his whole career working at the company and has vending machine artwork prominently displayed in his apartment in the Downtown retirement community Capitol Lakes, where he’s lived since April. Sue didn’t work in the business — that would’ve been “too much family,” Blotner said.
Sue had a degree in occupational therapy and worked at a knitting store on Monroe Street and was involved in many community activities, said Blotner, who retired in 1998.
Blotner took care of Sue at home until, he said, she needed a full-time assisted living facility. She moved to Attic Angel, where Blotner would help her with lunch every day. He had only positive things to say about how she was treated in her four years there.
“The care by the staff, the young men and the young women — the CNAs — out there was outstanding,” he said. “The thing that I picked up on was the mutual respect from one staff member to another. The young men and the young women treated each other with respect.”
When she was there, at Attic Angel, did she still know your name and know who you were?
Those things are hard to measure. I would say she was responsive. She wasn’t speaking, but that was a result of the problem. She would smile, and we tried to keep some very nice music going, and she would kind of tap her feet to the music. I would say she was a very cooperative patient. She did not present any difficulties. It’s a wonderful facility. I think we’re fortunate here in Madison, there are a number of fine facilities.
What was the hardest part of her illness for you?
I’d say probably a lack of communication.
Did you have good communication throughout your marriage?
I would say so.
What is your best piece of advice for caregivers?
Don’t neglect to take care of yourself so that you can continue to be a caregiver.
What’s the most important way to take care of yourself during that time?
I would say proper rest, proper diet.
Are you around people here at Capitol Lakes who have Alzheimer’s?
Yes. And I am chairman of the men’s support group at the Alzheimer’s Alliance and we have maybe 25 to 30 men come in for meetings and they are all caregivers ... We have men that come into our meeting that lost their loved ones even three, four or five years ago, and from out of town, but they still come to the meetings for the camaraderie and also to share their experience.
You’re considered a hero to the Alzheimer’s group. Is that your main volunteer role, being the chairman of the support group, or do you have other volunteer roles?
I’m very active in the Alzheimer’s walk that is coming up the 29th of September at Warner Park and with wonderful support from many friends under the umbrella of Team Blotner. Each of the last nine years we have participated, Team Blotner has raised more money than any other family team.
You’ve raised more than $136,000. That’s incredible.
It is. But I need to emphasize that it’s the result of many, many friends who solicit their friends and then they gather it all in under the Team Blotner umbrella.
Are you hopeful that they’re going to find a cure for Alzheimer’s one day?
Yes, as a matter of fact, Sue participated in a lot of the research at the university and the head of that research has an international reputation, Dr. (Sanjay) Asthana.
— Interview by Samara Kalk Derby