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Observing World Parkinson’s Day

July 2, 2013

I know this actually happened in April, but I am very behind!  The school year was intensely busy, but the last few months were marked by some extraordinary events. I’ll be writing about them the next couple of days.  Here is the first:

I hadn’t really thought about April being Parkinson’s Awareness Month.   Perhaps it’s because Parkinson’s is the illness I live with, so I need no special reminder to be aware.  I was, however, struck by the observation of World Parkinson’s Day– April 11, in honor of Dr. Parkinson’s birthday.  I liked this because I’ve always appreciated the fact that Parkinson’s was not named after the first patient stricken with the disease; it was named after the physician who first diagnosed and attempted to treat it.  In 1980, Dutch horticulturist J.W.S. Van der Wereld developed a tulip in Dr. Parkinson’s honor, and since then the symbol of World Parkinson’s Day has been a red tulip.  Struck by this hopeful and beautiful gesture, I suddenly found myself inspired to do something.


I teach in a vocational agricultural school with a greenhouse and a dedicated group of students developing their floral design skills.  I began to wonder how possible it is to get red tulips we can sell on April 11, and then donate the proceeds to the Michael J. Fox Foundation.  It would be perfect–an awareness and fundraising campaign built around the day’s symbol.  Convinced of the efficacy of the idea, I spoke to Meagan, the floral design teacher, who assured me it was doable in two weeks.  We would sell 150 tulips at $1 each—not a huge amount, but as my father used to say “Don’t be afraid to piss in the ocean, because every little bit helps.”  Okay, maybe not the most applicable saying for this event, but you get the larger point.

Very quickly, my colleagues and students stepped forward to help advertise the event.  Flyers, posters, and a banner were put in place for all to see.  A student volunteered to help me with an announcement.  Another pitch was made to my colleagues at a staff meeting.  A battalion of students were recruited to help me sell on the 11th.  We began sales at 7:05 am in the atrium of the school, where all students and staff must pass through to reach their classrooms.  We were sold out by 7:35, and even after that, donations continued to trickle in.  One colleague wrote me a check for $100; another paid me $60 for one tulip, so that by the end of the day we had raised nearly $450.  I couldn’t believe the level of enthusiasm and generosity put forward by my colleagues and students.

As wonderful as that was, there were several magical moments from that day that will stick with me always.

–At about 10am, one of the secretaries showed up with two boxes from the Magnolia Bakery in New York. The Magnolia has been selling Fox Foundation cup cakes as a fundraiser, and my dear wife Valerie decided to surprise me with a box in honor of this day.  The second box was sent to me by my good friend and colleague Liza.  That’s right—I got not one, but two boxes of cupcakes!  I shared most of them with the staff members who had been so helpful, but kept two of them for myself because a) they were delicious and b) I am not an idiot.


–One student was so excited about the success of the fundraiser, he announced “Next year, we’ll tell Michael J. Fox about it and get him to come here!”

–Another stopped by to see me during the day to ask me what Parkinson’s was.  When I explained to her the illness, and the difficult symptoms it causes, she smiled at me and said, “But look at you. You do so well.  You’re here every day teaching!”

–While I was explaining the virtues of the Fox Foundation to one of my classes, another student said to me “We know it’s a good cause and everything, but you do know everyone did this for you, right?”

Michael J Fox’s memoir is entitled “Lucky Man,” wherein he describes how in spite of his illness, he feels he has led a very fortunate life.  While I certainly haven’t had the life of the fantastic Mr. Fox, I am beginning to understand what he means.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Erin Simcik permalink
    July 3, 2013 11:20 am

    What an inspiring journey….you are clearly a beloved member on your community. Thanks for sharing all that you do!

  2. July 3, 2013 3:09 pm

    “I teach in a vocational agricultural school with a greenhouse and a dedicated group of students developing their floral design skills.” I didn’t know this detail! The tulips, the cupcakes, the money raised. What a wonderful experience all around.

  3. July 3, 2013 5:32 pm

    Thanks! The vo-ag program comprises about one fourth of the student body. It ‘s a terrific prgram. As a result, we usually have animals on site as well!

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