DUNEDIN, Fla. — The tiny coastal city of Dunedin is known for a lot of things... beautiful beaches, breweries and even bagpipes.
But this past week, for the third year in a row, it was known for something quite different. The color purple.
“We’re painting Dunedin purple,” Steve Olson said.
Steve Olson is the organizer of “Paint Dunedin Purple.” An event held by the Alzheimer’s Association of Florida to raise money for the care, support and research of the organization.
He lost his mother Rita to the disease. A disease that grips the lives of 580,000 Floridians and half a million others who care for them. It’s the second-highest prevalence in the nation.
He started this event in her honor.
“I did an event one year, just one place. Now, instead of one place doing one event, I’ve got 60 businesses doing 60 different things,” Olson said.
Businesses up and down Main Street do whatever they can do to support the cause. Since its inception, the event has raised $20,000 for the Alzheimer’s Association.
If you take a closer look, past the purple ribbons, past the signs and past the donation buckets, you find what the event really means to so many people who participate.
They are all fighting some form of dementia on both sides of the battlefield.
“My mom was diagnosed with dementia. It’s obviously really close to my heart to try and bring awareness,” Soozy Naylor O’Donnell said.
She owns The Key West Express Boutique. They specialize in summer outfits and vacation ware, that day they were selling raffle tickets.
Her mother Sylvia is in a nursing home thousands of miles across the Atlantic in the UK. She hasn’t been able to see her because of COVID restrictions. She doesn’t even know what the pandemic is.
“I’ve seen my mom go from a happy, go-lucky, bubbly woman. Now she no longer remembers me,” O’Donnell said emotionally.
At Cueni Brewery Company, purple beer is on the chalkboard, or as owner Bren Cueni says, it’s at least a shade purple.
Her grandmother Verna was diagnosed in her 60s and passed away in her 80s.
“I was really hard on my grandpa to see his wife turn into really someone he didn’t know. It was just really heartbreaking,” Bren said.
John Cacciapuoti, the owner of Spoiled Rotten, does his part with purple in his hair and his mother’s memory in his heart.
His store was selling special gift bags, serving purple wine slushes and round up every total to donate the difference to the foundation.
He watched his mother, Judith Ann, fight early onset of Alzheimer’s.
“Maybe I was lucky because my mom passed away from other complications before that day came when we walked into the hospital and she said, who are you? That would have killed me,” Cacciapuoti said.
All these business owners have a personal stake in this fight.
A fight that has been especially hard for Brian LeBlanc, Florida Ambassador for the Alzheimer’s Association. He’s watched different forms of dementia rip straight through his family tree.
His mother had Alzheimer’s. His father had vascular dementia. His grandfather had Alzheimer’s. His grandfather’s mother, his great grandmother, had Alzheimer’s. Now LeBlanc himself also has Alzheimer’s.
“I can’t really speak, I can’t really do too much on my own. Some days it lasts for the whole day. Some days it’s half. It has a mind of its own,” LeBlanc told us.
He credits his wife for giving him the strength to look forward.
At the main tent, Steve Olson meets more people who are dealing with the same thing. Trying to spread the message and make sure they are wearing purple.
“That’s what this is about in a great sense is people willing to talk about and do what we have to do end it,” Olson said.