By Cathy Spaulding
Phoenix Staff Writer
With Cyndi Lauper leggings, big hair and flippy shades, Nelita Cash fits in with the other ’80s ladies and dudes at Whittier Elementary School’s 1980s dance.
But Cash, who teaches fourth grade and heads the school’s character program, does not “just wanna have fun.”
Now in its fourth year, the dance raises money for the Alzheimer’s Association. Cash’s father, Charles Byfield, had Alzheimer’s; he died in 2011.
The dance caught the attention of the Character Education Partnership, which will present a Promising Practice Award to the school. Cash, representing Whittier, will receive the award at the Partnership’s 2012 National Forum on Character Education, set for Nov. 1-4 in Washington, D.C.
“This is something I’m passionate about because of my dad,” Cash said. “We lost him April 26. He was one of 16 children, of which seven died of Alzheimer’s. It’s like a death sentence.”
The Alzheimer’s Association’s website says Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States. It is the only cause of death among the top 10 leading causes that cannot be prevented, cured or slowed, the website says. It says 5.4 million Americans live with Alzheimer’s disease.
Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, the website says.
“Symptoms usually develop slowly and get worse over time, becoming severe enough to interfere with daily tasks,” it says.
Charles Byfield was born in Tahlequah in 1933 and was a Korea War veteran and warehouse superintendent.
Cash said it amazed her how Alzheimer’s affected her father, whom she called “my fishing buddy.”
She said he often seemed happy.
“He reverted to childhood,” she said. “But our hearts were broken because he didn’t know who we were.”
He died April 26, 2011. Three months later, Cash lost her mother, Betty Jo Byfield.
“The caregiving strain was too much for her,” Cash said.
Whittier charges $2 admission for the dance. Cash said it raised $90 its first year, $180 its second year and $320 last year. This year’s dance raised $130, Cash said.
Cash said the dance has a 1980s theme because she and many other teachers were teenagers in the 1980s.
“We were the younger baby boomers,” she said. “And as we get older, baby boomers will be hit with the brunt of Alzheimer’s.”
She said the dance “is a hands-down, favorite activity for students.”
The students do more than just dance, they also learn about the disease, she said.
“The kids get on the computer and research,” she said.
Cash said Whittier teachers join her on the Alzheimer’s Association’s Memory Walk each August. Their team is called “Charlie’s Alz-Stars,” she said.
Reach Cathy Spaulding at (918) 684-2928 or email@example.com.
You can help
• You can contribute directly to the Alzheimer’s Association by phone at (800) 272-3900 or online at www.alz.org or at Whittier Elementary School, 1705 Cincinnati Ave., (918) 684-3800.