A remarkable person is being honored Nov. 3 at the seventh annual Tybee Island Kite Festival.
Alice P. Gerber founded the Savannah Parkinson Support Group 30 years ago to help those touched by Parkinson's disease and other movement disorders. She has since become one of the hardest working advocates for Parkinson and has helped countless people.
Gerber’s mission began when her husband, Marx, was diagnosed with Parkinson in 1980. “Very little was known about Parkinson 40 years ago, which is strange because it is a very old illness,” says Gerber. “I tried everything I could think of to help him and it just didn’t work.” Marx passed away three years later.
There had been no support in Savannah for Gerber during her husband’s illness, so she started her own support group with the help of St. Joseph’s/Candler. Word got out and the SPSG rapidly grew in numbers. “At our first meeting we had about six people,” says Gerber. “Very quickly that six people became 300.”
Later, Gerber wanted to do serious research about Parkinson to further understand what might be causing the illness in the over 300 members of her group.
“I went to Georgia Southern. I was 72 years old, and I asked them if I could do some research and they said, ‘Start school tomorrow.’ ‘You’re crazy! I haven’t been to school in 35 years,’” says Gerber. “I got two doctorates and didn’t even know I was getting them. I was just interested in finding out what might be causing Parkinson's.”
Gerber’s latest project has been starting the GEM (Get Excited and Move) program with the help of Michael Cohen at Anderson-Cohen Weightlifting Center. GEM, which is based on a program called Rocky Steady, offers boxing training to people with Parkinson and other movement disorders to help alleviate the debilitating symptoms off their illnesses.
“People come in on a wheelchair and they walk out,” says Gerber. “It’s hard to believe. It makes you cry to see what’s going on ... Some of them were shaking so bad before they started and now the shaking is gone and they’re moving .. .If my husband were alive, he’d be right in there with them.”
The Tybee Island Kite Festival is hosted by the SPSG to raise funds and generate awareness. Delta kites and gumbo cooked up by North Beach Bar and Grill are available for a $10 donation. Dozens of kites fluttering in the sky over the beach is a beautiful sight to behold and families are encouraged to take part in honoring those who have been affected by Parkinson.
“We look forward to flying kites for ourselves, friends, and loved ones,” says Sarah Bernzott, director of Savannah Parkinson Support Group. “The kites, flying in the air, serve as a visual memory of the people in the Savannah area that have been and are touched by these debilitating diseases and disorders.”
If you attend, be sure thank the honoree, Gerber, for her incredible contributions and work.
“No doubt, everything that has happened in Savannah related to Parkinson's disease and movement disorders has been touched by Dr. Gerber’s hands, one way or another. She is, and has been, a fierce advocate for Parkinson's disease," Bernzott said.
“I’m 88 going on 89,” adds Gerber. “I just keep going. I don’t know what to tell you, just hoping I can help more and more people.”