The Les Turner ALS Foundation walk was in its second year when Harriet Hoffman of Deerfield died from Lou Gehrig’s disease.
So on the 10-year anniversary celebration her life, Harriet’s son Ken Hoffman of Deerfield, surrounded himself with 40 friends and family members at the 12th annual Les Turner Walk4Life at Chicago Soldier Field on Sept. 22.
“We have the whole family group here,” said Hoffman, noting his mother would be proud of him today. Hoffman wore a bright blue shirt emblazoned with “Thumbs Up for Harriet.”
“Ten years since she passed,” said Hoffman. “We’ve been involved in the foundation all that time. It’s a great organization. It helped us so much when we were going through the process of the disease.”
Hoffman added: “We’re proud to be associated with Les Turner and keep trying to raise funds to prevent and cure the disease.”
More than 6,500 walkers showed up on the cool blue-sky day, and the event raised more than $750,000.
Since 1977, the Les Turner ALS Foundation has been a resource in patient services, research, and education for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, and other motor neuron diseases.
Kathy Hart, personality of WTMX 101.9 The Mix and Phil Schwarz, meteorologist of ABC Channel 7. were event hosts. Both emcees explained how they have been touched by Lou Gehrig’s disease.
“I, too, have a reason to be here as you all do,” said Hart, who became emotional on the stage. “My aunt was diagnosed almost 10 years ago. And when we think about it, the people that get diagnosed, you wonder how much time you’re going to have with your loved one.”
Her aunt, she said, has “made it almost 10 years, it’s truly a miracle.”
Les Turner was a Chicago area businessman, husband and father, who died in his late 30s, was diagnosed with ALS in 1976.
Harvey and Bonny Gaffen of Highland Park still remember the man who inspired a foundation. “My story, okay…” said Bonny Gaffen. “I am a founding member of the Les Turner ALS Foundation. Les Turner was married to my sister and was my husband’s best friend.”
Harvey Gaffen, who has been foundation president for more than 35 years, recalled Turner. “We were playing tennis, he fell down and I called him clumsy,” he said. “He went in for some diagnosis, they told him he had Lou Gehrig’s disease and he had two and half years to live.”
He explained that “we knew Lou Gehrig died of something but we didn’t know what. There was nowhere to go, no one to talk to, not even a brochure to read. We started the foundation in 1977 out of frustration.”
Wendy Abrams of Highland Park, executive director of the Les Turner ALS Foundation, noted “We probably have 50 people out here with ALS, it’s a wonderful day of celebration and support, and to them, that’s what counts. For people who are here in memory of their loved ones…we’re all soldiers, soldiering on.”