There's no rhyme or reason," no remission and no cure for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), says Peggy Gilmore. An Oak Park native who recently moved back here with her husband and two children, Peggy aims to help change that. Her mom, Mary Larson Gilmore, was just 49 when she died of ALS in 1991.
Peggy, along with Mary's best friend, Marg Galbraith Norman, will be leading the "Moovin for Mary" team at the fourth annual ALS Walk4Life two-mile walk along Chicago's lakefront on Saturday, Sept. 10. They'll join thousands of others raising funds for patient services, public awareness and research toward a cure for ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease.
ALS, for unknown reasons, causes muscles to deteriorate rapidly. In the later stages, there's total paralysis, although the mind is unaffected. "It's awful, ugly," says Peggy, who came home from college to care for her mom.
The daughter of a Wisconsin dairy farmer, Mary was "a lover of cows" and always had a cow collection, says Peggy. During her illness, when Mary wouldn't accept money from friends, they suggested she write a cookbook to sell (she was "famous for her cooking," Peggy notes). Udder Delights helped raise enough for the Mary Gilmore Foundation to pay for her medical care and send her son, who was 16 when she died, to college.
The cow thing explains "Moovin' for Mary." Peggy, a graphic artist and advertising creative director, designed special cow T-shirts for the 36 members of the team who will walk in memory of Mary. They plan to carry cow bells; Peggy's 6-month-old son, Walker, will be decked out in a cow costume.
For the last 10 years, Peggy has also designed all the invitations, T-shirts and banners for Lou Gehrig Day at Wrigley Field, another annual ALS Foundation fundraiser.
She does it because "this foundation is amazing," she says. During Mary's illness "they donated everything we needed medicallyâ€"the bed, feeding tubes, all the in-home care stuff. Besides funding national and international research, they're amazing for patient care and family support."
Mary Gilmore was a divorced, single mom who worked as a nurse until she became ill. Her daughter says she left behind tons of friends in Oak Park. "Mom was so adoredâ€"she knew everyone," Peggy recalls. When Mary died after a five-year battle with ALS, 500 people turned out for her memorial service.
Now that Peggy's back in Oak Park, she's often reminded of how much her mom meant to people here. "People come up to me [and] someone will say, 'Oh my God, I knew your mom,' or 'I bought my wedding dress at Gilmore's,'" she says.
As longtime Oak Parkers will remember, Gilmore's Department Store was a fixture here for decades, located in the Scoville Square building on the southwest corner of Oak Park Avenue and Lake Street. It closed in the mid-1970s; Peggy has only "vague memories," not so much of the store, but of having lunch there.
Peggy and her husband, Kevin Wood, bought a home in Oak Park two years ago. They consider it a great place to raise their two children: "Good schools, places to run aroundâ€"there was no other option for me," Peggy explains. Daughter Larson, 3, named for Mary (and who "looks like herâ€"same coloring, white blond, blue eyes," notes Peggy), also will be participating in the walk, via stroller.
So far, the "Moovin' for Mary" team has raised $2,000. If you'd like more information about the Walk4Life or to make a donation, click on https://ssl.charityweb.net/lesturnerals/walk/moooovinformary.htm.