Morgan Bilger ‘retired’ as an active fundraiser for the annual Walk for Alzheimers in Tillsonburg a few years ago, but he planned to returned to walk each year, including the 25th annual event hosted Saturday, Jan. 18 by the Alzheimer Society of Oxford.
On Saturday, Bilger was to be recognized as ‘King of the Tillsonburg Walk’ – the highest fundraiser in the local event’s history.
“We’re celebrating 25 years for Tillsonburg’s Walk this year,” said Shelley Green, Executive Director, Alzheimer Society of Oxford. “And Morgan has the raised the most of anybody since the beginning of the (Tillsonburg) Walk – he was diligent in his fundraising. We looked back in his records and he started in 2004 and he has raised $23,400.
“He’s living life like we should all live – staying socially active, staying physically active, and he’s keeping his brain stimulated,” said Green. “And he made sure he had a succession plan. I remember him telling me for a few years, ‘Shelley, I’m not getting any younger, I may not be able to keep this up.’”
“I could have still kept it going, I think,” said the 94-year-old (95 in March 2020), born in Lyndoch, south of Delhi. “But when I turned 90 I said, ‘You know, I think I’ve done enough.’”
At that time, Bilger, a retired insurance adjuster, gave his contacts to Margaret Patterson, who had volunteered at the Walk.
“Marg, her husband worked for me when I was in the insurance business and she was getting interested. I knew she’d be a good prospect so I asked her, ‘Would you be interested this? I’ll help you the first year.’ And she did quite well. The second year… she was the top (fundraiser) in Tillsonburg – she was top.”
“How amazing to have somebody like Morgan, who not only fundraised all that money for us, but he made a plan himself to have somebody take over for the people who donated to him,” said Green. “That’s incredible.”
Bilger initially got involved in the Walk for Alzheimers when his wife Marie (1941-2014) was diagnosed.
“She was in Maple Manor. They were amazing, they really treated her well. Unless I went on a trip or something, I would see her pretty well twice a day.”
“I think it’s amazing that even though Morgan was seeing his wife twice a day… he was still out there raising funds to help others who were dealing with Alzheimers and dementia.”
“When I first started, I was getting $5 here, $10 there,” said Bilger. “And then I finally said, ‘For my own good, why don’t you give me a cheque? And if you give me a cheque for $20-25 I’ll give you a receipt.’ Which is true.”
Bilger’s first source for donors included neighbours and relatives.
“I didn’t target the whole community, but pretty well everybody on my street supported me. And relatives all over the place – Delhi, Lyndoch – you name it.”
“Basically, Morgan, you reached out,” Green nodded. “You went door to door, contacted people, and you were persistent.”
“Yeah, my kids kid me a little bit about it,” Bilger laughed.
“Because your wife had Alzheimers, and they knew that that was the connection for you, I would think most people admired your tenacity? Not everybody would be that persistent.”
“Oh I think so,” said Bilger.
“You had a lot of enjoyment in fundraising, didn’t you?” Green asked Bilger, smiling. “It connected you with people and it gave you something to work towards. I think it was a sense of accomplishment,” added Green, an accomplished Walk for Alzheimers fundraiser in her own right.
“I’ll never forget the first time I asked Bill Pratt for a donation,” said Bilger. “He said, ‘OK, so you’ll donate for this…?’ I forget what it was (Great Ride n Stride to Beat Cancer).”
This year’s fundraising goal for the Tillsonburg and Woodstock Walk for Alzheimers is $200,000, the largest fundraiser for Alzheimer Society of Oxford.
The 26th annual Woodstock event is Saturday, Jan. 25, 2-4 p.m. at the Oxford Auditorium. Contact fundraising assistant Henriette MacArthur by email at email@example.com or call 1-877-594-2368 ext 224 for more information.
“Last year we raised $183,500 (in Oxford)… which was up from $168,000 in 2018,” said Green.