After over a dozen years at the helm of the local fight against Alzheimer’s, Brookfield resident Tom Hlavacek has announced his retirement.

Hlavacek, the executive director of the Southeastern Wisconsin Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, will leave the organization June 30.

“I’m just at that point in life. I’ll be 67 in May,” Hlavacek said. “It just came to be the right time.”

A 12-year stint at the Alzheimer’s Association has served as the capstone for a 37-year career working in nonprofits.

Prior to his time working to raise awareness and research for a cure for Alzheimer’s, Hlavacek spent 13 years as the director of the Milwaukee Office of Disability Rights and also spent time working with United Cerebral Palsy back in the ‘80s.

Large growth

Under Hlavacek’s leadership, the Southeastern Wisconsin Chapter — which covers 11 counties — has experienced tremendous growth.

Revenue for the chapter has grown from $900,000 in 2005 when Hlavacek took over to over $3 million. In addition, the chapter’s staff has doubled and its points of service have approximately tripled to over 37,000 in 2016.

Points of service include anything from referring patients to local doctors to providing in-depth meetings or weeklong classes to help patients or their families.

“We have support groups, we have education programs. We serve more than 10,000 people per year, but some people take advantage of more than one service,” Hlavacek said. “So we count all of those up and that’s points of service.”

The financial and staffing growth that he has overseen over the past 12 years helped Hlavacek to feel comfortable with his retirement decision.

“My goal has always been to pass the reins along at a point when the chapter was in really strong shape,” Hlavacek said. “It was a good time for me to move on and that’s where we are financially and staff-wise.”

Providing care

When asked what he's most proud of looking back on his time working with Alzheimer’s, Hlavacek’s answer isn’t about money or bringing more staff on board. It’s about caregiving.

“I think (I’m most proud of) that we get care and support services to so many more people now. The issues that surround Alzheimer’s are really sad. There’s a lot of people that try to hide it because of the stigma attached to it,” Hlavacek said. “There’s a lot of people who don’t come for help until they’re at some kind of a crisis point. Our programs get to people much earlier in the disease process.”

Hlavacek — who was affected personally at a young age by his grandmother passing away from vascular dementia — said that a key element to handling Alzheimer’s as best as possible is to recognize and begin caregiving as early as possible.

“The people that get connected early on — both for the person with the diagnosis and the caregiver — they just do so much better. They develop new support networks and new friends,” Hlavacek said. “That’s been extremely gratifying.”

Town of Waukesha resident Peter Lettenberger and his wife Kay have been involved with the Alzheimer’s Association and worked with Hlavacek for most of his tenure. Both Peter and Kay lost their respective first spouses to Alzheimer’s.

“My first wife, Barbara, died of Alzheimer’s 17 years ago now. It was shortly after that that I, and my whole family, started to get involved with the Alzheimer’s Association,” Lettenberger said.

Raising awareness

Through those efforts, the family has worked with Hlavacek to start a number of events meant to raise funds and awareness for Alzheimer’s, including the Walk to End Alzheimer’s held at Frame Park in Waukesha.

“Tom has been a very significant leader. The funds that the Alzheimer’s Association has here in southeastern Wisconsin has gone up. The staff has increased. But those are just numbers and that isn’t the most important thing,” Lettenberger said. “What matters is what do you do with that extra money and staff? The awareness that they’ve been able to make in the community and the understanding of Alzheimer’s and most importantly the support that they give to people with Alzheimer’s. I think they’ve utilized very well the additional funds and the additional people.”

A search is already being conducted by the national Alzheimer’s Association with the hope that Hlavacek’s predecessor can come on board before his departure for a smooth transition.

Even after June 30, Hlavacek promised that Lettenberger, Alzheimer’s and the community at-large haven’t seen the last of him and his wife Monica Murphy.

“My one regret is that we didn’t get the big Alzheimer’s breakthrough while I was working here. I would like to stay involved and help out as a volunteer advocate or spokesperson — whatever I can do until we get to that point where we feel like we’ve gotten some kind of a breakthrough in treatment,” Hlavacek said. “I’ll be around. I’ll stay involved.”

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