By Curt Yeomans and Joel Hall
For more than a decade, Jim Dowd was a regular face at Stately Oaks Plantation, in Jonesboro, as one of the volunteers for Historical Jonesboro/Clayton County, Inc.
Dowd, 76, has led tours of the plantation's main house, as a docent who wore a stove-pipe hat and 19th century attire. He volunteered in the plantation's Juddy's Country Store. He gave basket-weaving demonstrations. He was also a member of the Stately Oaks Vintage Dance Team, cakewalking, fox trotting, and waltzing with other dancers, regularly, for the entertainment of visitors to the plantation.
But a year ago, Dowd received the news that would ultimately pull him away from all of those activities. He was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). The degenerative, nervous system disease, which eventually leads to paralysis, is more commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease. Dowd said there is no cure for it.
"I'm very fond of Historical Jonesboro, and I really miss being able to go by there [Stately Oaks]," Dowd said. "The people around Stately Oaks are like family. We all get along so well."
Historical Jonesboro/Clayton County, Inc., will honor Dowd, on April 17, by hosting its first-ever "Walk With the Wind" fund-raiser, to benefit the ALS Association of Georgia, and research on the disease. The one-mile walk will kick off at 9 a.m., at the Jonesboro Firehouse Museum and Community Center, which is located at 103 West Mill St., in Jonesboro.
"We're so thankful to have known this man and we want to honor him," said Carol Cook, the treasurer of Historical Jonesboro/Clayton County. "He has left such an impression on us. All of us who know him have been so touched by him that we want to help others in their battle against [ALS]."
Dowd said he is proud of Historical Jonesboro's gesture, but he added the important thing to remember is that the walk will benefit all people who have ALS, not just himself. He said it will help ALS patients by supporting research on the disease. "They are doing this for everybody with ALS, they just happen to know me," he said.
At Dowd's side throughout his battle is his wife, Carolyn. "We've been married 51 years as of [last] November," he said. Marrying her "was the best decision I ever made," he said.
The couple has two daughters, Molly and Nancy, and three grandchildren.
Carolyn Dowd said her husband was a cryptographer in the U.S. Army from 1956 to 1962, and later worked as a clerk in a probation office in Atlanta, until he retired in 1999. She said his fondness for Historical Jonesboro/Clayton County, Inc., comes from his interest in all things related to the past.
"He has always been interested in history, and that [being in Historical Jonesboro/Clayton County, Inc.], to him, was just another way to explore that interest," she said.
Carolyn Dowd said she has seen her husband's condition rapidly deteriorate since he was diagnosed by doctors at Emory University's ALS Clinic in June of last year. He has trouble gripping things with his hands, and needs the assistance of a breathing machine. His wife said he is also experiencing paralysis in his left leg.
Carolyn Dowd said watching the affects of the disease on her husband has been hard to go through. "I'm not sure I could put it into words, but it's been difficult," she said.
Jim Dowd said one of the things that's been difficult for him to come to terms with is the fact that he can no longer make baskets. He said the disease has made it impossible for him to hold the tools needed to weave them.
"When God makes a person, he gives them creativity to make things, and I'm not able to make my baskets anymore," he said. "My hands are not strong enough to do that anymore."
According to Cook, the route of next month's benefit walk will take participants down Broad Street in Jonesboro, and then right, onto Church Street. The walkers will then turn left onto Cloud Street, go past First Baptist Church of Jonesboro, and then turn right onto College Street. The walkers will then turn right onto Stewart Avenue, and then take another right, back onto Church Street.
Cook said the walkers will then turn left when they get to Riley Way, take a right onto West Mill Street, and end up back at the Jonesboro Firehouse Museum and Community Center.
Anyone who would like to sign up for "Walk With the Wind" can call Stately Oaks Plantation at (770) 473-0197.
"We'd love to have a lot of walkers out there," Cook said. "If any organizations or businesses would like to sponsor us, we will honor their sponsorship."