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Jerome Stone: Successful businessman, driving force behind Alzheimer's Association

1913 to 2015

Jerome Stone watched with deep frustration as the mysterious disease took hold of his wife, hollowing out a woman who had once brimmed with talent and a zest for life.

“The hardest thing was to see her go from a bright, lively woman — the valedictorian of her class — to someone unable to speak, unable to hear, unable to walk, incontinent, being fed by a tube the last couple of years,” Mr. Stone said in an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times in 1986.

When Mr. Stone died on Thursday, at the age of 101 in his Gold Coast home, he was remembered not so much for his personal pain, but for his life-long devotion to trying to beat Alzheimer’s, the disease that took his wife. Mr. Stone was the primary founder of what would become the Alzheimer’s Association.

“My dad just adored my mom, and when she got sick, he decided that his life’s work was going to be to cure Alzheimer’s,” said one of his three children, Cynthia Stone Raskin. “He talked to neurologists and advocates and people who were affected. At the beginning it was pure grassroots. I remember him sitting at the kitchen table making phone calls to get people to pay attention.”

Born in the city in 1913, Mr. Stone was the son of Russian Jewish immigrants. His accomplishments were many and varied. He helped build the family business, Stone Container Corporation, into a multibillion-dollar firm. He had also been chairman of Roosevelt University’s board of trustees for 15 years and was a key fundraiser in the efforts to build the current Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago.

But Mr. Stone found his life’s true purpose when his wife was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s in 1970. At the time, Mr. Stone had never heard of the disease.

“I went to the medical textbooks and in most found less than a page,” he said in the interview with the Sun-Times. “The only recommended treatment was to bring the victim to a nursing home as soon as possible.”

In his wife’s case, Mr. Stone brought the nursing home to the family home in Glencoe, said another of his daughters, Ellen Stone Belic. Evelyn Stone had full-time nursing care. And Mr. Stone did everything he could to give his wife a full life — he’d take her to see the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and to Ravinia.

“He really created an environment for her that she enjoyed,” Belic said.

Even as his wife’s condition worsened, Mr. Stone mobilized six small support groups for Alzheimer’s families nationwide. These groups served in 1980 as the foundation of what is now the Chicago-based Alzheimer’s Association. Today, there are about 80 chapters across the United States.

Evelyn Stone died in 1984, but Mr. Stone’s work was really only just beginning.

By 1990, Stone’s organization had helped make Alzheimer’s disease front-page news and led to a huge boost in federal research spending.

“It is gratifying to think that out of that crucible of emotion, anger and pain has come some good, has come something meaningful,” Mr. Stone said in 1990.

Harry Johns, the current president and CEO of the Alzheimer’s organization, first met Mr. Stone when he was in his early nineties. Mr. Stone was still vigorous, still helping raise money for the organization then, Johns said.

“He was in great shape,” Johns recalled. “I actually went by and visited him right before Thanksgiving this past year. He wasn’t the same Jerry. But I briefed him on what was going on. He seemed to enjoy that.”

In addition to his two daughters, survivors include his wife, Marion; a son, Jim Stone of Winnetka; seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Services are set for 11 a.m. Tuesday at North Shore Congregation Israel, 1185 Sheridan Road, Glencoe. Burial will follow at Shalom Memorial Park in Arlington Heights.