Lawrence resident, motorcycle enthusiast battling Alzheimer’s taken on one last ride

photo by: Mike Yoder

Lawrence resident Betsy Walters, who has advanced Alzheimer's disease, takes a motorcycle ride in a sidecar with Steven King on Sunday around the neighborhood of Brandon Woods' memory care facility where Walters is a resident. Personnel with Avalon Hospice organized the ride for Walters, a former Harley rider and rock 'n' roller. Walters' son Josh, of Topeka, brought along his Harley group Silent Brothers of Eastern Kansas, for a couple of loops.

Wearing a black leather motorcycle jacket with a patch reading “Lady Rider” and a do-rag with flames and skull, 77-year-old Betsy Walters took her final ride on a motorcycle Sunday.

Her son Josh Walters wouldn’t even hazard a guess at how many motorcycle rides his mother had taken in her life or even how many years she rode.

“Motorcycles were a big part of her life for 15 to 20 years — if not longer,” said Josh, explaining that by motorcycles he meant “nothing else” but Harley-Davidsons.

For the past two years, his mother has been a patient fighting advanced Alzheimer’s disease at the memory care center of Brandon Woods complex, Josh said. A short ride in a sidecar was a wish on his mother’s bucket list.

“She’s declining,” he said as he and five other family members waited for the motorcycle and sidecar to arrive at the parking lot. “She’s pretty much non-verbal. She did smile when she saw me the other day. I bet she smiles when she hears that motorcycle start up.”

Betsy owned her own customized pan-head Harley-Davidson trike for years, Josh said. She was a spokeswoman as well as a rider and involved with the motorcycle rider’s advocacy group, ABATE.

Although the organization now goes by a number of more politically correct names, it was A Brotherhood Against Totalitarian Enactments during Betsy’s involvement, said longtime friend Dodie Coker, who was one of 15 friends who brought their motorcycles to join Betsy on her last ride. That aggressive name was certainly the attitude Betsy brought to her advocacy against mandatory helmet laws and other issues as the organization’s district representative and the editor of a newsletter, which Coker said she helped typeset.

“I got my first bike because of her,” Coker said. “She loaned me the money to buy a trike and allowed me to make payments on it when I could.”

Cheryl Culver, patient care coordinator at Avalon Hospice, said Betsy still responded to her motorcycle past.

“When the nurses come to take her for a bath, they’ll grab her hand and twist and go ‘rurrrr, rurrrr,'” she said. “That always makes her smile.”

Culver said the bucket list bike ride was the idea of Avalon staff with a hope it would stir some of Betsy’s memories. It was made possible through the efforts of staff member Steven King.

“I ride,” King said. “Through a friend of a friend, I found a motorcycle with a sidecar.”

The bike with sidecar was a Russian-made Ural rather than a Harley, but Coker said that didn’t stop Betsy from enjoying the short ride. She was confident it did bring back memories of her old friend’s motorcycling days and the many friendships she made with those who shared her passion.

“I’m sure it did,” she said. “When I think about Betsy, I think of her sitting with a cup of coffee in her hand, a smile on her face and on the phone with someone talking about motorcycles.”