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AU's “Hazel Louise” a Love Letter to Grandmother with Alzheimer's disease

Observer and AU Reports

Anderson University’s Dr. Deborah McEniry will star in the one-woman show “Hazel Louise,” Oct. 4 at 7:30 p.m. in the Daniel Recital Hall.  

McEniry, chair of the South Carolina School of the Arts at AU, co-wrote the  play “Hazel Louise,” with her cousin Dr. Alicia Corts as a tribute to their late grandmother Hazel Louise Corts.

The play is a love letter to their grandmother, who died in 1998, following her life from the days as a child in Illinois during the Great Depression to her final days in West Palm Beach, Florida.

“Gramz practiced kindness until it became a habit,” McEniry said. “She never spoke harshly to anyone. I think her kindness and thoughtfulness was so habitual that even though she didn’t always know much about what was happening those last few years, she still knew how to be kind and polite.” 

The play is more than a love letter, though.  

Alzheimer’s is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States, and the only one for which there is no cure or effective treatment, with more than five million suffering from the ailment. It is both progressive and incurable.  

Cindy Alewine, executive director of the Alzheimer’s Association of South Carolina, has spent nearly 30 years of her life fighting the disease. 

“The hardest part, I think, is a patient losing their memories,” Alewine said. “Families tell us it’s like losing their loved ones a little bit at a time. They are still there, of course, but they lose their ability to communicate and they lose their personality. They forget who their children and grandchildren are. And that’s so painful.”

It’s a pain McEniry knows well.  

“Even at the very end, she never got that combative spirit that can be common in Alzheimer’s patients,” McEniry said. “She didn’t know my name at the end, but she knew that I was someone she loved and so she just called me ‘sweetheart,’ and that was good enough for me.” 

McEniry hopes her performance will generate awareness that will help lead to a cure. 

“The disease has been around for a long time; Dr. Alzheimer’s discovery took place in 1906,” McEniry said. “The National Institute for Aging was formed in the 1970s. The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America was formed in 2002. Significant progress has been made, but more research is needed — particularly with an aging Baby Boomer population. My hope is that the more we can make our public aware of the disease and what it takes from the person and the person’s family, the more we can increase medical research and funding.” 

McEniry will also perform the play (under her stage name, Deborah Colleen White) Oct. 14 at the United Solo Festival on Theatre Row in New York City.

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