Verona-Kinsman gathers for walk in memory of longtime fire chief

In 2013, Verona-Kinsman Fire Chief Paul Anderson retired from the department after 39 years of service, 25 of which were spent as chief, due to his failing health. He was experiencing weakness in his foot, which led him to several doctors, countless tests and eventually, in early 2017, to Chicago where he received a diagnosis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).     
Anderson passed away April 26, after a brief battle with this neuromuscular disease. He was 71.
ALS is a rapidly progressive disease that causes muscle weakness, difficulty speaking and swallowing, and generally, complete paralysis. In most cases, while the body continues to deteriorate, the mind remains unaffected.
Anderson’s family and fire department co-workers witnessed his quick decline. Shortly after the diagnosis, he lost the ability to walk and had difficulty speaking.     EMS Coordinator Melissa Dunning made weekly home visits to catch up with her friend, and help, as needed.
Facing many unknown factors, the Andersons relied on the Chicago-area Les Turner ALS Foundation for guidance and advice as they coped with ALS.
To show their support for the Les Turner ALS Foundation, Dunning and Tracy Schmaedeke are planning a charity walk and open house to coincide with and benefit the Les Turner ALS Foundation’s ALS Walk for Life.
On Sept. 16, as many as 100 people are expected to gather at Verona-Kinsman Fire Station #1 in Verona. Registration will open at 9 a.m. and the 2.1 mile walk will begin at 11 a.m. with a celebratory, family-friendly open house to follow. The Anderson family will lead the walk as grand marshals.
At the Les Turner ALS Foundation’s event, participants walk as teams with creative monikers. Locally, the group will join together as the team “Walk to Extinguish ALS: In Memory of Chief Paul Anderson.”  
The Les Turner ALS Foundation’s ALS Walk for Life will be held at Soldier Field in Chicago, and is expected to attract more than 7,000 participants. In its 16-year history, the ALS Walk for Life has raised more than $12 million for research, patient services and educational activities.
“We’re fortunate to have a tight-knit, supportive community where people are quick to help one another, so when we heard about the ALS Walk for Life planned in Chicago, we knew we could successfully re-create our own virtual walk on the same day,” Dunning said. “So far, the response from neighbors, fire department employees and volunteers, and local businesses has been extremely generous. We’re looking forward to a strong turnout for both the walk and the open house, and hope to donate at least $1,000 to the Les Turner ALS Foundation in Paul’s memory.”
Founded in 1977, the Les Turner ALS Foundation is Chicago’s leader in research, patient care and education about ALS, serving the vast majority of people with ALS in the area, offering help and hope when it’s needed most. One of the nation’s largest, independent ALS organizations, the Foundation allocates all funds to local research, clinical care and support services for people with ALS in the Chicagoland area.
 The Foundation’s full spectrum patient service programs include in-home consultations, support groups, equipment loans, grants and educational activities.
The Foundation offers hope for a future without ALS by supporting the Les Turner ALS Research and Patient Center at Northwestern Medicine, bringing together three research laboratories and a multi-disciplinary patient clinic under one umbrella.
“We are inspired by Melissa and Tracy’s creativity and dedication, and our walkers will be thinking of those gathered 80 miles away in Grundy County on Sept. 16,” said Andrea Pauls Backman, executive director of the Les Turner ALS Foundation. “The local walk is a perfect tribute to the Anderson family and all people affected by ALS.”
Local sponsors include Linda Anderson, Cal’s Printing, Casey's General Store, Coal City Auxiliary Police Department, FS, Straightway Dairy, Verona-Kinsman Fire Protection District Board and Walmart.