The so-called Longest Day has significant meaning for Linda Powers, a competitive bridge player and teacher at the St. Louis Bridge Center. On this day in June, Powers captains a fundraising event at the center.
Named for the summer solstice, the Longest Day marks the day with the most potential sunlight hours. It’s also the day where people across the world come together to fight the darkness of Alzheimer’s disease. Powers fights passionately and proudly in honor of her husband, Warren, whom the disease afflicts.
Last June, the center had its most successful year ever, raising $81,000 for the Alzheimer’s Association and ranking third nationally in games sanctioned by the American Contract Bridge League. The upcoming 2020 event will mark the seventh year that Powers will lead the center in raising funds with the powerful story of her husband.
“This is not how I thought we’d spend our golden years,” she says of life today with her husband, a former college and pro football player and college football coach. Married for 50 years, she adds: “You either accept the disease and move on, or live in misery. The biggest thing you learn with a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s is to take it one day at a time. You don’t plan or know what tomorrow will bring.”
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive disorder. It involves a continual decline in thinking, behavioral and social skills that disrupts a person’s ability to function independently. The league became a global partner of the Alzheimer’s Association several years ago. “The brain is such an integral part of playing bridge, and memory is so important when playing the game,” Powers explains. “Bridge keeps your brain healthy and exercised.”
On the Longest Day, members and guests of the center play contract bridge in the morning and may play up to three sessions during the day, each lasting about three hours. Everyone pays to play, and all profits are donated directly to the Alzheimer’s Association. A silent auction and chance raffle are also held that day to benefit the organization.
Powers encourages all members of the community to join the center. “We welcome bridge players of all ages and skill levels, and offer lessons for both beginning and advanced players,” she says. The center, a place where bridge is both taught and played, currently has 700 members and is located in Olivette.
Ironically, Powers learned to play bridge when she got married so she could become her husband’s bridge partner. “We were fixed up on our first date and married the seventh time we saw each other,” she says. Born and raised in St. Louis, Powers was a fashion merchandizing major when she got married, transferring from the University of Missouri in Columbia to Nebraska to join her husband at his new assistant coaching position. In Lincoln, she hosted a children’s Romper Room television show. She had been “Miss Linda” for seven years when her husband was offered a coaching job at Washington State University in Pullman. “Always caring and thoughtful, Warren offered to turn down the job if I wanted to stay hosting the program,” she says.
For six years, her husband was a defensive back and safety in the NFL for the Oakland Raiders. He served as head football coach at Washington State University and the University of Missouri. Powers says life as a football wife was exciting. Once married, the former pom-pom girl entertained at alumni functions and traveled with her husband’s team on the road. “A highlight was the Japan Bowl in Tokyo when Warren was coach,” she says, adding that she “rubbed noses with many celebrities and met both Presidents Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford at football functions. This never would have happened if it wasn’t for football.”
Since his diagnosis in 2011, she says, “there have been a lot of good years where we could go out and enjoy life. In the past year, he has really started to decline and is no longer conversational. One of the saddest things about this disease is that the caregiver loses their loved one twice – first to the disease and second to death. When you love someone so dearly, it is heartbreaking to watch him disappear right before your eyes.”
Powers is thankful for the friends and family who have remained close during this difficult time and for all supporters of the Longest Day, whose donations help others in their battle against Alzheimer’s disease. “The day with the most light is the day we fight,” she says.
To learn more about the St. Louis Bridge Center or to donate, call 314-569-1430.
An innate storyteller and award-winning photographer and writer, Alice Handelman provides Ladue News readers with a glimpse into lives that enrich St. Louis.