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Olmsted County Sheriff's deputy uses challenge coins to start Alzheimer's research fundraiser

Michael Gengler, a deputy with the Olmsted County Sheriff's Office, created challenge coins to sell with the proceeds to go toward Alzheimer's research. After watching his own family struggle with the disease, Gengler said he wants "to raise the money to try to make a bigger difference for future generations so the disease maybe can go away."

Asked and Answered - Deputy Michael Gengler
With the help of the Deputy Sheriff's Association, Deputy Michael Gengler, with the Olmsted County Sheriff's Office, created challenge coins to help raise funds for the Alzheimer's Association: Minnesota-North Dakota Chapter. Deputy Gengler is photographed Thursday, May 19, 2022, outside the city-county Government Center in Rochester.
Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin
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ROCHESTER — A day doesn't go by where Olmsted County Sheriff's Deputy Michael Gengler doesn't think about it.

The 33-year-old, who lives in Dodge Center, watched painfully for years as his grandfather suffered from Alzheimer's disease, and worries the disease will continue through his family.

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After years of knowing he wanted to try and make a difference against the disease, a plan – or fundraiser – has come to fruition for Gengler.

On Monday, May 16, 2022, Gengler and the sheriff's office announced the creation of challenge coins that can be purchased for $10 with all proceeds going to the Alzheimer's Association: Minnesota-North Dakota Chapter, which will be presented to the chapter after the Walk to End Alzheimer's Disease on Aug. 27, 2022, in Rochester.

Gengler spoke with the Post Bulletin about the cause and what it means to him.

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Just starting out here, when did the idea of putting together a fundraiser first come about for you?

It kind of started back in September or October. Our office did the Breast Cancer Awareness pins that were painted with a little sheriff's star. And that kind of got me thinking about why don't we do something for Alzheimer's disease. It's affected my family, and I did some talking around and a lot of people that I talked to have people and family members that suffer from Alzheimer's or dementia or memory loss, which the Alzheimer's Association covers all three of those. So that's why that idea came up to do something that would raise some funding.

So then I started looking around to figure out when is Alzheimer's Awareness Month or is there something local that we could do. And the month kind of changes from here and there, so I wasn't really sure which month to do. And then I reached out to the Alzheimer's Association here at Rochester and they have a walk in August. And I'm like, "Let's do something for that." And that's when I made the coins, back probably in March, and we made the order, got it approved, got the ball rolling. We just started to sell them to raise money for Alzheimer's Association here in Rochester.

And so what's it been like to see this fundraiser finally coming to fruition?

It kind of gives me a little bit of like the chills the fact that it's actually happening. It's funny, when I first brought it up to certain people they were like, "Well, as long as you save five for me or save some for me because I'm gonna buy some." And then when I told a buddy that, "Hey, the rest are ready to go," he's selling them downstairs in the office for me. And he saw them and he's like, "I've already bought six." And then I've already had people before they were on sale actually giving me money to pay for them.

So I only had 300 made because I didn't know if they were going to go, but I'm like "Should I have made more?" I just looked at the Facebook posts and people are wanting to donate money. That's awesome.

Asked and Answered - Deputy Michael Gengler
With the help of the Deputy Sheriff's Association, Deputy Michael Gengler, with the Olmsted County Sheriff's Office, created challenge coins to help raise funds for the Alzheimer's Association: Minnesota-North Dakota Chapter. Deputy Gengler is photographed Thursday, May 19, 2022, outside the city-county Government Center in Rochester.
Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin

How has Alzheimer's disease affected your family?

When I was little, I don't remember much, but my great-grandmother had it. And when I was in my teens, my grandpa came down with it. And I remember seeing him understanding everything to the point where he had no idea who I was. And that kind of hit me hard because he was kind of like a role model to me.

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When he passed away, it was kind of like, "Okay, this disease is really crappy and it runs in my family, and I want to do something to raise research (money) for it. But I just never knew how and then when it came to law enforcement, we got involved in a lot of community service type stuff and then I just decided one day, let's do it. So I just wanted to get some research out there and maybe try to end the disease or get more funding to help people help families get through that hard time.

With how long this disease has affected your family, how long have you known you've wanted to try and make some difference against it?

I always wanted to get something going with it. I actually became a cop when I was 24, so I just kind of moved around a little bit, and then I ended up here. And I noticed Olmsted County likes to get involved with a lot of stuff, and I appreciate that they do that, and I wanted to help out and get into something else. And like I said, I've been a cop since I was 24, and I've never seen anybody do anything with Alzheimer's disease.

I've seen like MS and breast cancer and the Special Olympics, but I don't see anything for Alzheimer's disease and the disease covers a lot of people.

It's well-known that Alzheimer's has a high risk of being hereditary, so do you have concern yourself about contracting it one day, and if so, how has it made you push this initiative even more?

Yeah, it's something I think about every day. I'll look at stuff on how to make your mind a little bit stronger to prevent it. But yeah, that's something that's always been on the back of my mind. I may have it when I get up into that age group, and I want to be able to make sure that maybe there's something by then, if not, at least hopefully for my little one that there is something in the next 40 to 50 years that will help us.

For people who maybe share the same concerns as you, what are some of the exercises you've learned to do to strengthen your mind?

I've been kind of told to do stuff that's more critical thinking like Sudoku is something that makes your mind a little bit stronger. Doing like crossword puzzles, doing stuff like complex 1,000 piece puzzle, stuff like that thinking where it makes you think, look at stuff, just make sure it's like kind of like exercising your brain a little bit because your brain is going to be working when you're doing that.

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What does this whole cause just mean to you on a personal level?

It's just, to me, it's more of like I just want to make a little bit of difference for this organization. I know it's not going to cure it, it's not going to end it, but if by the time my little one becomes 34 years old, maybe (it will). So hopefully, that's another 40 years or so that this disease has some way of slowing it down or even a cure by then.

Like I said, by the time it gets to me it's probably going to be too late, but I want to start making a difference now against this disease because it's crappy seeing someone losing memories that they have and then they have no idea who you are the next day. It's just it kind of tears me up inside. So that's why it's something for me to raise the money to try to make a bigger difference for future generations so the disease maybe can go away.

How to donate

Coins can be purchased for $10 each at two locations at the Olmsted County Government Center in Rochester during regular business hours (8 a.m. to 4 p.m.):

  1. Civil Warrants counter on the second floor.
  2. The front desk of the Adult Detention Center.

The sheriff's office is asking for exact cash or check when making a purchase. Donations of $10 or more are accepted. Checks can be made out to the "Deputy Sheriff's Association."
Purchasing the coin online is not available, but Gengler encouraged anyone who wants to make a donation online to go to the Alzheimer's Association website at alz.org .

Erich is a digital content producer at the Post Bulletin where he creates content for the Post Bulletin's digital platforms. Before he moved to Rochester, Erich worked as a sports reporter for Rivals.com covering the University of Illinois' athletic programs in Champaign, Illinois. Readers can reach Erich at 507-285-7681 or efisher@postbulletin.com.
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