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Tucsonans walk to fund search for ALS cure

By Holly Wells
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday, November 9, 2004
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A man who worked at the UA for 17 years and was forced to retire after he was diagnosed with a fatal disease is encouraging students and staff to participate in a walk to raise money for research for Lou Gehrig's disease.

Mike Wetzel, 45, managed the UA catering department and campus convenience stores before retiring in September 2003 after being diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, more commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease.

Wetzel, who cannot talk because of the disease, wrote in an e-mail that ALS is a disease many people don't know about, but it affects 30,000 people nationwide.

ALS is a fatal neuromuscular disease that attacks motor neurons, making movements such as walking, communicating and eating nearly impossible. The disease usually claims the lives of those affected within two to five years from the time of onset. Wetzel was diagnosed with ALS in August 2001. There is no known cure for the disease.

Walk to DeFeet ALS will take place at Reid Park, 1030 S. Randolph Way, Saturday. Registration is from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m., and the walk will begin afterward. The walk is a fund-raising event to support local patient services and research at the national level.

Wetzel said in the e-mail he enjoyed his time at the UA and misses being on campus every day.

David Galbraith, director of dining services, worked with Wetzel for several years and said he has contributed money to the walk.

"It's important to raise money for continued research, especially when you have personal experience with how devastating it is," Galbraith said.

Several people within the dining services department are participating in the walk in one way or another, Galbraith said.

Galbraith said Wetzel had the hardest job in the department and said Wetzel always kept his cool and never lost it.

"He never missed a day of work, he was never sick," Galbraith said.

Galbraith said Wetzel had a great sense of humor and was often a prankster behind the scenes.

Wetzel is still connected to the department through the Internet and knows everything that's going on, Galbraith said. Wetzel still receives all the e-mails about meetings and other issues within the department.

Wetzel is also connected in another way; his father, Alan Wetzel, took over his old job.

"He really enjoys still being connected to the department," said Alan Wetzel.

Alan Wetzel worked in a grocery store for 38 years and owned a chain of markets in Illinois before coming out of retirement to take the job at the UA.

Alan Wetzel and his wife Peg moved from Oklahoma to Tucson in January 2003 to help take care of Mike.

Galbraith said it was Mike's experience in his dad's grocery stores that helped move the dining services department more towards grocery stores. Galbraith said it is for this reason that Highland Market, the first grocery store on campus, is dedicated to Mike Wetzel.

"He's always had an interest in grocery stores; he grew up in the grocery business," Alan Wetzel said of his son.

Alan said his son is planning on being at the walk and will be there as long as he doesn't get sick.

The walk at Reid Park is one of four walks held annually by the Arizona chapter of the ALS association. Walks are also held in Flagstaff, Prescott and Tempe.

Wetzel said any students, faculty or staff interested in participating in the walk can go to to join a team or make a donation. Wetzel said his team is called Mike's Wildcat Walkers.

Alan Wetzel said at least 50 people are signed up to participate on his son's team and said they are expecting even more people to attend.

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