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For Duluth couple, the Glen Campbell documentary was personal

Tim and Char Davern walk down the hall to meet the van which will bring Tim to Adult Day Services. Tim attends the day services seven hours, four times a week. (Photo by Naomi Yaeger)1 / 2
Duluthians Char and Tim Davern sit on their couch in their home beside Lester River and reminisce about their life together. (Photo by Naomi Yaeger)2 / 2

A flyer for Glen Campbell's movie "I'll Be Me" rested on the kitchen counter on Char and Tim Davern's kitchen on last week's snowy Friday morning.

Char placed the morning mail on the counter beside the program of her Lester River Condominium after helping Tim board the van to adult day care.

Char and Tim met at a party in southern Minnesota in 1972. In 1973 they married.

"He spoiled me rotten. He was so loving and appreciated what I did as a housewife," Char said of her husband.

Tim is a 1964 graduate of Duluth East High School. Char is 1966 graduate of Huntley High School. The couple made their home on Cooke Street in Duluth's Lakeside neighborhood for much of their marriage, raising their daughter Colleen.

For Char and Tim Davern, the movie was personal. People can watch the movie "to get an understanding of what it's like to live with someone (with dementia ) 24/7," Char said.

The Budgeteer sat down to visit with the couple the day after the special showing of "I'll Be Me."

Tim was the plant manager for a peat moss operation in Floodwood before his forced retirement in 2010, but had a hard time finding the words to explain what he had done for a living.

"Ah, what would you call it ... when you put ... mostly heavy maintenance ... that would be heavy equipment, repair or built," he said, when asked what he did for a living before he retired.

"Manufacturing?" Char offered.

"Yeah," he said.

"But what was your position?" asked his wife.

"Boss," he replied.

Tim had worked as a supervisor at Syngenta, a peat moss facility in Floodwood, for 18 years. The facility had gone through changes of ownership.

In 2010 Tim told Char about getting lost in the fog a couple of times on his drive to work, but Char said she hadn't noticed anything wrong, other than what she would consider normal stress from a workplace going through ownership changes. In October, the personnel department from the company made a special visit with Tim and required him to get a six-hour evaluation at Essentia. He was 64, diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment and put on a leave of absence. Six months later in April 2011, he was put on disability, essentially a forced retirement. Tim had hoped to continue working until he was 67.

"He was really upset when he was forced to retire," Char said.

According to the Mayo Clinic, mild cognitive impairment is an intermediate stage between the expected cognitive decline of normal aging and the more serious decline of dementia. It can involve problems with memory, language, thinking and judgment that are greater than normal age-related changes.

Looking back, Char says that during a special trip to Hawaii in September 2010 her sister, Donna, told her that Tim would go into a panic whenever Char was not in the room. At the airport, Tim had a hard time realizing that he could see his family members through a glass wall yet he could not walk through the glass.

Phil Coffman, the shuttle van driver from adult day service, called during the interview to inform the Daverns that the van would arrive at their condo in a few minutes.

Char assisted Tim in putting on his coat.

Tim put up a little fuss about getting ready for Adult Day Care.

"Not gonna happen," he said. "No, I don't like to do this. I've got 40 years of magazines and important stuff (to read)."

But Tim said he knew that Char needed her "beauty rest." He put on his coat and arm-in-arm, they walked down the condominium hallway to the van.

"Once he gets there he's OK," Char said. She said Tim's humor comes out while he's with others at the day services, an aspect she fondly remembers from Davern family get-togethers, but when Tim is at home he is mostly quiet.

Tim attends the Benediction Adult Day Services four times a week. The day services last seven hours and he gets a lunch and an afternoon snack. They have activities, games, time with children from daycare and a nap time.

On Valentine's Day the couple went out to dinner. Char said she thought some patrons of the restaurant noticed something was amiss."There are times that I feel that people are misjudging him ... He will shuffle ... People are thinking he's had too much to drink."

Char said she enjoyed the humor in the Campbell movie, especially when Campbell talked like Donald Duck at Mayo Clinic. "Tim did that because the kids loved it," she recalled.

Another scene she related to was when Campbell's wife had to go into another room while Campbell ate.

Char says the movie will show a lot of people what caregiving spouses and family members go through. "It gets very stressful," she said. "This is not what I wanted. I was looking forward to travel and retirement," Char said.

Though Tim's company's mandatory mental assessment was not welcome at the time, Char said, "I'm glad they did."

Char says some have encouraged her to put Tim in a home, but for now she is finding the assistance she and Tim need at Adult Day Services and the Alzheimer's support groups.

If you or a loved one think you might have Alzheimer's disease, Contact the Alzheimer’s Association for more information. “We here to help,” said Brenda Beard Conley of Alzheimer's Association Minnesota-North Dakota, which has an office in Canal Park. “We are here to do care consultations for families and get them in touch with community resources.” Go to or call (218) 733-2560 or (800) 272-3900.

Naomi Yaeger

Naomi Yaeger is a freelance writer and the former editor of the Budgeteer. See her blog at