DENHAM SPRINGS — City officials received a chilly jolt Thursday when a backhoe dumped ice on their heads as part of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.
“It felt like more of a burn,” said Councilman Chris Davis as he shook the ice from the back of his neck.
Mayor Jimmy Durbin, Fire Chief Melvin Wheat, Marshall Andie Sylvester and Police Chief Scott Jones were also among city officials who accepted the challenge from Bass Pro President Jim Hagel in honor of Elaine Graves, the wife of former Livingston Parish Sheriff Willie Graves.
Elaine Graves was diagnosed with ALS in April 2013 and, since that time, has lost her ability to speak and recently received a feeding tube for additional nutrition.
“It’s overwhelming,” said Willie Graves as he fought back tears and held his wife’s hand tight, as the two watched the ice bucket challenge. “It’s humbling and encouraging to see that people are supporting ALS” research.
ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, is often referred to as Lou Gehrig’s Disease after the baseball legend whose career ended when he got the disease.
Graves credits social media for bringing information — and fundraising, which is now at approximately $100 million this year — to people worldwide. But, he said, it’s the people of Livingston Parish who have helped him and his wife get through these tough times.
Graves, who has been married to Elaine for 28 years, said the two have met ALS “head on” and maintain hope that a cure will be found.
“With that kind of insurgence of money, hopefully they can make progress on research,” Graves said. “If we’re close to (a cure), maybe this can push them over the finish line.”
Mayor Durbin said the ALS challenge and Elaine’s condition brought to the forefront of his mind his own personal health struggles.
“When I was diagnosed with cancer in 2007, it changed my view of cancer, ALS, everything,” Durbin said. He said he wants the community to know what ALS is and to research it and other types of diseases.
Durbin said he first met the Graves’ family when he was 5 years old, when his mother, a property title researcher, took him to the courthouse.
“We would go upstairs and there was Odom (Graves),” Durbin recalled. “He was chief deputy. That was my introduction to the Graves’ family.”
Since then, Durbin said, the two families have been lifelong friends.
Odom Graves later served as Livingston Parish sheriff from 1976 to 1996. Willie Graves served the parish as its sheriff from 1996 to 2012.
Graves, who has been traveling with Elaine, said they plan to continue to travel and already have plans to visit Chicago, Michigan and the Bahamas. The couple had recently returned from a trip to Alaska, he said.
“Don’t wait until you get a disease to appreciate each other or do the things you’ve always wanted to do,” Graves said.