Fighting Parkinson’s Together Fifth annual fundraiser comes to Maple Lake on April 11


The Shanks and Henjum families have been getting together for years to raise money and awareness for Parkinson’s Disease. The disease, which affects the central nervous system, has personally touched both families, who were friends long before Parkinson’s entered their lives.
Claire Austin of Maple Lake helped kick-start an annual fundraiser after her father, Ed Shanks (now age 66), was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. Then, four years ago, family friend, Nancy Henjum (now 46), was also diagnosed. Henjum is the daughter of Mary Henjum, who was an elementary teacher in Maple Lake for 34 years, and Dan Henjum, who was the high school choir director for a number of years.
The two families joined up to hold an annual Parkinson’s fundraiser in the area. This year’s fifth annual fundraiser has moved from Monticello to The V in Maple Lake. It will be held on Saturday, April 11, from 3 p.m. to midnight. A silent auction and lunch/dinner buffet will run from 3-5 p.m., with a suggested donation of $5 for children and $10 for adults. A live auction will follow, and the rock ’n roll cover band Outside Recess will take the stage from 8 p.m. to midnight. There is no cover charge for the band, but free-will donations for Parkinson’s research are appreciated.
“Every year, it gets a little more exciting,” Austin said, adding that the live auction was new last year. This year, the location has changed and they’ve added a band. “We continue to keep growing.”
Businesses and individuals have donated items and gift baskets to the live and silent auctions. In previous years, these items have included hotel stays, a Mall of America swag bag, fire pit, liquor baskets, fishing and hunting gear, quilts, jewelry, gift cards and more. 
Donations have come from local businesses in Maple Lake, Monticello, Annandale and Buffalo, as well as from places in the Twin Cities and home-made items from area residents.
“I feel like we’ve gotten really good support,” said Austin, who is a special education teacher in the Delano School District.
Every year the fundraiser has grown, and roughly $11,000 was raised last year. Austin estimates that over the past four years, the group has raised more than $30,000. None of the money goes to the families involved, but instead all past proceeds have gone to the National Parkinson Foundation of Minnesota (NPFM), which is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the lives of those who are affected by Parkinson’s. This year, a portion of the proceeds will also be donated to the Michael J. Fox Foundation For Parkinson’s Research, which focuses on research and finding a cure.
“I’m excited for a couple of reasons. First, it’s in my hometown of Maple Lake. Second, we’re trying some new ideas for the fundraiser this year,” Henjum said.
The money earned at the local fundraiser is brought to the annual NPFM Moving Day event, which is a nationally-organized walk that raises money for Parkinson’s. The Shanks and Henjum team, which calls itself “Stomping Out Parkinson’s,” was the top donor at the event in 2013.
The group is excited to be giving a portion of their 2015 proceeds to the Michael J. Fox Foundation.
“We focus on this big fundraiser,” said Austin. “It’s such a big issue world-wide. It’s an important thing to find a cure.”
“It’s sad that it’s taken celebrities like Robin Williams and Michael J. Fox to bring it to the public’s attention,” Henjum said. “But it’s really great that people are becoming more aware of the disease and its impact.”
The causes of Parkinson’s Disease are not all known, although genetics and environmental factors may be involved in some cases. The Shanks have learned that there is likely a connection between the disease and Ed Shanks’ time in the Vietnam War, where he came in contact with Agent Orange.
The families hope their fundraiser will increase awareness about the disease. Symptoms associated with Parkinson’s include loss of muscle function and dexterity, tremors, memory and speech loss, and a loss of communication between the brain and muscles. Medications can ease the symptoms, but not eliminate them. And many medications have their own side effects. 
“This is a progressive disese and unique to each person.” Henjum said. “There is a strong likelihood I will end up in a wheelchair, but I don’t know how or when. And I don’t want to lose today worrying about tomorrow.”
Any businesses or individuals that would like to make a donation to the silent or live auction should contact Claire Austin at 612-245-9571. If you are unable to attend the April 11 fundraiser but would like to make a cash donation online, please visit