Native Iowans Make Gift to Benefit 6 Million Suffering From Alzheimer's Disease

By Ben Frotscher

First it was her grandfather. Then it was her mother and aunt.

For Barbara (Bartlett) Johnson, a native of Denison, Iowa, Alzheimer’s disease has touched multiple members of her family. “It’s such a devastating disease,” says Barbara, who lives in Naples, Florida, and Boulder, Colorado, with her husband, Norm Johnson, a native of Lake Mills, Iowa. “You just have to be there for them and make peace with what is happening.”

For Barbara, it’s been frustrating to watch some of her closest family members suffer from a disease that has no cure, especially her mother, Juanita, who passed away in 2004.

“It’s unfortunately too late to help my family members who have already been diagnosed, but it’s not too late to help our two kids and five grandchildren,” says Barbara. “I don’t want to see anyone else affected by this disease. That’s why we are joining the fight against Alzheimer’s.”

To honor her mother’s courageous battle, Barbara and her husband, Norm—who met while attending the University of Iowa—have made a $1 million gift to support researchers who are working to pinpoint the causes of this disease and exploring options for diagnosis, preventive care, and medication. The Johnsons have established the Juanita J. Bartlett Professorship, which is the first endowed position at Iowa to support a research-based neuroscience clinician. Professorships, such as this one, recognize distinguished faculty members.

“Due to an aging population within the state of Iowa and throughout the U.S., we are seeing an enormous increase in the number of those who suffer from cognitive disorders,” says Ted Abel, director of the Iowa Neuroscience Institute. “This generous investment from Norm and Barb will help our researchers transform the understanding, prevention, detection, and treatment of cognitive disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease.”

This is the Johnsons’ second named professorship at the UI. In 2013, the Johnsons established the Paul N. Johnson Professorship Fund, Craniofacial Abnormalities, which was named in honor of Norm’s father. They also contributed $500,000 for a surgical operating room inside the new UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital.

While no longer living in the state of Iowa, the Johnsons still consider it home and remain loyal Hawkeye fans.

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