People describe William “Billy” Marsa, the co-founder of the Edythe and Herbert Kay Parkinson Chapter, as “a force of nature.” He’s as passionate today about helping people living with Parkinson’s disease (PD) as he was when he began the local organization in 2008. This year marked a new beginning for the Chapter when it merged under the Parkinson’s Foundation on January 1. Billy’s passion and dedication ― united with the Parkinson’s Foundation broad reach ― expands their joint goal: making life better for people living with PD.
The Chapter, a longtime bedrock for people with Parkinson’s in the Miami, FL, Aventura community, included nearly 250 active members, many of whom participate annually in Moving Day, A Walk for Parkinson’s, in Miami and Broward.
Broad Support Fueled Success
The MAR-JCC, a Parkinson’s Foundation community grant recipient, is home to Chapter activities. Members enjoy weekly PD-tailored classes such as Tai Chi, yoga, speech therapy, Latin rhythmic exercise and dance, along with three weekly boxing classes, in partnership with the local Rock Steady Boxing affiliate. Other offerings included caregiver sessions and speech therapy. The chapter will continue to offer these classes.
“We had something for everyone,” Billy Marsa said. “It was a beautiful program.”
In addition to PD classes, the chapter hosted golf tournaments, fundraisers and received Foundation grants. The Chapter has close ties to the University of Miami (UM) Center for Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders, a Parkinson’s Foundation Centers of Excellence. Neurologist and Chapter medical advisor Dr. Julie Schwartzbard held events discussing PD dementia, while other speakers covered everything from PD physical therapy to emerging medical cannabis research.
A Foundation Rooted in Love
When Edythe “Edy” Kay Marsa ― a longtime Parkinson’s Foundation board of directors member who also served on several committees ― lost her first husband, Herbert Kay, to Parkinson’s, she continued to fight on behalf of those living with the disease.
After Herbert passed away, Edy had a chance reunion with childhood sweetheart and widower, William “Billy” Marsa. Fate brought the pair together again after Herbert’s passing. They married, and in 2008, Billy, who will be 93 in April ― along Arnold Oblonsky, who passed in 2013 and Millard Cummins, who passed in 2019 ― founded the Herbert Kay Parkinson Chapter, as a surprise to Edy. The Chapter was renamed to include Edythe after her 2018 passing.
Billy credits the Chapter’s success to Edythe and countless supporters. “I had a lot of help from a lot of different people,” he said, naming co-founders, the board of directors, volunteers, MAR-JCC leaders and staff, Drs. Singer and Schwartzbard, and many others.
In 2011, the Parkinson Foundation presented Billy with the HOPE Award for Community Leadership, honoring his tireless work on behalf of people living with Parkinson’s. And at an April 2017 luncheon held in his honor, Aventura Mayor Enid Weisman, one of 120 attendees, declared it “Billy Marsa Day.”
It Takes a Village
Billy said Chapter executive director Dr. Judith Stein and board member Alan Slewett “have really kept it going for me” over the last few years. “Judy Stein has done a marvelous job, and Alan Slewett took over where his father left off,” he said.
Judy’s late husband Jeffrey lived with Lewy body dementia, a common progressive brain disease, diagnosed when PD motor symptoms and cognitive decline happen around the same time and progress together. She and Jeffrey both supported the Chapter. Judy stayed actively involved after Jeffrey’s 2012 passing, serving as executive director 2012 to 2019.
Chapter board member and emeritus Parkinson’s Foundation Board of Directors’ member Alan Slewett is a longtime champion in the battle against PD, as was his late father Nathan, a nearly 50-year force behind the Parkinson’s Foundation.
In honor of Billy, Judy, Alan and Edy, and the many others who drove the Chapter’s success, the Parkinson’s Foundation is continuing the MAR-JCC relationship and will offer future Aventura area activities under the “Edythe and Herbert Kay Parkinson Initiative.” Now integrated into the Foundation, Chapter members have expanded access to PD resources, including educational communications, outreach and quarterly meetings, free of charge.
To discover Parkinson’s disease resources and services in your area, including exercise and wellness classes, education programs and support groups, visit Parkinson.org/Search