As students are returning to schools across the nation, The ALS Association is proud to announce the award of $500,000 in scholarships to 100 students for the 2021-2022 school year through The Jane Calmes ALS Scholarship Fund. Established in 2019, the fund was created to support post-high school education for students whose lives have been impacted by ALS. Since its inception, we have awarded $1,195,000 in 239 scholarships for students nationwide who are pursuing an accredited college degree or vocational certificate.
Mark Calmes, a member of The ALS Association’s National Board of Trustees, started the scholarship fund in honor of his late wife, Jane, who fought ALS for eight years and passed away in August 2017. “The financial burden of ALS is devastating to families, and kids are all too often collateral damage. The disease forces many students to delay their education so they can pitch in as caregivers, while others lose the financial ability to attend school altogether,” said Mark. “I’m very pleased the fund is able to help some of these students get back on the education path that was disrupted by ALS.”
We recently talked with Ally Halverson, one of this year’s award recipients, to learn a little more about her personal connection to ALS, what receiving the scholarship means to her, and what her future plans are in healthcare.
The Jane Calmes ALS Scholarship Fund was established to help people who have been impacted by ALS pursue their education. What is your personal connection to ALS?
I lost my father in 2016 after an 8-month long battle with ALS. Not long after, I was living on my own at 16 years old. As a high school student, I was now not only considering where to go to college, but where I was going to live, how I was going to pay my bills, and if a post-secondary education was even financially possible. Growing up, my father always stressed the importance of an education. Whether that be a 2 or 4-year degree, he made it a point that our education should always be a priority in our lives. He worked extremely hard to save up money for our college educations, but after his diagnosis, he lost nearly all his savings for medical care. I was able to get enough scholarships to start school at The University of Iowa in the fall of 2018. I’m currently entering my senior year and studying psychology, which was motivated because of my father’s ALS diagnosis.
It’s estimated that more than 60 percent of people don’t know what ALS is. What do you wish people knew about the disease?
ALS doesn’t affect one person; it affects the person that is diagnosed as well as everyone they know. The diagnosis of ALS comes with the certainty of death. It is the certainty of someone losing their life along with others losing a parent, sibling, spouse, and/or child. There are no treatments or cures for ALS, just different medications to ease the experience of the disease and prolong the life expectancy from the diagnosis. ALS is often judged as other neurological diseases or illnesses, and it has often progressed quite far by the time a true diagnosis is reached, if it is reached. Following my father’s ALS diagnosis, he developed and was diagnosed with dementia as well. This is also very common with certain types of ALS and can cause an ALS diagnosis to be overlooked or missed. Because of the largely unknown aspect of the disease, it is greatly overlooked when it comes to treatment, research, and funding.
How will the Jane Calmes ALS Scholarship Fund impact your future?
The Jane Calmes ALS Scholarship Fund will lift the weight of the financial burden that comes with college off my shoulders. It is so hard to obtain the knowledge that college provides when your mind is constantly worrying about how you’re going to pay for the class that you’re sitting in. When that financial burden is lifted, you’re not only able to focus on why you’re there, but you’re able to feel that you’re there for a reason. The gift that the Jane Calmes ALS Scholarship Fund provided to me has given me even more motivation to go to college and has made me feel that there is a network of people that truly believe in me. Without this scholarship, a college degree could have been a possibility, but because of this scholarship, it is a certainty. The scholarship not only provides me a means to an education, but it diminishes the stress of facing student debt after college.
What are you studying and why?
I am entering my senior year at The University of Iowa, where I am studying psychology. I will graduate with a B.S. in psychology and a minor in mass communication studies. I entered college motivated to study psychological and brain sciences after my experience with ALS, and that’s exactly what I’m doing. After losing my father to ALS, I began trying to research the disease, and I found how little there was to read. While ALS is currently untreatable, the additional burden of the lack of resources to inform family members and patients is avoidable. Through my classes, I have been able to learn more about neurological diseases, and I’ve had the opportunity to get connected with professors that can answer some of my questions about ALS. I hope that in the future, I will be able to provide these types of resources to people outside of just students and professionals studying psychology and brain sciences. I feel that by studying psychology, I am pursuing my passion as well as setting myself up to approach burdens, such as ALS, from a wide array of angles.
What do you like to do when you aren’t in school?
After my dad passed from ALS in 2016, I started volunteering with The ALS Association Iowa Chapter. Through this non-profit organization, I got matched with an ALS patient. I started in-home care for him in 2018, and still am continuing to do so. I also volunteer at my local Walk to Defeat ALS® every fall. Outside of volunteering, I enjoy spending time with my friends downtown in Iowa City, going to college football games, and finding new crime documentaries to binge on Netflix. I also work part-time at U.S. Cellular, so I spend quite a bit of my time there when I’m not in class. I also enjoy traveling and got to do so through my internship at Collins Aerospace this summer.
Special thanks to Ally Halverson for allowing us to share her story with the ALS community. To learn more about her, listen to our recent Connecting ALS podcast, "Helping Students Affected By ALS Overcome Financial Hardships…".
More About Jane Calmes:
The Jane Calmes ALS Scholarship Fund honors Jane’s courageous spirit, her love of family, and her belief in the importance of education.
Jane Calmes was born in Coffeyville, Kansas, and spent her youth in Neodesha, Kansas. She attended Kansas University and later graduated Magna Cum Laude from Wichita State University in 1980 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Health Science/Dental Hygiene. Jane was an accomplished dental hygienist and loved working with the public, all the while providing a necessary service with gentle thoroughness, for which she was noted. She married Mark Calmes in 1980 and together they had four children.
Jane was also an ALS hero, having fought the disease for eight years through pure grit and determination. Early on in her journey with ALS, the family formed a very successful Walk to Defeat ALS® team in her honor named Jane’s Angels, which continues today. Jane passed away peacefully at home on August 16, 2017, in the arms of her husband and surrounded by her loving family.