Former Madison journalist Dave Iverson is back with a moving memoir of caring for his mom

"Winter Stars" takes a look back at the time when Iverson tended for his centenarian mom.
Adelaide At Stanford Game
Photo by Reesa Tansey
Adelaide Iverson after throwing out the first pitch at a Stanford University baseball game in 2006. Dave Iverson is in the foreground.

When passionate Stanford University sports fan Adelaide Iverson threw out the first pitch at a Cardinals home game in 2006, the Stanford coach complimented her throwing arm.

Iverson was then 94.

A few years earlier, when she quit driving, Iverson took cabs to the Stanford campus and impressed a cabbie with her knowledge of the surroundings so much so that he asked, “Did you know Leland Stanford?”

Iverson hadn’t known the founder of Stanford University, who died in 1893.

But she was a force, having graduated high school at 16, college at 20. She’d been a teacher and president of the local chapter of the League of Women voters. Iverson had tutored women at the San Mateo County Jail. Not long after pitching at Stanford, she made phone calls to get out the vote for Barack Obama.

Yet around that time, Iverson’s bout of pneumonia — and some atypical moments of confusion — caused her son, the broadcast journalist and documentary filmmaker Dave Iverson, age 59, to move back in with his mother to help care for her.

“As she was 95,” Dave said recently, “I didn’t think it would be a decade-long experience.”

Adelaide lived to 105.

Iverson also couldn’t imagine that those 10 years would prove among the most exhausting, infuriating and richly rewarding of his life.

Or that they would lead him to write “Winter Stars,” to be published March 22, a memoir Publishers Weekly recently called “a deeply moving account” of the mother-son journey and the extraordinary caregivers who helped along the way. I will be discussing the new book with Iverson on April 12 at Mystery to Me bookstore.

Longtime Wisconsin residents will remember Dave Iverson. Having grown up in the San Francisco area, he joined Wisconsin Public Television in 1979. In 1991, Iverson began a nine-year run co-hosting WPT’s popular Friday night news show, “WeekEnd.”

He left the program to become executive director of the national Best Practices in Journalism project, a post he continued upon relocating back to the Bay Area in 2004, where he also hosted a show on KQED public radio.

Iverson was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in the early 2000s (as were his father and brother before him) and subsequently made two acclaimed documentary films dealing with the disease.

The first, very personal, was 2009’s “My Father, My Brother and Me.” The second, was 2015’s “Capturing Grace,” which centered on a group of people with Parkinson’s who took dance classes and eventually staged a performance at the famed Mark Morris Dance Center in New York.

Iverson’s Parkinson’s has been slow-progressing and his medications have worked well.

“I’m extraordinarily lucky,” he says.

Having made the film about Parkinson’s in his family gave him insight into the power and pitfalls of telling such a personal story, as the tale of taking care of his mother would inevitably be.

“I thought it was important to tell the story in an unvarnished way,” Iverson says. “But it meant I had to get into some pretty gritty stuff. Could I do it in a way that was respectful and loving in the end? I wanted to be honest and true but also to honor this extraordinary person in my life.”

It’s a tale that involves diapers, urine samples, eventually dementia, but also love and laughter. Iverson shares some family backstory — including his wonderment upon discovering his buttoned-down dad’s racy wartime love letters to his mom — which gives context to his description of the last decade and makes it more powerful.

That caregiving story will benefit others, and it’s one the nation should hear.

“So often when you’re a caregiver you feel like you’re all alone,” Iverson says. “You’re the only one on the planet doing this. Which is absurd. But you feel isolated. I thought it was important to tell this story and bring a little more attention to our current crisis of eldercare. Someone turns 65 every eight seconds in this country and we’re not ready.”
The book’s heroes — not too strong a word — are the professional caregivers Iverson hires to assist him.

“Kind, resolute, energetic, funny, and immensely skilled women,” Iverson writes in the acknowledgments, saying they “brightened my mom’s life and mine — even when we were both cranky.”

Two of them, Sinai Latu and Eileen Khan, share the book’s dedication with Adelaide and Iverson’s wife, Lynn.

They’re immigrants, Latu from Tonga, Khan from Fiji.

“I learned so much from them,” Iverson said. “Not only caregiving and the art and skill that it requires, the devotion and love. Immigration has been such a torturous topic in this country for so long. It was good to get close to them and to see how much those individuals and cultures have to offer this country.”

Iverson’s work in the Parkinson’s space brought a friendship with the actor and Parkinson’s research advocate Michael J. Fox, who provided this assessment of the new book:

“’Winter Stars’ is a gift — a modern classic of frontier literature documenting the uncertain journey into the country of caregiving.”

Footer that says Subscribe with covers of Madison Magazine