By JEFF GALLATIN
Family’s always been important to Bill Ayars and he’s using a memoir of trips with his family down the Mississippi and his subsequent loss of his daughter to a drug overdose to help others deal with the deadly problem of addiction.
Ayars is donating $10 out of every sale of the $25 book “My Journey Down The Big Muddy Love, Heartbreak and Triumph Jet-skiing the Mississippi River” to The Emerald Jenny Foundation, the nonprofit he set up with family and friends to provide a variety of online resources such as counseling and treatment options available in Ohio. The foundation honors Ayars daughter, Bay High School graduate Jennifer Emerald Ayars, who died at age 28 of a drug overdose in 2016. Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner’s office statistics said she was one of 340 heroin or fentanyl overdose death through the first nine months of that year – the highest ever.
But, to Ayars, who is himself a survivor of non-Hodgkins lymphoma cancer, providing help to those battling disease is more than statistics. He said the book that he wrote with Susan Valerian chronicles that belief.
“When you’re facing that type of battle you need help,” he said. “Whether it’s fighting a disease or trying to fight an addiction.
After Jennifer moved back into her father’s Bay Village home, finding help for her was something he found he needed help with.
“That was one of the biggest challenges, finding treatment options quickly,” he said. It was not easy to sort through information and find what could work for her. I’m sure other people have found the same type of problem, that’s why we’ve designed the foundation to try and provide different information as quickly as possible for people.
“Originally published in 2015, the books details the trip Ayars, a talented architect who is a founder of Perspectus Architecture, took down the Mississippi with Jennifer, his youngest daughter Jackie, and the initial portion of the trip with his ex-wife. Ayars decided to undertake the trip while dealing with his recovery from his bout with cancer. Then, in the recently released updated version Ayars and Jackie note Jennifer’s death as well as events after his divorce and effects from these events.
“There’s a lot about family and relationships in the book which people can relate too and maybe help people understand some problems a little better,” Ayars said. “Jackie wrote a very moving forward about re-connecting with her sister during the trip and what it meant to her. And I go over new details in my new chapter as well.
“Both Ayars and his girlfriend Susan Mills Tarry believe Jennifer was trying to deal with her issues.
Ayars said the book shows their family was like any family.
“There are good days and bad ones,” he said. “There’s humor and sadness and people also seemed to enjoy the parts about traveling.”
He said the book shows the independent spirit that helped Jennifer become a chef even with the addiction issues.
“She was quite good, she went to school for cooking,” he said. “And she liked going on that jet-ski down the river. Those are good things to remember, not just the problems she struggled with.”
Ayars said even though Jennifer is gone physically, the Foundation can help move forward the need to provide help for people and their families who are struggling with addition issues.
“We’ll always try to help others with this,” he said. “We understand a lot of what people are going through.’
The book can be purchased at http://www.thebigmuddybook.com and follow it on Twitter@thebigmuddybook.
Growing up in Vermilion, both Bill Ayars and Susan Mills Tarry are graduates of Vermilion High School. While no longer a year-round resident, Ayars still spends time at his summer cottage in Vermilion.