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Adams resident has strong will, drive to help Parkinson Foundation

| Saturday, June 22, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
George Mitchell, who has Parkinson’s disease, is the co-chair of the fourth annual Play for PARkinson’s golf outing Monday at the Butler Country Club.

Diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 2009, George N. Mitchell said he only cried once — when his father, Nicholas C. Mitchell Sr., who was also battling the disease, apologized for his son's illness.

“I cried for about 17 seconds and then stopped feeling sorry for myself,” said Mitchell, president of Fibercon International, a steel fiber firm based in Evans City. His father died of Parkinson's in November 2009 at age 79, just a few years after being diagnosed.

On Monday, Mitchell, 58, of Adams, will co-chair the fourth annual Play for PARkinson's Golf Outing, benefiting the local Parkinson's chapter at the Butler Country Club. Last year's outing raised more than $50,000 for the National Parkinson Foundation's Western Pennsylvania chapter, whose board Mitchell heads.

“He's a big gruffy guy who would never seem to have any weaknesses,” said Barbara Farrell, executive director of the regional chapter based in Ross. “But he's living with a neurological disease, and that's big. It affects your speech, your movement, your thought processes. But as the president of our board, he just keeps rocking.”

Farrell said that since Mitchell joined the foundation in 2010, he's helped raise more than $150,000. Mitchell said he's helped organize four golf outings, including Monday's, and two comedy nights. Mitchell became president of the board in 2012.

He said the golf outings have been a bigger success than he imagined, with customers and vendors from his family's company, which has subsidiaries in the United Kingdom and China, participating.

“To me, it means that people are not only sympathetic to the cause overall, but also sympathetic to me,” Mitchell said. “I deal fairly with people in business, and I guess they like me personally, and they'll go the extra mile.”

Mitchell said he's been proactive in dealing with the neurological disease, exercising regularly and educating himself. He said that while he's been “fairly stable” since his diagnosis, he's been “a little worse the last six months,” and is having trouble walking. “It feels more and more like standing on a boat or a ship,” he said.

The chapter's 2013 operating budget is nearly $430,000, Farrell said, gathered through fundraising, grants, memorial contributions and “luck.”

Money raised from the golf outing will fund educational and outreach programs. The chapter is working to bring a dance program to the region, partnering with the Pittsburgh Ballet, because exercise helps people with Parkinson's cope with its effects.

Mitchell is one of about 10,000 people diagnosed with Parkinson's in Western Pennsylvania, Farrell said.

“People don't look at us from the perspective of an organization that really needs awareness or support on a broad spectrum, but we do,” Farrell said.

Mitchell is co-chair of the golf outing with Charlotte Zuschlag, president and CEO of ESB Financial Corp., which also is a financial contributor.

Bill Vidonic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5621 or bvidonic@tribweb.com.

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