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St. Louis minister used faith and fellowship to help her face husband's dementia

St. Louis minister used faith and fellowship to help her face husband's dementia


When the Rev. Tommie Ringo, 76, had a stroke three years ago, the condition started his spiral into stroke-related dementia.

The Rev. Cynthia Ringo, 63, saw that she had to pick up where he’d left off as pastor of their church, as well as care for her husband.

So she began a process she’d been putting off, getting into good physical condition to strengthen her endurance.

Three years later, she runs 5K events, she’s 35 pounds lighter and leads a group of church members who exercise with her. They have lost weight, too — in some cases a lot.

Cynthia Ringo is pastor of Christ Deliverance Ministry at 725 Goodfellow Boulevard. She took over the job when her husband began failing. She had seen signs before his stroke but didn’t connect the dots.

In 2010, while at Christian Hospital visiting a member, she noticed that Tommie Ringo was unsteady and dragging his left leg as he walked.

The emergency room staff diagnosed the stroke. “He was diagnosed Jan. 20, my 60th birthday,” she said.

Cynthia Ringo took over as pastor of the church shortly after her husband was diagnosed wtih vascular dementia. The couple had founded it together with other members in 1976, and it has been growing ever since.

Tommie Ringo, a robust man known for his disarming smile — which is still there — has become senior pastor.

It wasn’t a promotion for her; it was another calling; a necessity, she said. “I reached for my faith; it’s not hard to love him, even in his challenged state,” she said. “He’s just a lovable person. He still cares about the flock, about people.”

Before the stroke, Ringo had run the women’s ministry in the church. The members wanted to be healthy, lose weight, increase their endurance. They tried walking groups.

“But you know how that goes,” she said. “First there are a dozen, maybe more walking, then 10, then five.”

The members tried workout sessions at the church: Jazzercize, karate. Cynthia Ringo walked regularly for years — “Exercise helps endorphins release, you feel better,” she says — three to four miles three times a week with her husband. “I think his being in good condition helped him withstand the stroke the way he did,” she said.

When she learned her husband had suffered a stroke, she said, she had no idea what was ahead. Her physician told her that “this is going to be one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life” and that she needed to take care of herself.

“It’s such a challenge to see a person you’ve known more than half your life who’s viable, a visionary, outgoing and suddenly, not able to take care of himself.”

Still, “I had a peace about it; we would make this work.”


About three years ago, church member Kimberly Smith suggested Cynthia Ringo join her at an exercise boot camp she’d been attending.

The boot camp is run by Briant K. Mitchell. About 15 to 20 people joined from the church. He and the church members began a senior class, at first, then started 5:30 a.m. and evening classes.

And three years later, Smith has dropped 76 pounds. Ringo went from 167 to 130 pounds. A nonmember of the church who attended the classes dropped 103.

Overall, the group lost more than 600 pounds “and counting,” Mitchell said.

“We’re about motivation and accountability,” Mitchell said. “It’s a family environment here. And I care. We make sure they follow meal plans; make sure that I’m accessible.

As they dropped pounds, participants also saw blood pressure readings drop; many were able to reduce or get off blood pressure medication.

The church also formed a health unit that performs blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes screening each Sunday; the snacks served between services now consist of fruit rather than donuts and sweets. Visiting speakers have discussed nutrition.

A big challenge was changing certain habits. “The black church often celebrates with food, fried chicken, fried fish … that had to change,” Cynthia Ringo said. “We still have those at celebrations, but we also have baked chicken and healthier (alternatives) like more vegetables and salads.”

The church has taken its health efforts outside of its own walls. The “Mind & Body 2013 — A Focus on Health Awareness” 5K run will be held May 25. It’s the second year for the event and Mitchell is one of the sponsors and a director.

Cynthia Ringo talks about health from the pulpit. “Why not? We have the best health manual right here,” she said holding up a Bible. She read several passages requiring healthful wishes, practices and even nutrition advice.

Although she doesn’t prohibit anything. “It’s difficult to tell people to just stop. God is a god of balance,” she said. “It’s not what you eat, it’s what you eat all the time that makes a difference.”

She has started a series on Bible health, taught the same as Bible study. “Jesus set the example. He walked everywhere, ate fish, fresh vegetables and fruits,” she said. “What better way to honor him than to take care of the temple.”




She’s confident she’ll maintain her habits. “If I’m going to have programs like that, I have to be an example,” she said. “It’s difficult to ask people to change a lifestyle when you haven’t changed yourself.”

Being able to take care of her husband is her main motivation.

“I feel much healthier to be able to take care of him. Even at 63, I feel like 43,” she said. “The more I exercise and study and know more about physical health and emotional health, my mood is better and I’m able to be more flexible with his mood swings.

“Unless the Lord performs a miracle, there’s going to be a decline. So I’m able to handle it because I always want to be there to handle it.

“I love him and had it been vice versa, he’d be there for me.”

Do you know a “How I did it?”

Suggest a candidate to:

Harry Jackson Jr.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

900 North Tucker Boulevard

St. Louis, Mo. 63101-1099

Phone • 314-340-8234

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Harry Jackson is a health reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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