Rolf Lulloff, MD ’67 (PG ’72), is passionate about many things, from medical research to physical fitness. Two of his greatest passions are talking about the love of his life—his late wife, Ann Lulloff—and ways in which he can help others. Rolf Lulloff realizes both passions through an organization he co-founded, the Brain Center of Green Bay (Wisconsin), which educates the public about neurological health and provides free, one-on-one counseling for individuals or family members affected by Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease or other conditions that affect the brain.

“Ann died in 2021 after living with Parkinson’s for decades,” Rolf Lulloff says. “A few years before she died, I retired from my orthopedics practice and decided it was time to start sharing with others the many lessons I learned about Ann’s disease.”

Chief among these lessons is that, notwithstanding the role genetics can play in susceptibility to disease, people have enormous control over the health of their brains by keeping them stimulated.

“There are many ways to care for your brain,” he says. “Love and laughter are so important, as are good sleep and physical activity. It’s easier to sit and watch TV rather than walk around the block, but movement is the trigger for chemicals that produce new brain cells. It’s also important to limit how many carbs you consume and eat plenty of good brain foods like avocados, blueberries and other colorful fruits and vegetables.”

Parkinson’s at a young age

Realizing later that Ann Lulloff had undiagnosed, early symptoms of Parkinson’s for several years, she naturally was distraught when she received the diagnosis at age 49. She feared not being able to see their children marry or meet their future grandchildren, recalls her husband.

“That day, I told Ann how much I loved her and that I always will,” says Rolf Lulloff. “Thankfully, we had 45 years together after her initial symptoms started before she took her last breath on February 12, 2021.”

Rolf and Ann Lulloff attending a college football game
Rolf Lulloff, MD ’67 (PG ’72), and Ann Lulloff

He continues, “Together, we saw our three children—Susan, Sarah and Andrew—get married and give us eight grandchildren. We made it to the Rose Bowl, spent many weeks at our vacation home in Sanibel, Florida, and took 12 trips to Europe. Despite Ann’s disease, she never let it define her, and she taught me so much, not only about living with brain disease, but about life.”

The two met in 1963 at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She was a medical technology major, and both were working in a research laboratory. Thanks to a tip from a friend, Rolf Lulloff knew she had recently broken up with her boyfriend. He worked up the courage to ask her for a date.

“Ann gave me an angry look at first, wondering how I knew she was no longer seeing someone,” he says. “Fortunately, the angry face quickly turned to a smile, and just 51 weeks later, we were married.”

After earning his bachelor’s degree from UW-Madison in 1964 and his medical degree from the UW School of Medicine and Public Health in 1967, Rolf Lulloff completed a one-year internship at Utah Medical Center in Salt Lake City before the couple returned to Madison. He specialized in orthopedics, completing a four-year surgical residency at UW Hospital (now UW Health) in 1972.

“I owed Uncle Sam two years, which Ann and I spent at Fort Dix, New Jersey,” says Rolf Lulloff, adding that his service in the Army provided housing and enough money to sustain them, and was a great experience.

In 1974, Rolf Lulloff joined a multi-specialty medical clinic in Green Bay. He says he and his wife had a wonderful life in Packerland, but Madison always remained a special place in their hearts.

“We met in Madison and had all three children there. We fondly returned for many Badger football games and state high school basketball tournaments,” recalls Rolf Lulloff, a native of Dodgeville, Wisconsin.

Running for a reason

An avid runner for much of his life, Rolf Lulloff ran his first of four Boston Marathons in 1974. His most recent finish was in 2014 at age 72. He intended to race again in 2022, but he pulled a hamstring while training. Yet, in spite of his injury, at age 80, Rolf Lulloff walked almost half the course.

Back in 1974, cheering Rolf Lulloff on at the Boston Marathon was none other than Dennis Maki, MD ’67, a UW School of Medicine and Public Health emeritus professor of infectious diseases. Friends for more than 60 years, the two met as undergraduates living in Tripp Residence Hall and attended medical school together.

Rolf Lulloff at the Boston Marathon
Rolf Lulloff, MD ’67 (PG ’72) (center); his daughter-in-law, Elizabeth Lulloff (left); and John Gard (right) stand near the 2022 Boston Marathon finish line.

“Rolf is an iconic alum of UW-Madison and the UW School of Medicine and Public Health,” says Maki. “He is one of the most honest and caring people I have ever met. Rolf and Ann’s children—who also graduated from UW-Madison—are wonderful people. Today, Rolf’s work to educate the public about brain disease is a great tribute to Ann.”

Chris Vanden Hoogen, executive director of the Brain Center of Green Bay, says Rolf Lulloff connects well with those affected by brain diseases because of the decades he spent at his wife’s side during her battle.

“It’s a really tremendous love story,” Vanden Hoogen says. “What makes it more beautiful is that even with Ann gone, Dr. Lulloff keeps her legacy alive by helping so many others. He’d be doing this 24/7 every day of the year if we let him.”

By Michael Felber
This article appears in Quarterly magazine.