By Dan Gueths Special contributor
Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of four columns by past co-chairs of the AIDS Arms LifeWalk that will be published in Dallas Voice, leading up to the 20th anniversary event on Oct. 10.
What is now the start of my 16th year of involvement with LifeWalk started with just a simple question from two friends and co-workers. In 1994, James Youngblood was LifeWalk co-chair and Leigh Ann Stockard, who went on to also serve as co-chair, approached me and asked if I would like to help with LifeWalk.
For us, as for many, the reason to get involved was very personal. The three of us had two incredibly funny, personable and dear co-workers, Todd LeBlanc and Marty Rizzo, that we lost too soon to HIV/AIDS. Leigh Ann and I went and sat many an afternoon with Marty when he was homebound. But we lost many more friends and acquaintances, too, and there were more to come, including, over the years, many of my good friends that used to play for the Hunky’s softball team.
The first year I was involved, I set out cones along the LifeWalk route. I enjoyed the experience, so I agreed to help out again the next year, and then the next, etc. For the next several years, I served on the steering committee in logistics and recruitment, eventually being the committee chair for Operations.
I am honored to have served as LifeWalk event co-chair in 2008 and 2009. I had to think long and hard about being agreeing to fill the position — the duties are not easy. But the rewards I reaped in personal satisfaction far outweighed the workload and responsibility.
Another huge reward along the journey has been working with some very dedicated people who volunteer their time and talents, people like Mary Marshall, Jay Nolen, Keith Hickman, Terry Walker, Sandra Howell, Carter Brown, the TGRA (which always responds to the call for help), just to name a very few. But the list has no end.
As LifeWalk marks its 20th year, it is for me both monumental and bittersweet. It is a great achievement that LifeWalk has grown and raised millions of dollars that has provided for so many. But it is bittersweet that it continues to be a necessary that LifeWalk has more anniversaries.
This 20th anniversary year is also a time to reflect and remember: To remember the need for the event, to remember those that we have lost, to reflect on how we can move forward and encourage and educate a new generation and populations that are still unaware of the facts about HIV. Now is the time to remember those that took the initiative and accepted the challenge and the responsibility of creating and forming a community event to answer the needs of those afflicted with HIV/AIDS.
When it first started, LifeWalk was organized under the auspices of Oak Lawn Community Services. Many people in the community received invaluable services from OLCS and many individuals that served and volunteered for that agency, among them the incredible, inspirational Martha Dealey, have established themselves as great assets to the LGBT community and continued to provide service and mentorship to countless numbers.
AIDS Arms partnered with, and eventually assumed full sponsorship of LifeWalk. AIDS Arms has guided and nurtured the event so that the awareness and monies raised have continued to assist those that are in need.
There is a treasure trove of memories I have from this time, and some that truly stand out: Lisa Loeb performing for three years; walking through Neiman Marcus as part of the route; port-a-potties being blown over into the street the years the event was held in downtown; the return to Lee Park; the year the radios were delivered with no antennas and the Dallas Amateur Radio Club pulled us through; Jason Huff singing the national anthem; the Turtle Creek Chorale and Women’s Chorus of Dallas performing; Margaret Byrne and Scott Duncan meeting in Lee Park and getting married this year; and so many more. These are memories that will last me a lifetime.
But the thing that stands out and means the most — and this happens every year — is someone coming up and saying, “Thank you for all you are doing; it means the world to me.”
I could write volumes about the commitment and dedication of those individuals that co-chaired the first LifeWalk and those that followed. One of the focuses for the 20th anniversary is the opportunity to honor these individuals, and I cannot say enough to thank them for their service, and I hope that everyone who reads this article will take the time and effort to pass along a thank you, as well.
The co-chairs that have served over the last 20 year are Fred York, Barbara O’Brien, Carolyn Roney, Bruce Russell, Roger Bolen, Sara Reidy, James Youngblood, Kathy Hewitt, Steve Habgood, Leigh Ann Stockard, Gregory Pynes, Deiadra Burns, John Woodyard, Wendi Rothschild, Jerry MacDonald, Elizabeth Brown, Bill Carter, Ray Warner, Scott Kersh and Fred Harris — and me.
This 20th anniversary LifeWalk is both call to action and a time to celebrate. There is still much work to be done.
We have a saying that we hope some year we won’t need LifeWalk — because the work and dedication of researchers, doctors, caregivers, advocates, case workers, service agencies and volunteers will have come to fruition and we will have eliminated HIV/AIDS. What a celebration that would bring!
But for now we celebrate our small successes both past and present. I can’t say enough about the importance of everyone getting involved. The community is what its peoples contribute, and the community is you!
The 20th anniversary LifeWalk will be held Sunday, Oct. 10, at Lee Park. For more information or to register to participate, go online to AIDSLifeWalk.org.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 17, 2010.