Sarasota, FL
United States
CAN Community Health Southwest Florida Community AIDS Quilt since 1 December 1994
without names
Group dedicates 100th panel to AIDS quilt
The panel honors the memory of Jym Hawkes, who died from the illness

SARASOTA -- Friends will always remember Jym Hawkes for his insatiable sweet tooth -- especially for ice cream -- and his love of singing. Now more people will know about the man who died more than four years ago of AIDS at the age of 57.
A 3-foot-by-6-foot panel -- the same dimensions of a coffin -- created in Hawkes memory will be dedicated today as the 100th section of the Southwest Florida Community AIDS Quilt, during an interfaith Seder of Hope ceremony at Temple Sinai Reform. "It's a lasting memory," said Spencer Rush, Hawkes partner of seven years. "That is exactly what he wanted."

Friends began crafting the rainbow-colored panel, reflecting hues of the gay flag, in September and were finished in two months. On it are things identified with Hawkes, among them, a cross, an ice cream cone and signatures of the members of the Gulf Coast Men's Chorus, a mostly gay choir Hawkes help start in 1997.

The quilt, began in 1994, keeps alive the memories of friends and loved ones who died of AIDS and fosters awareness of the disease. It's displayed at memorials, festivals, community events and religious services. The local version was inspired by the 44,000-panel national quilt memorial started in San Francisco nearly 18 years ago. That quilt was also an inspiration for Hawkes, who marveled as it stretched from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial during a 1993 AIDS Day ceremony.

He decided he wanted to be remembered that way, but didn't think anyone would make a panel for him. Edie Kaplan did, with the help of another member of the men's chorus, Scott C. Stenzil. "To me, it's a special gift to a special human being," said Kaplan, who met Hawkes when her husband, Howie, joined those forming the choir. "It helps bring closure to the people who knew him."

Hawkes, a father of a two, was born and raised in Massachusetts, one of three boys who worked in their father's seafood restaurant. He moved to Florida in 1986, the same year he was diagnosed with HIV. He joined his father, who retired from the restaurant, in a landscaping business in Englewood, then worked for Nielson Media Research in Venice. "He had that East Coast personality, a really keen sense of humor, and also bossy," Rush said. "He could eat two hot fudge sundaes in one sitting. He had a real sweet tooth."

For all the comfort the panels bring to friends and family, they've been a recent source of some controversy -- none of it related to Hawkes. For several years, the panels were stored at Bethesda House in Sarasota, a Catholic-funded day center providing food, clothing and other services to people with HIV and AIDS. But this year, after the diocese initially refused to participate in PrideFest, a May event at Robarts Arena celebrating gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender pride, the panels were moved. A community of volunteer caretakers decided to let the Community AIDS network store the panels.

Carol Hart, a Bethesda House volunteer, found it "very alarming" that church officials wanted to back out of PrideFest because it conflicted with religious beliefs. "That really bothered us," said Hart, a member of the PrideFest planning committee whose stepson died of AIDS. She and her husband resigned as Bethesda House volunteers. Catholic officials changed their minds and will allow their AIDS ministry to have a booth at PrideFest after all. They didn't return phone calls last week. But the decision has calmed the controversy.

This is not the first time the panels have been at Community AIDS Network, an agency that provides medical and dental services, educational programs and free HIV testing. Four panels at a time are shown at its headquarters, and are rotated quarterly. Still, the agency's executive director, Susan Terry says more awareness is needed. "I was amazed by the number of staff and patients who knew nothing about them." The quilt, including Hawkes' panel, will also be on display May 8 at PrideFest. On May 1, Hawkes' panel will be shown at a Sarasota performance of the Gulf Coast Men's Chorus.

Text © Patty Allen-Jones Sarasota Herald-Tribune

28 March 2004
Patty Allen-Jones, Sarasota