Skip to Main Content

News & Blog

May 05 2023

Goodbye, But Not Forgotten: A Tribute to the Northeast Indiana AIDS Walk


For 26 years, the Northeast Indiana AIDS Walk brought together members of the community to raise awareness and support for those affected by HIV/AIDS. Through the hard work of organizers, volunteers, and participants, the event helped reduce stigma and increase understanding of this devastating disease. As the years have passed, the landscape of HIV/AIDS advocacy and support has evolved, leading to the retirement of the Northeast Indiana AIDS Walk. From the history of the event to the stories of those involved, we honor the legacy of the Northeast Indiana AIDS Walk and the importance of continuing the fight against HIV/AIDS.

Red AIDS Ribbon tied around tree with AIDS Walk walkers in background

Joining a National Movement

The very first Northeast Indiana AIDS Walk took place in 1997 at Freimann Square to honor and remember those who lost the battle with AIDS. The event was small, mostly comprised of people who had a direct affiliation with the Positive Resource Connection (then known as the AIDS Task Force) such as clients, family members and loved ones. It was the first AIDS Walk in the state and within the next few years, other AIDS service organizations in Indiana followed suit, eventually receiving state funding to produce the event.

While it was the first AIDS Walk in the state of Indiana, the Northeast Indiana AIDS Walk was just one of many events that comprised the National Movement of AIDS Walks. Since the first AIDS Walk in Los Angeles in 1985, communities across the country, including Fort Wayne, have come together to raise awareness and funds for the fight against HIV/AIDS. AIDS Walk events have also been an important platform for advocacy, bringing together people of all backgrounds to stand in solidarity with those affected by HIV/AIDS and increase awareness and understanding. The Northeast Indiana AIDS Walk was a part of this larger movement, and its retirement is a reminder of the ongoing need for continued support and activism in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

Distant view of a line of people walking downtown wearing matching red shirts

Building Momentum and Empowering the Community

With increasing momentum, the Northeast Indiana AIDS Walk moved to Headwaters Park in 2007. By 2010, the Northeast Indiana AIDS Walk had adopted the popular theme of “Vive le Rouge,” grossing over $65,000 and attracting more than 800 people! The event became more like a festival with live music, food and pieces of the National AIDS Memorial Quilt. Ron Haas, a volunteer on the AIDS Walk planning committee for over two decades, remembers being surprised at the outpouring of community support in Fort Wayne at the time. “It was a very nonjudgmental, safe environment.”

Over the years, countless individuals have participated in the event, whether as volunteers, supporters, or walkers. For many, the event holds special significance due to personal connections to the cause, whether through their own experiences with HIV/AIDS or the experiences of loved ones. Donna Brooke attended the very first northeast Indiana AIDS Walk and spent the next two decades asking her customers at Henry’s Restaurant to support and donate to the event each year, raising thousands of dollars over time.

Ron Haas, a former client of the Positive Resource Connection, volunteered for 25 years on the AIDS Walk planning committee. As a client and person living with HIV, Ron was passionate about helping the agency and serving others in his community. “If the agency is providing me support and care, I better be there to support them.” Over time, Ron became a crucial member of the planning committee, managing several logistical aspects of the event.

Top walkers Scott Tarr and Jimmie King each got involved with the Walk on behalf of close friends affected by the disease. In the early 1990s, Scott lost two close friends to AIDS who had to make difficult choices about treatment with adverse side effects. “I vowed then that I would do everything I could to prevent others from having to make a decision like that.” Over the course of 15 years, Scott helped raise tens of thousands of dollars in donations towards AIDS Walk. Jimmie King walked and raised funds in support of his friends living with HIV and is proud of the strides AIDS Walk has taken in raising awareness of HIV/AIDS. “Everyone needs to be educated. Everyone needs to be empowered.”

Man on stage singing into microphone with AIDS quilt panels behind him

Leaving a Lasting Legacy

After moving to Parkview Field in 2018, attendance of the Northeast Indiana AIDS Walk never reached the same height as the earlier years and production costs began surpassing funds raised. “It’s a very labor-intensive event to assemble,” said Alexandra Sauer, Community Relations and Events Manager. With the evolution of treatment, prevention and the growth of the agency itself, AIDS Walk struggled to fit in with the services provided by the agency today.

Today, the Positive Resource Connection not only serves over 400 people living with HIV in Indiana, it also provides testing, education, outreach and prevention programs, PrEP, nutritional support, housing assistance, Hepatitis C treatment, linkage to care and more. Kandace Kelly, Director of Grants, PrEP and Viral Hepatitis, and a staff member of the agency for over 25 years says it’s crucial to shift the agency’s fundraising focus. “Focusing on client needs and the current work of the PRC is an important part of involving our community in getting to Zero (Zero new HIV infections, Zero AIDS-related deaths, and Zero HIV-related stigma and discrimination).”

While the retirement of the Northeast Indiana AIDS Walk marks the end of an era, its impact on the community will continue to be felt for years to come. The event served as a powerful symbol of hope and solidarity for those affected by HIV/AIDS, bringing people from all walks of life together to support a common cause. As we say goodbye, we honor AIDS Walk’s legacy and the significance the event’s volunteers, supporters and walkers had on raising awareness and reducing stigma. By coming together and continuing to support each other, we can ensure that the legacy of the Northeast Indiana AIDS Walk lives on and that we continue to evolve and make progress in the fight against HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis and STIs while advancing a compassionate and stigma-free community response.

AIDS Walk at Parkview Field

More News & Events

All Posts
All News