By Phillip Milano
Jacksonville University students will not only be able to view a portion of the storied AIDS Memorial Quilt when it’s displayed on campus next week, they’ll be able to see and help it grow in size as well.
JU professors Dennis Stouse and Stephen Baker worked with the North Florida Quilt Chapter to have panels from the massive quilt available for public viewing at the campus’ Kinne University Center from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. March 7-8.
“A lot of students are unaware that such an unusual memorial even exists,” said Stouse. “It’s right up there with the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, with all the names inscribed. It has that kind of impact. Millions of people are infected with HIV, and a cross-section of people are still dying of AIDS in the U.S. This reflects that.”
The NAMES Project Foundation established the quilt 25 years ago to honor those who have died from AIDS-related causes. Now with more than 91,000 names, parts of it are shown at various locations around the country. Each panel is 3 feet by 6 feet and usually created by loved ones who add personal messages and mementoes. Eight panels are then grouped together in 12-foot-by-12-foot blocks that travel to various regions.
“JU has been very helpful about this,” Stouse said. “They are clearing a whole space at the Kinne Center for it, a spot where most students will walk right through and see it.”
At the university, 21 blocks will be on display, plus an additional 10 individual panels memorializing local residents, said Patrick Turley of the North Florida Quilt Chapter.
“It’s iconic,” said Turley, a 1995 JU graduate in history. “We dedicated three new quilts locally during World AIDS Day; two of them passed away in 2011.”
This year, JU students can get involved by signing a special “Signature Events Panel” honoring friends and loved ones lost to or living with HIV/AIDS. Turley said the panel will be sent to Atlanta to become part of the permanent main quilt there.
Turley and others will also sit and create a new panel over the three days the quilt is at JU, honoring Jacksonville resident Barry Wayne “Bear” Weldon, who died in 1998.
“He was an old friend of mine who bowled with me in the First Coast Freedom League, and we lost him,” he said. “It’s not time to fold the quilt away. It still needs to get out there for people to see.”
A reception kicking off the event is from 5-7 p.m. March 7 at the Kinne Center.
For more information, contact Stouse at firstname.lastname@example.org.