Quilt display honors 520 AIDS victims, reminds viewers of a call to action


AIDS victims' relatives and supporters surround quilt squares during the opening of the AIDS Memorial Quilt's stop in Bloomington on Thursday in Alumni Hall. The AIDS Memorial Quilt began in San Francisco in 1987, and is now composed of more than 47,000 individual panels commemorating the lives of people all over the world who have died of AIDS-related illnesses. Sara Singh Buy Photos

A green patch, dedicated to Peter Potaski, featured Scooby Doo and a question: “Where are you?”

Another, crafted for Benjamin Saar, depicted felt boats navigating a cerulean fabric sea.

Speakers announced 518 more names to observers in Alumni Hall.

“Walter B.”

“William P.”

Though Launer, a 19-year-old Ivy Tech student, had never met Peter or Benjamin or any of the others, grief gripped her.  

“John D.”

“Ken I.”

Each first name and last initial belonged to someone who died from the same virus she fights to suppress.

“I could’ve had a panel,” she said. “Seeing the quilt is strange because I read the names and think, ‘That could have been me.’”

Launer, who lost six siblings to the effects of AIDS, was born HIV-positive. She is the only living member of her immediate biological family.

“It’s sad, but I can’t help but to feel relieved,” she said. “The quilt makes me realize how grateful I am to still be here.”

The 520 of the 47,000 panels, the largest portion of the quilt ever displayed in Indiana, drew more than 1,500 onlookers between Thursday and Monday.

More than 90,000 casualties, including Launer’s brothers and sisters, have been immortalized in 54 tons of the hand-decorated fabric.

Launer, who lives with her adoptive mother, Deborah, in Ellettsville, was one of 95 volunteers who came to the Indiana Memorial Union to ceremoniously unfold the quilt.

She’d signed up to help through the Bloomington Community AIDS Action Group, an organization affiliated with Positive Link, the extension of Bloomington Hospital where she receives HIV medication and treatment.

“When I was born, the doctors said I was only supposed to live for two weeks,” she said. “But I’m still here now, and that means something. It’s important to honor the dead but remember there are survivors.”

Jill Stowers, program manager for Positive Link, said the quilt is a call to action.

“AIDS has gotten away from the media, but it’s still happening today,” she said. “People are still getting infected. There still isn’t a cure.”

As of June 2010, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recorded 197 cases of HIV in Monroe County. Stowers said Positive Link accepted four new patients last month.

“The quilt reminds us that we all need to be careful,” she said. “We all need to practice safe sex. There are patches for mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers. AIDS can affect everyone.”

At the closing ceremony Monday afternoon, Bloomington Mayor Mark Kruzan addressed the crowd preparing to fold the quilt and return it to storage in Atlanta.

“I walked through the display and was particularly touched by one patch dedicated to a man named Mark,” he said. “Not only does he share my name, but he was born the same year I was.”

Launer, standing in the center of Alumni Hall, faced Kruzan as he spoke of the connection he felt to the patchwork. Mark could’ve been him or anyone, he said.

“He’s gone, and I’m here,” Kruzan said. “I want to honor his life and continue to give value to mine.”

As Launer folded a portion of the quilt, applause erupted. She thought of her brothers and sisters. She thought of the cocktail of pills she takes daily. She hoped the next audience would be just as inspired.

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