1940 – 1992
An Appreciation by Neil Coffman-Grey
During the latter half of the 1980s and most of the 1990s, AIDS Care, Inc. (ACI) provided advocacy, services and dignity to hundreds of clients, from legal aid to the food bank to the buddy program, pairing volunteers with clients for companionship, errands and other assistance.
So it is not hyperbole to say that without FORREST ROCKHOLD, AIDS Care might not have been around after 1991 to provide such vital care to those living with HIV and AIDS in Ventura County and their families and loved ones.
A handsome, dark-haired and slender man, Forrest was born in 1940 and lived in a cottage on Santa Clara Street in Ventura, near the Farmers Market. He was a soft-spoken and immensely generous person.
As a hairstylist, Forrest was the owner of Hot Stuff Boutique, and a longtime supporter of AIDS Care, he participated in the first Haircut-a-thon for ACI. Before being centralized at the Oxnard Beauty College in 1991, Forrest’s salon was one of the shops where the annual fundraiser took place.
But his workplace was not the only space Forrest dedicated to AIDS Care. He was also a “prime mover” behind the establishment of ACI’s yardsales. Since his home was near the high-traffic Farmers Market, he enthusiastically allowed the first yardsale to be held in his front yard.
That first yardsale brought in $1500, and was such a resounding success that Forrest agreed to host them each year.
I met Forrest when Cindy Copeland Burrell and I took on the coordination of the yardsales in 1990, when Reese Welsh was Executive Director of the nonprofit.
It was in December 1991 Reese let me know that there was such a shortfall in ACI’s finances, he wasn’t sure we could pay the January 1992 rent or not. But the $700+ we raised from the December yardsale helped to cover the bills, and AIDS Care went on to help hundreds more clients during the rest of the 90’s.
Very shortly thereafter, Forrest passed away. ACI paid tribute to him, saying in its Feb. 1992 newsletter, “AIDS Care raised thousands for our programs and services due to Forrest’s kindness. (He) has honored us and will be greatly missed. Thank you, Forrest!!” (Partly excerpted from AIDS Care, Inc. literature.)
3/3/53 – 6/11/90
By Neil Coffman-Grey
It is said, particularly in social justice movements, that we stand on the shoulders of those who came before us. And for no one in Ventura County LGBT history is this more true than CHRISTOPHER DYE.
The first President of AIDS Care, Inc. and one of the most visible faces for our community and people living with AIDS, Chris inspired and guided many in our own activism. He kept ACI’s doors open despite battling his own declining health, and in his death was the namesake of Christopher House, a nonprofit hospice that gave scores of Gay men and others comfort and dignity as they died from the disease.
In 1985 and ’86 after too many of our Gay men had already died from the disease, members of our community came together to begin the work of taking care of our brothers, led by Mark Vartanian. AIDS Care, Inc. was incorporated in 1987.
Chris, who had been diagnosed in early 1987, became involved and served as the President of ACI. He lectured throughout the county for 2 ½ years, served on the Ventura County Board of Supervisors AIDS Commission, the Ventura AIDS Task Force and received several awards for his community service.
Chris was beloved by the community, and AIDS Care remained open despite public indifference (Ventura County and its Public Health Department being a rare and vital friend) as well as disputes within the LGBT community itself.
At a time when the Ventura County Star headlined its articles on Chris “AIDS victim,” Chris was anything but. He retired from AIDS Care only months before he died on June 11, 1990. At his funeral MCC Ventura Rev. Catherine Houchins revealed Chris planned his own “celebration” that featured show tunes and other favorites, including the AIDS anthem “That’s What Friends Are For” and Greensleeves.
When I became involved with AIDS Care in late 1990, I was helping ACI’s first Executive Director Reese Welsh organize the office files and came across the trove of Chris’s writings.
They included a 1988 AIDS Care newsletter with his words that we were “living history,” and how important it was to document the times we were living in. Today, the LGBT history collection housed at Cal State University at Channel Islands include many original items from AIDS Care amid its boxes of materials, yet another aspect of his enduring legacy.
I “stood on his shoulders” and modeled my activism on Christopher Dye’s trailblazing and philosophy. And yet we never met.
1952 – 1986
By Keith Coffman-Grey
I met MARK WILSON in 1983 in West Hollywood, where I was living. I had just been transferred from I. Magnin in Santa Barbara to Beverly Hills as the Fine Shoe Salon manager and met Mark through a mutual acquaintance. He was living in Mid Wilshire and working in the shoe department of the main Bullock’s Wilshire store.
We both enjoyed fashion, and in a short time we were living together. Mark had a wonderful sense of humor and was very outgoing. After our Kings Road lease was up, we found an amazing place in the Hollywood Hills, renting the bottom of an Art Deco house with views of the ocean from Hollywood to Santa Monica.
It was a bit of paradise above the commotion of the Big City.
Mark was born in Portland, and graduated from college with a teaching degree. After a terribly homophobic experience working for a Northern California school district, he settled in LA. He had a wonderful voice and sang in a local Gay-friendly church.
We both loved animals and dreamed of getting a Scotty dog (although Scotty drinking glasses and plates were as close as we could get). During Christmas season 1984, Mark started to have night sweats and stomach pains. We went to our local Gay doctor and got the news that he had AIDS.
In 1985 AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA) was just forming. We joined APLA’s couples group for those with one or both AIDS-affected partners. It was a des-perate time; AIDS was a death sentence, and we knew our time together was short. Mark met an herbalist who claimed he could be cured by taking herbal tablets – but all that did was make his diarrhea worse.
Mark went downhill very quickly. He kept losing weight, but he kept his spirits up, and agreed to make a video of us in Summer ’84. By November Mark was under 24-hour nursing care in our home, needing help to get from bedroom to living room, where he would spend the day.
At Christmas, his mom came down with his stepdad to visit; it would be the last time she’d see him.
Mark always strove to keep his spirits up toward the end. Even when he was sick, he enjoyed looking at the latest fashion magazines.
Mark passed away in January 1986.
Making Mark’s Quilt this past year filled me with joy and sadness. As I stitched each letter, memories of our time together came flooding back. It is so important to always REMEMBER THEIR NAMES.
EUGENE R. WEREN
1953 – 1995
EUGENE R. WEREN lived with his partner Dominick Parisi in Camarillo during the last years of his life, and his Memorial Quilt (left) is currently on display at the offices of Ventura County Public Health in Ventura.
Eugene was 42 years old when he died of AIDS-related complications on Nov. 22, 1995. Born in Rochester, New York, to Mel and Bennette Weren, Eugene had two siblings and many nieces and nephews.
As an event planner, he contributed his skills and time to Rochester charities, including planning events for the March of Dimes.
While living with Dominick in Camarillo, the couple became very involved in Ventura County civic life.
Eugene planned and designed affairs for the Ventura Boys & Girls Club, as well as the Ventura Symphony.
But they were especially involved in AIDS Care, Inc., a Ventura-based nonprofit that served hundreds of Ventura County residents. Besides serving on the Board of Directors, Eugene and his team directed ACI fundraising to match the new financial needs of an organization serving so many.
He started “Dining for Life,” with participants enjoying fine meals at private residences to raise funds. Also among his innovations was “Art for Life,” one of AIDS Care’s biggest fundraisers, featuring local celebrities such as Eileen Brennan, and auction items from many stars.
Eugene’s funeral was held Dec. 16, 1995 at the Metropolitan Community Church a/k/a MCC Ventura, the local congregation of and for LGBT people.
And while the disease was still so stigmatized in 1995 that seldom was it listed in obituaries as the cause of death, Eugene called on others to donate to AIDS Care in lieu of flowers.
“And,” he added, “be kind to a friend.”
1962 – 2008
An Appreciation by Diane Paillette-Von Heyneman
JEFF BURROUGHS, born Thomas Jeffery, a/k/a “Thing,” was born in Ventura, California on April 21, 1962. His soul left its human constraints on April 25, 2008, just five days after his 46th birthday.
Did Jeff celebrate in excess? Indeed, he did! It was just too much for his petite HIV-positive body could take.
Excess was a core personality of Jeff’s. I can’t imagine him parting this world any other way. He may have been small, but he was an absolute dynamo.
Jeff was an incredible thing of creation, thus his nickname “Thing” was very apropos. Why the turtle, you ask? It’s not my place to divulge the details. But if you’re in the know, you are laughing with a certain memory. If you’re not, enjoy its colorful beauty. Let your imagination take you somewhere. I would say, “Hey, Jeff, is it time? Will you do it now?” The chant would then begin: “Turtle! Turtle! Turtle!”
I knew Jeff for 30+ years. For the most part, those years were full of fun, and creatively wild, hysterical, and at times questionable antics.
His irreverent humor was beyond measure – and simply too much on occasion. I would go from almost busting my gut with laughter, to just wanting to bop him one! I learned over time to just love him, taking all the grand goodness along with the monumental irritation. He was so tiny, but a larger-than-life personality.
Jeff’s personality – and all that came with it – is legendary among friends, family and acquaintances alike. Peter Weal, owner of the store Wild Planet, where I worked with Jeff, gave him the name “Ambassador” as he was a stranger to none, and could put a smile on anyone’s face.
My hope with his Quilt panel, is when people see it who knew him, are embraced with memories of him. Those who didn’t know him will have a small idea what a spectacular “Thing” he was.
I will always love, remember and cherish you, my friend. You were a wonderful guncle to my daughter Ziah. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
July 9, 1944 – December 5, 1991
An Appreciation by Hilda Cooper
(As embroidered on Jim’s Quilt):
To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children;
To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty;
To find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition;
To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.
I just wanted to say goodbye to a dear friend. If you only got a tiny sparkle from knowing him, you were blessed.
His family, friends and church, along with the beautiful flowers and his wonderful rainforest, was all he ever asked for.
As soon as he had completed his circle, he knew it was time for him to go home to rest.
So, family and friends, that’s why we are here together today. God’s arms are opened, Jim, waiting to receive you.
You will always be loved and never forgotten.
Much love, your friend,
ERIC PAUL LIM
1959 – 1997
An Appreciation by Neil Coffman-Grey
I only met ERIC LIM toward the end of his beautiful life, becoming fast friends with him in 1995 and hanging out with him at Santa Barbara Pride and the Santa Barbara AIDS Walk.
He could light up a room with his sweet smile, and he filled you with his warmth and radiance. It was hard for anyone not to completely fall in love with Eric, who by 1996 was coming to our house for Great Outdoors and holiday parties. He was very excited about my upcoming wedding to my fiance Keith.
Eric was born in Rochester, Minnesota and came to Santa Barbara in 1966 with his father, Dr. Richard A. Lim, mother and eight siblings.
He graduated from San Marcos High School in 1976 and attended Pomona College for a couple years before proceeding to Washington State University in Pullman, Washington, where he obtained his Bachelor’s Degree in hotel and restaurant management.
Upon his return to Santa Barbara, Eric was employed in various food service positions, eventually becoming involved full-time in the Food Management Department at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB).
He retired from UCSB to become the designer/manufacturer of “E-Line Jewelry,” which was carried by stores including Nordstroms.
As 1996 turned to 1997 and our April wedding grew near, Eric was getting sicker and went into hospice. He sent our RSVP back, saying, “Regretfully, I will be unable to attend. Congratulations!”
Shortly after our wedding on April 19th, a mutual friend brought over Eric’s wedding gift, a beautiful clear-glass candleholder that we cherish to this day. We were told that, as sick as Eric was, he was most insistent on making sure that his gift reached us. Inside, his note read: Congratulations and best wishes for your new life together! Eric Lim.
Somewhere in my heart I truly believe that our wedding might have given Eric some small degree of joy, but we never saw him again. He died on May 5, 1997. His family held a private funeral and his friends gathered at Butterfly Beach to celebrate the life of this lovely, lovely man, who was only 38 years old.
1954 – 1994
An Appreciation by Neil Coffman-Grey
Even before I lived in Santa Barbara, I knew MITCH KIN-CANNON, who died at age 39 in February 1994 of AIDS complications.
Mitch was one of the most “out” people in the Central Coast, both as a Gay man and a person living with AIDS. For 2½ years his struggles with the disease were the subject of a series of articles in the Santa Barbara News-Press called “Mitch’s Story,” a chronicle detailing his health, the drugs and physical therapies that offered hope in his efforts to stay alive.
Mitch was a charismatic man, and his career included a stint as a circus clown.
Diagnosed with AIDS In 1988, he dedicated his life to promoting a better under-standing of the AIDS, and in addition to the News-Press series, Mitch spoke at campuses and conferences across the country about his life and experiences.
Mitch also organized quilting bees for the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt, and part of his legacy remains with the San Francisco-based Quilt through all the panels representing Santa Barbara County that have been sewn into 12×12 foot blocks, some of which have returned to the Gold Coast for public viewing.
On May Day weekend 1993, Mitch coordinated “Quilts at the Courthouse,” the largest-ever display of panels in the Central Coast, at the Santa Barbara County Courthouse, with panels hanging and laid on the floors of the entire Courthouse and Sunken Gardens, and poetry readings I was lucky enough to take part in.
Mitch invited NAMES Project Ventura County to display our local panels, which we did. On Heath House stationery he invited: “Dear Neil, greetings from Santa Barbara! Here are some flyers for our Quilt Sewing Bee. You are all welcome to attend if you wish. Take care, Mitch Kincannon.”
One of Rhonda Parks’ news articles, “New strength, new hope,” chronicled Mitch’s workouts at Gold’s Gym and experimental treatments with Dr. Barry Chadsey, a local AIDS specialist who joined an AIDS research firm to find medicines, if not cures, to extend the lives of those living with the disease.
By the time of his death in 1994, Mitch was the only surviving original resident of Heath House, Santa Barbara County’s first board-and-care hospice for people with AIDS, which was founded in June 1991.
DAVID JOHN DIX
Feb. 17, 1959 – Nov. 13, 1995
An Appreciation by Judith Norcross
David walked into the clinic for his test results. I sat in the parking lot thinking, Straight men don’t get AIDS. But then I saw his face. That’s when I knew: My son was dying.
That was October 4, 1991. David had been sick for well over a year – extremely thin and always tired. He had returned to Ventura County for mama’s home cooking and loving care. David chainsmoked, so I thought it was lung cancer. Later, I hoped it was Lyme disease – after all, David was an outdoorsman who lived off the land in the outback of Montana.
David got back into the car with a handful of literature about AIDS. We sat through a moment of silence. He didn’t have to say a word. I just started to cry. Mothers are not supposed to bury their children.
David’s first T-cell count was 44. I knew enough about nursing to know that was bad news. But looking back, nothing could have prepared me for AIDS. Even after I spent two full weeks in the library reading everything I could about AIDS, I was lost, helpless, full of fear and questioning my faith in God.
Where was a mother to turn? Would my friends ever understand? For them, AIDS was just something that happened to “those” people over there.
My only son died on November 13, 1995 in Oxnard. He was born February 17, 1959, in Ventura and had been a county resident for the past four years.
David was a professional outdoorsman. He was an expert backcountry hiker and survivalist, and a committed environmentalist. His interests, skills and talent led him to travel throughout the United States and Canada. He lived many years in Montana.
David had a lifelong interest in railroads and was well-known for his research on the history and development of North American railroads.
David and I spent the summer of 1994 criss-crossing the United States camping in the glory of nature. Being a confirmed “city-slicker,” I learned a lot about the out-of-doors.
One lesson David taught me: Energy never dies – it is simply transformed into new life. (Excerpted from AIDS Care, Inc. literature.)
by Doug Halter
It seems like a lifetime ago. Yet he changed my life forever.
The early years of AIDS were filled with denial and prejudice. Randy and I met during those years, he having moved from Redding and I just returning from North Carolina to LA. After we exchanged phone numbers, I remember the excitement of our next call or date. I halfway joke about “stalking” him at work for the first few months just to be with him even more.
I never thought I would meet someone I was so attracted to and with whom I could never spend enough time, but Randy and I were inseparable soulmates. We moved to Ventura and bought our first house on Poli Street. Our lives were private; only our closest friends knew we were life partners, not just best friends. I met so many of his friends from his time with Up With People and his grandparents in Mission Hills, all of who loved Randy deeply.
AIDS seemed like someone else’s problem as Randy and I enjoyed our lives, renovating our home, throwing small dinner parties and spending every moment together. One day he asked me to get tested for HIV; it seemed out of the blue, because we didn’t know anyone infected (nor did I think we ever would). We got tested a few weeks later and together found out the horrific news that we were both infected.
I remember the doctor telling us there was nothing they could do for us while we were dying from this disease, but they would make us as comfortable as they could. He said that since it was too late for us, offering us no more than a year to live, he encouraged us to talk about our status so others wouldn’t make the same mistakes.
I guess the “mistake” I made was having the courage to love the person most connected to my own soul and who made me the best person.
Upon Randy’s death that cold winter morning in 1990, I thought life was over too. But 29 years later, his death still brings tears to my eyes and ache to that missing piece of my heart. I didn’t expect to be here more than a few months after Randy departed. On that day I made a commitment to live life as openly and honestly as I could in honor of Randy, who was so proud of who he was, and to make sure that my presence on Earth is remembered.
And that I leave a positive legacy, since Randy and so many other beautiful and talented people had their lives stolen by this horrific disease.
I feel Randy’s presence to this day.
I have aged, but he hasn’t, and I still see him as that stunning, vivacious 26-year-old man.
As we continue to fight one of humankind’s worst epidemics, I think the only way to offer solace for the loss of so many is to learn the lessons of AIDS. That our enemy is not each other, but in fact disease, poverty, hunger and lack of education. We need to work together to fight these conditions, and never again blame any part of our community for all of society’s ills, but know what impacts one of us impacts us all.
Randy’s love and strength are forever woven into my fight for this enduring legacy.
- Bachelor’s degree in English, Cal State Los Angeles
- First book, A Set for Edward Honig, published in 1973
- Co-author if two photography books on Hollywood film history, Grand Illusions (1973) and A World of Movies (1974)
- Playwright of Immaculate Heart (1985 premier), about the conflict in the 1960s between the Sisters of the Order of the Immaculate Heart and the Archdiosis of Los Angeles.