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AIDS quilt brings memories home

Photo Credit: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: STEPHANIE HAUGEN - The AIDS Memorial Quilt will be on display through November in Pacific Universitys library.When Jerry Deas comes to Forest Grove to celebrate the life of his late brother, he’ll feel something he always does — like he never left.

“Tom is in my heart always; he’s never left me,” Deas said. “I think of him most every day.”

A quilt square made in honor of Deas’ brother will hang in Pacific University’s Forest Grove library through November. Tom Deas’ square will hang among 39 other squares in Pacific’s Hillsboro and Forest Grove libraries, all in honor of those who have died from AIDS.

The AIDS Memorial Quilt compiled by the NAMES Project Foundation was first compiled in 1987 to create AIDS awareness. More than 94,000 individuals are represented on the quilt.

Quilt squares are made and submitted by loved ones of those who died from AIDS. Quilt panels, comprised of eight squares, are displayed in nearly 1,000 locations across the U.S. each year.

The AIDS Memorial Quilt has been displayed every other year at Pacific University for the last 10 years, according to Martha Rampton, Pacific history professor and director of the university’s Center for Gender Equity. This year, each panel is in some way connected to a Forest Grove community member.

“It’s important to commemorate the individuals on the quilt and to recall the history of AIDS,” said Rampton, who remembers the often-insensitive reactions of many when the AIDS crisis first hit.

At first, the death of AIDS patients were not considered as significant because there was a they-brought-it-on-themselves attitude, Rampton remembers. She even heard people joking about people who died from AIDS.

The quilt will also serve as a reminder to people that the problem of AIDS is by no means over, Rampton said, as HIV is actually on the rise again. “People are forgetting about what happened.”

“It’s a beautiful memorial and educational tool at the same time,” said Cecelia Warner, a Forest Grove resident and volunteer coordinator who helps bring the AIDS Memorial Quilt to town.

Deas and Rampton will attend an “Evening of Remembrance” from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 13, at Pacific University’s Forest Grove library featuring guest speakers, the loved ones of those who succumbed to AIDS and question-and-answer sessions. The CGE will also offer classes on the history and present state of AIDS to any interested group. Email salmons95@pacificu.edu for more information.

The Deases grew up in Northeast Portland but had strong ties to the Forest Grove community, where they had many close family friends and attended annual events such as the Verboort Sausage & Sauerkraut Community Dinner.

Jerry Deas and his brother were always close growing up.

Tom and Jerry were identical twins, “but I was better looking,” Deas quipped, continuing one-half of the banter the two shared non-stop throughout their lives.

Deas even felt emotionally and physically connected to Tom when he was miles away, citing one example when he felt a pain in his hand. He called Tom to find out if everything was all right, and discovered his brother had just burnt his hand.

Tom Deas died in 1994. Tom was staying with Jerry Deas and his partner for two weeks in their Portland home when he took ill. He had a fever, but thought it was just the flu. Photo Credit: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: STEPHANIE HAUGEN - Tom Daes square includes his picture; a gay pride flag; a carnation that represents his oldest daughter; a Portland Rose Festival symbol for his other daughter; two Korean flags for his two adopted children; the U.S. Air Force embelem to represent his decades in the service; and a Dallas Cowboys helmet as he was a diehard fan.

Jerry finally convinced Tom to go to the hospital and that night he slipped into a coma. Soon, Jerry would make the decision with his other brother and Tom’s son to take him off life support.

“Tom is someone who is truly missed because of his personality,” said Deas, who describes his brother as outgoing and very good with his kids.

While Deas finds little ways to remember Tom every day, events like the one coming up on Nov. 13 still touch him. There will also be a Mass on the Nov. 5 anniversary of Tom’s death at St. Andrew Catholic Church in Portland, where Deas is an active parishioner.

Eva Guggemos, an archives specialist at Pacific University’s library, has been collecting photos, fliers, pamphlets and manuals from members of the gay community during the peak of the AIDS crisis to display along with the quilt during November. Those with local artifacts they are willing to share can email archives@pacificu.edu.

Guggemos has been looking up at the square honoring Peter Tuttle, one of her dad’s best friends. Guggemos remembers Tuttle as simultaneously smart and wild, as a computer administrator and a motorcycle-riding, parachuting, rock-climbing ex-hippie.

“I’ve been thinking about him all these years,” she said.

Forest Grove resident Bonnie Wyckoff also has a friend commemorated on the quilt.

Looking up at the quilt next Thursday, Deas will remember that each person on the squares “has a story that needs to be told.”

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