ARCADIA, Ind. – On Friday, August 30, more than 30 years after he was diagnosed with AIDS, the Ryan White State Historical Marker will be placed, forever recognizing the impact he made that continues decades later.
“Ryan needs to be remembered not only because of his life but because of what he taught us,” said Dan Smith, who is on the committee to bring the marker and a former teacher of White’s. “Not only to honor Ryan and Jeannie and the White family but to honor the communities that welcomed the White family.”
Others, like former classmate Jeff Beechler, who now teaches at Hamilton Heights, were also part of the group effort to honor the teen who so bravely touched so many.
“When Ryan came he wasn’t trying to teach a lesson, he was trying to be a kid,” said Beechler. “I don’t know if he realized the lesson he was teaching us at the time.”
In 1984 at just 13, Ryan contracted AIDS from a blood transfusion.
Then, discrimination against those who suffered from AIDS was common. Threats of violence forced his family from their life in Kokomo, and they moved to the Arcadia area.
In 1987, Ryan was welcomed with open arms at Hamilton Heights High School. He died in April 1990, one month before he would have graduated.
“This disease at the time was devastating,” Smith said. “People were dying and not knowing how to treat, and because of Ryan and the education that followed Ryan, because of what he said and what he did, people are living longer now.”
Now this marker will stand proudly at Ryan’s school, among more than 600 markers in Indiana.
“There were a lot of kids here that went above and beyond that embracing,” said current Hamilton Heights Schools Superintendent, Dr. Derek Arrowood. “They were good kids who wanted to reach out to the new kid and Ryan was allowed to be normal.”
The marker’s inscription memorializes, in part, that, “White raised national AIDS awareness while battling the disease..”
“He told us how to live,” Smith said. “I think this plaque will remind us of his life and what he taught us.”
The Ryan White Care Act passed after he died, funding treatment for others battling the disease that took him too soon.
Now, the hope is that Ryan and his perseverance inspire generations to come.
The program to unveil the Ryan White State Historical Marker:
- Friday, August 30
- 9 a.m.
- Hamilton Heights Middle School (the former high school that Ryan attended)
- 420 W North St, Arcadia, IN
- Free, but tickets are required. Click here for ticket information.