The Times photo by Betsy Reason
Ryan White’s family, Jeanne White-Ginder poses at the new Ryan White Indiana historical marker with her husband, Roy, and Ryan’s grandmother, 93-year-old Gloria Hale, and Ryan’s sister, Andrea White, on Friday at Hamilton Heights Middle School in Arcadia.
The Times photo by Betsy Reason Ryan White’s family, Jeanne White-Ginder poses at the new Ryan White Indiana historical marker with her husband, Roy, and Ryan’s grandmother, 93-year-old Gloria Hale, and Ryan’s sister, Andrea White, on Friday at Hamilton Heights Middle School in Arcadia.
Ryan White’s name will live on for young people to remember.
An Indiana historical marker with his name on it was unveiled on Friday morning during a dedication at Hamilton Heights Middle School in Arcadia.
The marker is there to remind us of his life and what he taught us, not only to honor Ryan and his family but the Hamilton Heights community that so graciously welcomed the family more than 30 years ago.
“Ryan’s legacy in Hamilton County began here at the current site of Hamilton Heights Middle School (formerly the high school) Aug. 31, 1987,” said Dan Smith, co-chairman of the Ryan White Committee for Ryan’s marker. He was a teacher at Hamilton Heights when Ryan White came to the district. Smith welcomed guests to Friday’s dedication that began with an hour-long ceremony in the school gymnasium. “It was the collaborative effort of current and former Heights personnel and members of the community that helped bring this important recognition to reality,” he said of the historical marker which was unveiled following the program.
At Friday’s dedication, hundreds of people -- including Hamilton Heights students transported by school busses -- filed in to find seats to watch and listen to an array of guest speakers that included Ryan’s mom, Jeanne White-Ginder, as well as Indiana State Rep. Tony Cook who, at the time, was principal of Hamilton Heights High School. During the program, the Hamilton Heights Middle School Band played the National Anthem, and the school’s choir sang “Sisi ni moja (We Are One).” A video created by HHHS student Nick Smith looked back at Ryan White’s life.
This middle school was the same school where Ryan attended high school, where students and administrators welcomed him with open arms in 1987.
Ryan White became famous when in 1985, the eyes of the world turned to Indiana, when the 13-year-old Kokomo student with AIDS wanted to go to school with his fellow classmates at Western Middle School in Russiaville.
But, his wish to return to school was met with panic by school officials and parents, as Ryan had been earlier diagnosed with AIDS after receiving contaminated blood-based products used to treat his hemophilia.
But to get away from the controversy in Howard County, the White family, when Ryan was a freshman, moved in 1987 to Cicero, to attend Hamilton Heights High School.
Upon the family’s move, “everything was different,” in a positive way.
“It changed. It changed because of the people,” Jeanne White-Ginder said of her wonderful, welcoming experience of moving to Hamilton Heights Schools.
She told stories of how happy Ryan was to get a job making $3.50 an hour. “I got a job like everybody else does,” he told her. She told how Ryan would not feel well enough to go to school but well enough to take a drive in his Ford Mustang that Michael Jackson gave him.
Ryan White was supposed to live three to six months but lived five-and-one-half years.
At the end of her talk, Jeanne White-Ginder said, “I love you Ryan White.”
Ryan was born Dec. 6, 1971, and died April 8, 1990, at the age of 18, before his high school prom and graduation. However, Ryan was included in his class’ commencement, and his mom received his diploma.
After the program, Jeanne White-Ginder smiled and posed for photos with Ryan’s historical marker. She admitted to have stopped by the day before the dedication to get a sneak peek but only found the post. On Friday, she posed in front of the marker with her daughter, Andrea, and Jeanne’s husband, Roy, and her mother,
“It’s a lot bigger than I thought it would be. I’ve never seen a marker that big,” said White-Ginder, who lives in Leesburg, Fla. The marker, she said, would be a special stop on her visits here that also includes Cicero Cemetery, location of her son’s 6-foot-8-inch gravestone which has tributes from Elton John, Michael Jackson and Dr. Martin Kleiman.
“Now this is going to be another stop I can take pictures and tell people about,” said White-Ginder, who often visits the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, where there is a replica of her son’s bedroom in the permanent exhibit, “The Power of Children: Making a Difference.”
At Friday’s dedication, Ryan’s grandmother, 93-year-old Gloria Hale, who lives not far from her daughter in Florida, watched from a wheelchair but got up and walked to join family photo opportunities at the marker dedication in front of the school.
Jeanne White-Ginder smiled and posed with Ryan’s best friend, Heather (McNew) Stephenson and husband, Derek, and their three children, Quincy, Turner and Stone, who now live in Carmel. Heather, who graduated from Hamilton Heights in 1991, met Ryan on his first day of school in science class in 1987. They were lab partners and had an immediate connection, soon becoming inseparable.
When Ryan enrolled in school at Heights, it became a very public highlight of Tony Cook's educational career. But to Cook, it was important to get know Ryan as a student. "I knew Ryan very well. I talked to him almost daily when he was at school. My wife and I attended his 16th birthday party with about 10 other students from school and his family. He was a thoughtful, kind and caring young man,” he told me in an April 2015 interview, on the 25th anniversary of White’s death.
During this dedication, I couldn’t help but remember meeting Ryan and his mom, Jeanne, and Ryan’s sister, Andrea, at the Indiana Repertory Theatre in Indianapolis in October 1987. Ryan’s good friend champion Olympic diver Greg Louganis’ invited the Whites to his Dance Kaleidoscope dance debut at the theater.
When Ryan moved to Cicero in northern Hamilton County, The Noblesville Ledger, where I was a journalist, wrote about the teenager. It was a different reporter’s beat. But I always followed his story.
Ryan White said, in a quote: "I never wanted to be famous. It's embarrassing to be famous for being sick, especially with a disease like AIDS."
I didn’t meet any of the Whites again until I brought my own daughter to visit Jeanne White-Ginder, who was speaking in Ryan White’s room at the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis. And then again on the 25th anniversary of Ryan’s death, during a special celebration at the Indiana Historical Society, which honored Ryan's legacy with the release of a book, "The Quiet Hero: A Life of Ryan White.” To that event, I took my daughter to meet the White family and Greg Louganis and others who had played an important role in White’s life. My daughter remembered and, at the first opportunity in school when she got an assignment to research and write about an important person, she wrote about Ryan White.
A cast aluminum marker, with printing on both sides, was placed near the entrance of the middle school in Arcadia. The Ryan White marker, Hamilton County’s seventh, is among the more than 650 markers that have been commemorated by an official Indiana state historical marker since Indiana Historical Bureau began issuing the signs in 1946.
The marker reads: Kokomo native Ryan White was diagnosed with AIDS in 1984 after contracting the virus from a contaminated hemophilia treatment. He faced intense discrimination from his community in a time of fear and misunderstanding about AIDS and was prevented from attending school in his hometown. Hamilton Heights High School welcomed White in 1987 after the family moved to Cicero. Anticipating White’s arrival, Hamilton Heights developed an acclaimed AIDS education campaign. White raised national AIDS awareness while battling the disease and spoke before the Presidential Commission on the HIV Epidemic. He was named Sagamore of the Wabash for his advocacy. The Ryan White CARE Act, providing funds for HIV/AIDS treatment, passed soon after his death.”
-Contact Betsy Reason at betsy@thetimes24-7.com.