6 local men lost to AIDS are being remembered by those who loved them and honored by others they never met
The AIDS epidemic often comes down to facts, figures and scientific study, but some Fargo-Moorhead students and volunteers are doing their best to remember the people behind the illness.
MOORHEAD — It's been just over 40 years since the first cases of what would later become known as AIDS were reported in the United States.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in June 1981, it was reported that five previously healthy young men in Los Angeles had come down with some kind of "cellular immune deficiency." Just a few years later, for the next several decades, the AIDS epidemic raged. Since its beginnings, AIDS and HIV-related illness have killed 700,000 people in the U.S.. There are more than 1.2 million people living with HIV in America and there are more than 35,000 new infections each year.
Wednesday, Dec. 1, is World AIDS Day, which provides an opportunity to show support for people diagnosed with HIV/AIDS and remember those who have been lost to the disease.
This fall, Minnesota State University Moorhead, partnering with the Red River Rainbow Seniors, the FM LGBTQ Alliance, the Quilters' Guild of North Dakota and the Historical and Cultural Society of Clay County, will be taking extra steps to remember.
Five panels from the national AIDS Memorial Quilt are on display in MSUM's Livingston Lord Library from Oct. 1 through Dec. 1. Panels in each of the quilts were created to honor individuals from the Fargo-Moorhead area or those with ties to the area.
The quilt was conceived in November 1985 by longtime San Francisco gay rights activist Cleve Jones when he learned about the thousands of individuals who had been lost to AIDS.
Several people from the region have been represented with panels on the National AIDS Memorial Quilt already, but six more men who lost their lives to AIDS are now getting panels of their own. With the help of Quilting Guild of North Dakota, 30 to 40 MSUM students and other community volunteers designed and created the custom panels to represent the person lost to the disease. Those involved say they hope it's a way they can help history remember some pretty amazing people taken too soon.
Family members of some of the men stopped by MSUM to visit with the students working on the quilt panels. Sue Meyer, a sister to Roger Schobinger, said she and her family were "overwhelmed" to hear that people were doing this for her brother "who always had a smile on his face."
"This is truly an honor that people are thinking about him and are willing to make his part of the quilt. Wherever he's at, he's watching over us and he's feeling wonderful that other people want to provide this for him," she said.
0000017d-7cc2-d9e2-abff-7edf017000d0 Sister reflects on her brother and why this quilt panel means so much
Here is a list of the six men now being honored with new panels for the AIDS quilt. These biographies were condensed and edited from biographies written by Markus Krueger from the Historical and Cultural Society of Clay County.
The full biographies can be seen at the exhibit and on MSUM's Livingston Lord Library's Facebook Page.
The AIDS Memorial Quilt Project will be on display until Dec 1 in the Livingston Lord Library on the campus of MSUM. On Dec. 1, World AIDS Day, the newly created quilt panels will be showcased in the Langseth Atrium.
The closing event is the screening of the documentary "Nothing Without Us: The Women Who Will End AIDS."
The new quilt panels
Soren Berg, from a 1995 Fargo South High School yearbook. He's been credited with inspiring a new generation of scientists to love chemistry. Special to The Forum
Soren grew up in Fargo and was a graduate of North High and Concordia College. After a stint with the Peace Corps in Ghana and a teaching position in Germany, Soren returned home to teach chemistry at Fargo South High. Many recall him as their favorite teacher.
“He made me love chemistry. He had a very gentle but direct way of encouraging his students,” recalled one student.
Another recalled, “I’ll never know why he encouraged me or what he saw in my potential, but it meant everything… This will be my 22nd year of teaching Chemistry and AP Chemistry. I honor him by following in his footsteps.”
"He was a compassionate and caring adult who loved teaching and had a genuine concern for all his students."
-Erik Berg about his brother, Soren.
At the time of his death in 1992, Amon Peterson of Fergus Falls, is believed to have lived longer with AIDS than any other Minnesotan. Submitted photo
Amon was a special education teacher in Fergus Falls, Minn., and was a graduate of MSUM. He contracted HIV in 1979-80. At the time of his death in 1992, it was thought he had lived with AIDS longer than any other Minnesotan.
Through his lectures, he taught 20,000 people about AIDS and what it was like to be an openly gay man in Greater Minnesota at that time. More people were reached when his lectures became videos. Amon served on both state and national AIDS advisory boards and won several awards for his activism.
“As I drive to and from these speaking engagements, I think if I can keep one kid from catching AIDS, it’s worth it.”.
-Amon Peterson on his efforts to educate people about AIDS.
David Sharpe worked to fight poverty and was active in local politics. Special to The Forum
David Sharpe grew up in Meeker County, Minn. After graduating from MSUM, he taught school in Menahga and Barnesville. He eventually took a job fighting poverty with the Southeastern North Dakota Community Action Agency. He became active in local politics.
He was diagnosed with AIDS in 1988. His final years were spent traveling with family, fishing on Big Marine Lake and decking out his 17th-floor apartment with vintage 1950s furnishings.
“I’m happy, lucky and blessed to be loved by family, and a family of friends. What more can you ask of life?”
Roger Schobinger was a onetime Marine and became a prominent spokesperson for equal rights for the LGBTQ community in the Fargo-Moorhead area. Special to The Forum
Roger joined the Marine Corps after graduating from Fargo South High. He continued his family’s upholstery business when he came home. After being diagnosed with HIV in 1992, he became a prominent spokesperson for the the LGBTQ community in Fargo-Moorhead, building community by producing dances through the Fargo-Moorhead Gay Association.
He was also a leader, teacher and mentor in the area of HIV/AIDS education. He did everything from hosting seminars to speaking with small groups of students to helping medical staff become familiar with patients living with AIDS.
“I just gave them an opportunity to know me, and so, when the circumstances come up, they have a face. You know, that’s a lot, I think, when I worked with the schools across the state: just giving them a face, the educators, so they have…something to relate to.”
Friends say Bill Percy loved to hang out at the lake with his friends and his Afghan dogs. They say he was tender, empathetic, kind and funny. Special to The Forum
Bill was born and grew up with his loving family in Fargo. He graduated from MSUM with an art degree. He was a modern dancer, a ceramist, a sculptor, a painter and a hippie. He was tender, empathetic and kind, and everyone agreed — Bill was fun and he was funny.
Bill eventually moved to New York City and then to San Francisco, but he returned to Fargo regularly to hang out with friends and family.
“Bill was one of a kind!! I loved being with him. He was one of the best friends ever. If only the medications had been available for AIDS then, I would still be waiting for him to show up at my front door, unannounced, with cheese, crackers, and pot!”
-Janet Tennefos Roberts about her friend Bill Percy.
David Hilde likely was the first person in Clay County to be diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, and the first known person to die of the disease in North Dakota. Special to The Forum
David Hilde was a scientist and tinkerer whose sense of adventure and experimentation inspired others. David and his brothers embarked on ecological and energy conservation projects, including making a solar collector out of beer and pop cans. At one point, former Vice President Hubert Humphrey visited the Hilde home to learn more about the brothers’ work.
After graduating from MSUM with a biology degree, David attended the University of Minnesota’s medical school and Cornell University. David was likely the first person in Clay County to be diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, and the first known person to die of the disease in North Dakota.
“David saw the beauty in nature which captured his senses and brilliance.”
-Mark Hilde, about his brother David.
Already completed quilts
Three other North Dakota/Minnesota men are featured on already completed quilts now hanging in the library. Here are their panels and the attached biographies:
Steve Cassidy's quilt panel on display at the MSUM library. Tracy Briggs / The Forum
Born in Hennepin County, Steve was a fan of the Minnesota Twins and loved everything Irish. Steve met Joe Larson at a dance. His charming smile and contagious laugh captured Joe's heart, and Steve's death inspired Joe's long career in HIV/AIDS advocacy.
Brian Coyle's quilt panel on display at the MSUM library. Tracy Briggs / The Forum
A tireless advocate for peace and social justice, a brilliant public intellectual, an aspiring teacher and the first openly gay member of the Minneapolis City Council, Brian was a graduate of Moorhead High School.
Joel Raydon Workin
Joel Workin's quilt panel on display at the MSUM library. Tracy Briggs / The Forum
An openly gay seminarian, Joel unsuccessfully challenged the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America's ban on ordaining gay ministers in committed relationships. The ELCA has since reversed its stance and now welcomes gay clergy.
Joel was born in Fargo, N.D., and loved music, traveling and working on his house and garden.