by Carlin Holden
Over 500 people celebrated the Grove’s twentieth anniversary at the second iteration of Light in the Grove on Nov 30. 2011. Franco Beneduce Productions and Jesse Dimond Design, the producer and designer of the event respectively, took a creative step up from their inaugural presentation in 2010.
The variety of light effects and dancing sprites evolved this year into a singular, elegant vision. The fountain of candles in the Circle of Friends led to a river of candles. These and Inflated light globes softly lit the entire Redwood Grove. The classical cello of Dan Reiter seemed to come from as many sources as the candlelight.
Copious Dance Theater interpreted the spirit of the Redwoods in front of a projection of flying birds. Under the protection of a 7,400-square-foot clear and heated tent, the celebration continued with food from Daniel Ripley Catering and music from harpist Natalie Cox. The program began with the entrance of a piper in full Scots kilt leading Grove Executive Director John Cunningham.
Last year’s honoree, Pat Christen, introduced Ambassador James C. Hormel. Ambassador Hormel was honored for his many contributions to the LGBT community, and especially for his support of the community response in the early days of the epidemic. It was also Ambassador Hormel who hosted the first event to raise seed money for the Grove when it was just the vision of a few people. Meg McKay sang a moving song, My Brother Lived in San Francisco, evocative of the days here thirty years ago.
This led into a finale on the south slope outside the tent by the San Francisco Flaggers. Spotlights first showed three individuals moving slowly to somber music. The music gradually became more energized and the lights came up to reveal more than a dozen performers on the slope.
At the World AIDS Day commemoration this year, the local unsung hero award was presented to the staff of San Francisco General Hospital wards 5A, 5B and 86, which became the medical centerpiece of “the San Francisco model. These units were the first of their kind and were staffed by committed individuals at a time when the risks of transmission were not yet understood.
The group was introduced by Grove Board member Marcy Fraser – herself one of those pioneers at General – and was represented by Diane Jones. Over 80 individuals were present to reunite with their fellows and receive the applause and recognition of the other five hundred attendees.
The Leadership Award recognized the advances in public policy and program funding made by the Clinton administration and President Bill Clinton’s international work to abate the epidemic. While the president was unable to attend in person, he acknowledged the recognition in a video statement.
After President Clinton’s video address, the winners of this year’s World AIDS Day Youth Scholarships took to the stage. Each winner read an excerpt from his or her essay to an audience of 500 people and were presented with awards. The National AIDS Memorial Grove Youth College Scholarship Program is an essay contest open to high school sophomores, juniors and seniors. The purpose of the Youth Scholarship Program is to engage youth to explore the ways they are touched by HIV/AIDS and the National AIDS Memorial Grove by submitting an essay of up to 750 words, which is judged by a panel of experts from the community. This is the third year of the Grove’s World AIDS Day Youth Scholarship Program.
Bishop Yvette Flunder closed the program with a specially adapted rendition of “Somewhere.” Her appearance has become a recent tradition of the World AIDS Day program in the Grove. Following the program, names of those added to the Circle of Friends in 2011 were read aloud.
The day concluded with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the The Falls. This restoration of one of the original Victorian waterfalls is located at the west end of the Grove and is dedicated to the memory of Frances McCormick. It brings flowing water back to Dry Creek and adds burbling water sounds to the calls of birds along the tranquil path leading to the meadow.
The event ended with the traditional soups of Daniel Ripley and countless informal conversations among friends and colleagues. As people drifted away, volunteers began the job of dismantling the site. As always, nothing that happens in or with the Grove would be possible without the dedication of the many people who have found themselves drawn to participate together in whatever ways to make it happen. Thank you to each and every selfless Grove volunteer!
Over twenty years, the Grove has been fortunate in a great many ways – friends, supporters, volunteers. Over the 36-hour period of our two events, the forecasted wind event which wreaked havoc in several parts of the state did not visit the Grove.