It was a controversial part of Howard County’s history and forever linked Kokomo with the AIDS scare of the 1980s.
Kokomo and Howard County were thrust into the national spotlight when 13-year-old Ryan White, suffering from severe hemophilia, was diagnosed with AIDS from a blood transfusion. He was banned from attending Western Middle School. The case went to court, and the Indiana Department of Education eventually ruled White should be allowed to attend school.
White and his family eventually moved to Hamilton County where he attended Hamilton Heights High School and became a national spokesman against discrimination of people with AIDS. He died April 8, 1990. White was 18 years old.
The Howard County Historical Society has been awarded a $2,320 grant from the Howard County Community Foundation to examine the impact the Ryan White story had on the community through oral history interviews.
“It’s a difficult subject,” Kelly Karickhoff, executive director of the Historical Society, said. “We want people to understand the story from that time period.”
When White was diagnosed with AIDS, little was known about the disease or how it was spread.
“We want to give the Kokomo community a voice,” Karickhoff said. “There were good things that took place.
“It’s something that needs to be done,” she said. “It is a story that had not been collected.”
Karickhoff said decisions were made in 1984 based on the information that was available at the time, some of it misleading information. She said when White went to school in Hamilton County, the students and parents were educated about AIDS for weeks before White entered school.
A committee with the Howard County Historical Society has been doing research on White’s life for the past year and have reviewed all the books written about the case and gone through the Kokomo Tribune news clippings.
“We’re identifying whom we will talk with,” Karickhoff said. “We wanted to interview people while they’re still around.”
The committee wants to talk with members of the Western school board, the Kokomo mayor at the time, the minister for the White family and hopes to interview White’s mother, Jeanne White-Ginder.
Karickhoff said Dr. Alan Adler, the Howard County Health Officer at the time has already been interviewed.
“That was the stepping stone for what we decided to do,” she said.
The Historical Society is hoping to interview 15 to 20 people for between 30 and 45 minutes each. Karickhoff said the Historical Society is hoping to work with the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, which has a replica of White’s bedroom on display as part of the “Power of Children” exhibit.
Karickhoff said it has not been determined if a public event will take place as with the oral history of Continental Steel done in 2009. She said there may be a round table discussion of the White story.
“We can’t ignore this story,” she said. “It’s a part of Howard County’s history.”
• Ken de la Bastide is the Kokomo Tribune enterprise editor. He can be reached at 765-454-8580 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org