aids poster, good copyTHE BIG PICTURE:

Out of sight. Out of mind. Some minds anyway.

Once the disease du jour, HIV/AIDS rarely makes national headlines. We saw no red ribbons attached to gowns and tuxes at the Golden Globes or SAG Awards. Once trendy, AIDS Rides have been run off the road for a few years now. And World AIDS Day  tends to pass with a yawn.

Is the age of AIDS finally over?

Not on your life.

And it could be worth your life to know that.

Robert Presley, TAB's muse, 1997

Robert Presley, TAB’s muse, 1997

“The virus” was first announced in France in January 1983. Washington D.C. picked up the news in April 1984. Just shy of 30 years later, the plague has killed over 35 million people worldwide. In the United States alone, over 5,000 new cases of HIV/AIDS are reported each year. Still. Today, more 34 million people are living with HIV/AIDS.

In 2009, about 54,000 American were infected with HIV, yet America lacked a comprehensive plan on AIDS until 2010, when President Obama launched the National HIV/AIDS Strategy. The “Strategy” was structured around three core goals: reducing new HIV infections, increasing access to care and improving health outcomes for people living with HIV, and reducing HIV-related disparities and health inequities.

Clearly, the Telluride AIDS Benefit, with its aim of “Fight, Fund, Educate,” has long operated way ahead of the curve and very successfully on behalf of a growing list of beneficiaries.

TAB Board Chair, Jodie Wright

TAB Board Chair, Jodie Wright

Now in its 20th year, TAB has a disbursed a grand total of $1.8 million to caregivers and educators from the Western Slope and Front Range in Colorado all the way to Africa.

TAB is the little engine that could.

And does. Consistently.

How has TAB managed to keep on keeping on despite economic downturns that have sent other nonprofits into tailspin?

In part the answer is Telluride: we are a tiny community, but with a big (bleeding) heart.

The rest of the answer is tops down.

TAB has had a succession of inspired and inspiring leaders starting with its Grand Potentate (or Grand Vizer as he is also known), Ron Gilmer, Robert Presley’s former partner.

One of the founders, Kandee DeGraw, was TAB’s first executive director. She was followed by other super capable and motivated people including Greg Craig/Ellen Katzenbaum, Amy Kimberly, Betsy Adler, Lynne Domingos, and now Stash Wislocki.

Educator Sandy McLaughlin has spearheaded TAB’s education initiatives at Telluride’s schools since the 1990s.

Baerbel Hacke has tirelessly put together TAB’s art auction since 1998.

Jodie Wright, who joined the board in 2003 and became board chair in 2006, is the organization’s the guiding light.

“Twenty years… Hard to believe TAB is almost legal,” said Jodie. “And I am proud to say the Telluride AIDS Benefit is still making a difference: from THS student mentoring programs to free HIV testing in the community to support of our beneficiaries, our impact is undeniable. And that is all thanks to a growing number of dedicated people who make all those Benefit-related events come to life. How have things changed since we began our work? The truth is not much. Yes, we know how HIV/AIDS it is transmitted, but there is still no cure, which makes it all the more important for everyone to do our part to staunch the spread of the pandemic by at least getting tested. No excuses. Testing is readily available and free. People who are positive may not have symptoms for over a decade. Get tested. And help TAB maintain its momentum any way you can. We have to continue to fight, fund and educate.”


With a swiftness that imitates the spread of the disease itself, AIDS became enmeshed in the fabric of our society. As people watched friends and family members cut down in the prime of their lives, many tried to make sense of the scourge by channeling their pain into ways to help. A small group of locals founded the Telluride AIDS Benefit in 1994 because they wanted to help a friend with his costly medical expenses.

Robert Presley was one-of-a-kind, a kooky creative genius and local enfant terrible. Fabrics were his canvas. He dyed, slashed and frayed them into submission, turning  improbable materials into provocative designs. Presley died from complications due to HIV/AIDS in August 1997.

In its first year, the nascent Telluride AIDS Benefit netted $12,000, which seemed like a fortune at the time. At Presley’s request, the money went directly to the Western Colorado AIDS Project, WestCAP, a community-based referral and educational provider which assists HIV-infected individuals and families across over 20 counties of Western Colorado. It was Robert’s wish to keep keep financial aid on the Western Slope to help victims of HIV/AIDS like himself, people living in the more remote areas of the state.

Brother Jeff

Brother Jeff

WestCAP remains TAB’s primary beneficiary. Another at the top of a short list is the Children’s Hospital HIV Program (CHIP) in Denver, a clinic within a hospital dedicated to providing children with the HIV infection with family-centered, state-of-the art care. (Denver is one of the top ten children’s hospitals in the country.)

Over the years, TAB added its other beneficiaries. The full list now includes Brother Jeff’s Health Initiative, a Denver-based nonprofit for state-wide outreach to minorities. African partners include orphanages in Manzini, Swaziland, (Manzini Youth Care) and Addis Abada, Ethiopia (Ethiopian Family Fund). Ubantu Africa is a new, honorary beneficiary.

For you quant jocks, the various beneficiaries have received TAB funds over the past 20 years as follows:

1994, $12,000
1995, $15,500
1996, $50,000
1997, $58,000
1998, $70,000
1999, $85,000
2000, $90,000
2001, $93,000
2002, $100,000
2003, $110,000
2004, $116,000
2005, $133,000
2006, $120,000
2007, $103,000
2008, $164,000
2009, $101, 500
2010, $111,250
2011, $137,000
2012, $136,000

What all the numbers mean is that you and many others have helped TAB donate over $1million to the Western Colorado AIDS Project and over $500,000 to the Children’s Hospital Immunodeficiency Program. At the end of the day, TAB raised more than $1.7 million for Colorado-based AIDS initiatives.
In the past 12 years, TAB was able to to give over $125,000 to African AIDS projects.


Thursday, February 21, Student Fashion Show. Palm Theatre, 6 p.m.

Thursday, February 28. Sneak Peek Fashion Show, Telluride Conference Center, Mountain Village. Doors 7 p.m.; show, 8 p.m.

Friday, March 1, TAB Art Auction. Bidding begins at noon. Silent auction and reception, 6 – 10 p.m. Sheridan Opera House.

Saturday, March 2:

FREE HIV testing, Telluride Medical Center

Gala Fashion Show, Telluride Conference Center, Mountain Village. Doors, 7 p.m. Show, 8 p.m.

After-party dance party with DJ Cato, 10:30 p.m.

Monday, March 2, Trunk Sale. Sheridan Opera House, 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.


Ron Gilmer with Celebrity Chef Steve Spitz

Ron Gilmer with Celebrity Chef Steve Spitz

“Twenty years of commitment to the fight against AIDS and we still face a disease that has killed over 35 million people in the past 30 years and that still infects three million worldwide each year. No cure, no vaccine in sight. It is the fallibility of mankind’s sexuality that feeds the HIV virus; a virus atuned to every taboo and sexual behavior we can imagine. Only a cure or a vaccine will stop the march of this disease, until then our commitment to fighting AIDS continues. Twenty years ago the first benefit  raised $12K for a fledgling AIDS organization based in Grand Junction that today treats more than 300 clients a year. We now help many Colorado AIDS organizations and three African charities. We are the epitome of a grassroots event benefiting from the enormous dedication of our entire community. This year is the culmination of a long evolution and its impact will hopefully remind everyone that the fight against AIDS is far from over.”

Ron’s bottom line? A tip of the hat to Ben Franklin: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

(Though with HIV/AIDS, TAB and everyone else is praying for that cure.)


1 Comment
  • Sandy McLaughlin
    Posted at 18:39h, 16 February

    Excellent article. Thank you, Susan, for your continuous support to TAB and our community!