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  WINDY CITY TIMES

AIDS: Dick Uyvari, Surviving the AIDS wars
by Ross Forman, Windy City Times
2011-11-02

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Dick Uyvari is emotional, teary-eyed when talking about the gay Chicago bowler, "John," who was in the Lincoln Park Lagooners league during the fall of 1980. The league used nearly all of the 40-lane house with its 200-plus bowlers, playing on Thursday nights.

"John" was tall, handsome, muscular and very personable, Uyvari said.

In October of that year, about a month or so after the league started, "John" was suddenly absent.

"We noticed [ that he wasn't around anymore ] , but didn't think much of it at first, as people often would come and go in the league," Uyvari said. "Weeks later, we learned that he was sick and went to stay with close relatives in Arizona."

A few months later—in February, 1981—Uyvari and the rest of the bowlers learned that "John" had died, even though the friend they knew was, on the surface, "a perfectly healthy guy, in fact the very epitome of health," Uyvari said.

"Word spread that he had gotten some type of fungus, and dropped from 180 to 90 pounds, having just wasted away. Doctors weren't able to do anything for him. We were shocked.

"In retrospect, it's pretty obvious what happened: he had died from AIDS."

That was Uyvari's earliest memory of HIV/AIDS, a disease that, well, few people have been impacted by more than Uyvari, now retired and living in Uptown.

Uyvari said the local gay bowlers of the 1980s started hearing about HIV and AIDS by 1981, mainly from cases of the disease that had struck on both the East and West Coasts, but not really in Chicago, yet.

By the beginning of 1982, some of the Chicago bowlers and others locally started getting diagnosed with what would become known later as HIV and AIDS, Uyvari said. "By [ the end of ] 1982, that's when it really started to impact Chicago."

Uyvari quickly realized that HIV/AIDS was hitting friends—and within a couple of years, it was close friends, some very close friends, and even his older brother Bob, a well-known artist.

When the International Gay Bowling Organization ( IGBO ) held its annual tournament in Chicago in 1983, there were 576 bowlers from across the U.S. and Canada participating. During the tournament, Uyvari spearheaded a fundraising campaign—a raffle to help the AIDS-related wing of the Howard Brown Health Center. The event raised about $3,800, a sizable amount at the time.

Uyvari said the local scene continued to worsen in the mid-1980s as the HIV/AIDS vice grip intensified. "Everyone was thinking, 'Am I next?' because we didn't really know how it was being transmitted," said Uyvari, who watched his brother die on June 4, 1986—about a year after he was diagnosed.

Despite the tears, or perhaps because of them, Uyvari was aggressive on the fundraising trail to battle HIV/AIDS. He co-founded the Strike Against AIDS fundraiser at the now-closed Marigold Bowl in Wrigleyville. The annual fundraiser, held from 1985-1993, raised about $500,000.

Uyvari, who was the director of several local gay bowling leagues at the time, also started a 50/50 raffle in 1984—which is still part of Chicago's gay bowling scene. The winning ticket holder won half of the night's sales and a chance to win the other half by rolling a strike.

Over the years, the 50/50 raffles through Chicago's gay bowling leagues and tournaments have raised about $600,000 for HIV/AIDS and other charitable causes.

"I feel good about [ the funds raised over the years, ] " said Uyvari, though sadness is ever-present when Uyvari reflects back over the past 30 years.

In April 1988, for instance, one of his closet friends died from AIDS.

In June 1993, his very best friend died.

Uyvari himself learned he was HIV-positive in 1991.

His life partner Joe La Pat, who died unexpectedly in 2008, also was HIV-positive, although his death was unrelated to HIV. Both La Pat and Uyvari were inducted into the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame in 2008.

"It was just a scary time because, from 1981-1996, there really was no hope for long-time survival. For most people [ diagnosed ] then, it was a death sentence. In the early-1980s, it absolutely was a death sentence," Uyvari said. "When you heard someone had AIDS then, there was no question they were going to die. Sometimes [ in ] weeks, sometimes [ in ] months, but nearly always within a year.

"Talking about HIV/AIDS from the 1980s is like talking about 9/11, it's so emotional."

The disease wasn't just affecting bowlers, but rather, everyone—writers, politicians, tradesmen, literally everyone. "It cut across the entire gay community, and literally entire [ bowling ] teams were decimated," Uyvari said.

Take, for instance, Uyvari's first Lincoln Park Lagooners team from the 1980-'81 season, which had six people including Uyvari. The other five all died from HIV/AIDS.

Or, Uyvari's first bowling team at Marigold Bowl during the 1980-'81 and 1981-'82 seasons, which had seven bowlers. Five are dead; one Uyvari has not heard from, or about, in more than 20 years, and then there's Uyvari.

"Whole teams from that era died," Uyvari said.

Uyvari and his longtime partner Joe La Pat had been together since 1969, though Uyvari admits it was an honest, open relationship.

"I cried the day I learned I was HIV-positive.I thought I was going to be dead within a year or so," he said. "I think one thing that helped was that I was very healthy. I didn't smoke, drink or do drugs."

Uyvari started taking medication in 1996 and still does to this day. He's living with HIV fairly well, with the disease being undetectable in his system, he said.

Just a lot of horrible memories.

Starting in the mid-1980s, for instance, Uyvari compiled an annual list of the approximate 800 bowlers in the various LGBT leagues in Chicago. By 1992, 115 of those had died from AIDS-related causes—one of every seven bowlers.

"Thirty years," Uyvari said, pausing, "I just think it's a horrible set of circumstances. One of the things that made gay life unique was our ability to separate sex and love. So, you could have a sexual encounter with someone, without necessarily falling in love. We had that sexual freedom.

"That all changed in 1981-'82 because you didn't know if the person you were with was HIV-positive, and whether or not HIV was actually transmitted by sexual contact. It wasn't until the mid-1980s that the correlation was certain and that safe sex became the norm."

Uyvari recalls how known HIV-positive men, especially those with full-blown AIDS, were often shunned—by many in the straight community and even some in the gay community. Some people were even afraid to touch someone who was HIV-positive.

"I don't think HIV ever will be eliminated completely. I think it will be like diabetes, a controlled medical condition—which it is for most of us now," Uyvari said. "I've seen, heard and read about so many things over the years, things that are billed as, 'The next breakthrough to cure HIV/AIDS.' But no cure has ever been found.

"The thing I'm expecting somewhere down the line is a vaccine that will prevent you from getting HIV in the first place. But to cure HIV/AIDS, or eradicate it, I don't really see that happening."

Uyvari thinks about the 30 years of HIV/AIDS at least three times a day—when he takes his HIV medications. He also thinks of those who have died, be it in the past year, five years ago, 10-, 20- or even 30-plus-years ago. And he's been to countless memorial services over the past three decades.

"If I had to describe HIV/AIDS in one word, it would be: insidious," Uyvari said. "It really is an awful disease—the way it has impacted, and continues to impact, so very many people."


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