Community activist Bruce Barnes Jr. died April 4 at home due to complications from HIV and cancer. He was 62.
Barnes was born April 29, 1955, in Chicago. His family soon moved to Antioch, Illinois and that is where he spent his childhood. He was actively involved in his high school ( Antioch Community ) newspaperThe Tom-Tomand was the Sequoia yearbook photographer as well as a member of the drama club and the a capella choir.
In recent years, Barnes returned to Antioch to help create the Lakes Region Historical Society's computer operation.
When Barnes moved to Chicago as an adult he explored everything the city had to offer including the original Gold Coast gay bars and jazz clubs. He held managerial positions at Mel Markon Restaurants and Keeshin Charter Bus Lines among other jobs during his early adulthood. Barnes put his information technology skills to use with his own business, ChicagoNetTech, where he provided low-cost or free telephone and internet services to community organizations.
Barnes got involved in the early days of the HIV/AIDS epidemic as a member of ACT UP Chicago and was instrumental in the success of the original NAMES Project/AIDS Memorial Quilt that was displayed at the old Navy Pier in 1988. He ensured that every volunteer shift was covered so the Quilt would never be unattended and or at risk of being defaced by individuals who might want to do it harm. Barnes was known to have said "not on my watch, mister" when talking about the Quilt's safety. He also photographed the Quilt in Chicago as well as when the it was displayed in its entirety in Washington, D.C,. in 1996.
Barnes was also on the Howard Brown Health advisory board, delivered meals for Open Hand Chicago and assisted numerous HIV/AIDS service organizations. He was also a member, since 2003, of the Hesperia and King Oscar Masonic Lodges where he attained Master Mason status.
He met his partner, Ben Ziola, on an online dating site and soon after ( in 2008 ) they registered as domestic partners. They spent 10 years together in the house Barnes bought and refurbished years earlier in Humboldt Park.
In 2010 and 2011, Barnes and Ziola took road trips to Los Angeles to take in the Turner Classic Movie's Film Festival, where stars of yesteryear and the now-late Robert Osborne would appear for meet and greets with the fans. They met and talked with Osborne, Tony Curtis, Tab Hunter, Eli Wallach, Jane Withers and Lorna Luft, among others during those events.
Barnes is survived by Ziola, brother Brian Barnes, nephews Daniel and Billy Barnes, cousins Karen and Tim Wikholm and their son Jonathen Wikholm as well as their four cats. He was preceded in death by his parents, Bruce Sr. and Joan Barnes.
"Bruce was an old-school AIDS activist," said longtime community HIV/AIDS activist and Open Hand Chicago co-founder Lori Cannon. "He stood his ground and was not afraid to name names. Bruce knew where all the bodies were buried. He was a natural community organizer and was so accomplished in creating coalitions of organizations and politicians to forcefully address the deadly AIDS epidemic. He expected everyone to contribute to assist those who were shunned, discriminated against, suffering and dying. Bruce leaves a huge legacy of hands-on contributions that will never be forgotten. Never let it be said that one person cannot make a difference."
"Bruce was a compassionate hero that fought for the rights of people living with HIV/AIDS," said Center on Halsted CEO Modesto Tico Valle. "During the early days of the epidemic he volunteered endless hours to help bring the quilt to Navy Pier. He along with so many did not want to forget the countless lives lost during a horrific time in our lives. He will be missed."
"Bruce was an unstoppable crusader for the things and people in whom he believed," said Jonathen Wikholm.
Ziola shared this quote Barnes tagged at the end of all of his email messages since 2009: "When I retire to my log cabin in the forests of Michigan; I will no longer have a credit card, phone, internet, computer, water service, natural gas or electricity provided by corporations. I am going off the grid. Give me cash, paper mail, a well, solar panels, a wind generator and a wood burning stove. I will live out the remaining days of my life without the chaos that modern living has wrought upon all our lives."
"This quote about Bruce's future describes his nature perfectly, in contrast to his real life," said Ziola.
Barnes' memorial service and final Masonic Rites were held April 29 at the Hesperia Masonic Lodge in Chicago's Jefferson Park neighborhood. His family has requested that any donations be made to the Center on Halsted.