The first things participants see when arriving for AIDS Walk each year at Theis Park in Kansas City, across from the Nelson-Atkins Museum, are the thousands of people assembling as early as 8 a.m., the brightly covered tents for exhibitor booths and a stage where area artists provide entertainment for those walking and volunteering.
Besides the entertainers onstage, it’s not uncommon for political figures such as former Mayor Kay Barnes, Mayor Sly James, State Sen. Jolie Justus and others to speak to those assembled and address the critical issue of raising money and awareness for HIV/AIDS.
The AIDS Walk volunteers — more than 100 of them — arrive well before dawn to set up, and many were there the day before. And then there are the thousands of walkers from all age groups, including children and teens, pets, parents, grandparents and friends. It’s an amazing panorama of people, all united for a good cause.
Jan Henson is one of those people walking and leading a team. Last year she was involved with the LIKEME Lighthouse team, and this year she’s been leading the way with a team from her employer, AT&T. Henson walks with her partner of 17 years, Peg. A native of Oklahoma, Henson moved to the Kansas City area in 1999. She designates her youngest brother, J.P., on her AIDS Walk page as one of the reasons she walks.
“He would have been 50 years old this July,” she said. “He had AIDS for 20 years, and in November 2009, he was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. Over the course of his bout with HIV and AIDS, he had ups and down, but pretty much, he was in maintenance mode. They had gotten the combination of everything right that they needed to, but the cancer was more than he could stand, and we lost him in June of 2010.”
Henson said she began walking in AIDS Walk in 2004. “One of the reasons why we were interested — and Peg especially – [was> because she and my brother were very close. In fact, my family was one that was never really close. We loved each other, but we just weren’t communicative. It was Peg that got me back involved with my family again and got me a lot closer to my brother again, and we started vacationing together and doing things. And so at the time of his passing, we were very close. I think Peg was upset with his passing as much as I was.”
Henson said that she has walked with Peg individually and also with teams over the years. At her employer, AT&