A familiar face to many at AIDS Walk, Shawn Mullane is hard to miss at that event every year. She can usually be spotted running around Theis Park with her AIDS Walk colleague Clair Fitzsimmons, piloting golf carts and managing logistics on walkie-talkies.
Mullane’s been involved with AIDS Walk for 20 years, and her primary role now is that of a route coordinator with Ryan Gove (although, she conceded with a laugh, “We have never given ourselves an official title.”) She also serves on the Steering Committee, AIDS Service Foundation board and Hope Care Center board.
“I’ve been working on AIDS Walk as long as Michael Lintecum,” Mullane said of the man who is now the event’s director.
She was Lintecum’s agent when she first got involved in the event, said Mullane, who is a co-owner of the Kansas City modeling agency called Exposure Model & Talent Agency. “He was pursuing acting. … Michael called me and knew that I worked on the Kansas City Blues & Jazz festival. He called me and said, ‘I’m working on this walk, and would you come and volunteer? And I said, ‘Sure, I’d be happy to.’”
Originally, Mullane said, she worked registration. This was back in the days when the stage was “one of those trailers that you rent from Parks and Recreation” and people were bringing cash and checks along with pledge forms to registration. (Today, in contrast, most of the funds come in through AIDS Walk’s fundraising website.)
“That was my first year, and I was there collecting money. And a young girl came up, and I’m going to guess she was 11-12 years old. Her mom was there with her, and she handed me an envelope. It wasn’t some huge amount of money or anything like that, but they were from Columbia [Mo.>. And I said, ‘Oh my goodness, you’ve come a long way to walk and donate your money.’ And this very young girl looked me straight in the eye and said, ‘My uncle died of AIDS and I really felt I should do something.’ And I was pretty much hooked at that point.
“I’ve often thought about how I wish I knew what happened to her 20 years after she did that. And her mom nodded in the background — ‘Yeah, this is what she wanted to do.’
Looking back, she said, “That little girl walked up and handed me that envelope of cash that she probably raised in her neighborhood in Columbia, Mo, and this was the closest thing we could do. … There was just that connection and it kept going.”
Mullane volunteers at nearly every event held by the AIDS Service Foundation — AIDS Bicycle Cruise, AIDS Walk Open, Beerfest, House Parties and more. She said she likes all the events and can’t pick a favorite.
“I don’t know why I feel compelled to work,” she said, laughing, “but it’s my contribution, so to speak.”
Mullane said she doesn’t get involved in much of the planning, which is left to the co-chairs and others on the steering committee. But she said that the AIDS Walk Open makes for one of the longest days. “After the first Open, we all sat around afterward and said, ‘Oh, my gosh, I think I might be more tired than after the walk.’”
Mullane is often assisted at outdoor events by her daughter, Lila, now a freshman in high school, who has been helping her for many years. “I was 7-1/2 months pregnant [with her”> at the AIDS Walk in 1999. Her grandmother brought her down the year after she was born. I don’t know if she’s missed one,” Mullane said of her daughter. “I always said I really hope her recollection of all of this is that she’s proud of what I’ve done, which I think she will be, since she’s always been involved.”
Mullane’s husband, Brad Johnson, and his band play at AIDS Walk and the AIDS Bicycle Cruise.
These days, AIDS Walk is a carefully managed machine that raises more money than many other larger cities and relies on the community to make all the events happen.
“We have 80-90 volunteers at the walk,” said Mullane. In her years of involvement, she’s done many tasks but takes delight in one thing.
“I put bands on the route,” she said, referring to the entertainment that walkers find along the approximately three-mile walk. She said her husband’s band began performing more than 15 years ago.
Another one of her duties has been to work with Rick Cowan on the neighborhood notifications. “We have to notify everyone that is along the walk that streets might be temporarily closed,” Mullane said. “The city has told Rick Cowan several times that we are one of the most organized and efficient events in the city.”
She said they have to personally mail out about 500 notifications. She recently posted a photo on Facebook of herself and her daughter stuffing envelopes at her house.
Her colleagues at her business and some of their talent clients also volunteer to help. “I ask the talent, ‘Would you come help me on this day?’ One of these days, I’m going to say, ‘you’ll never work in this town unless you come and help me.’ I’ve always wanted to say that,” she said with a laugh.
“I have always said that the reason I keep doing this is, it’s the people. It’s the people I work with, it’s the people we’re helping, it’s the people who run the ASOs (AIDS Service Organizations). It’s just such a wonderful, wonderful group of people. I’m sure my husband is sick to death of me. I come home from everything and I say, ‘I just worked with the most wonderful people and they do such wonderful things.’”
The event affects her, she said. “My whole story is that little girl who handed me that money, and I’m getting weepy,” she said. “I get weepy every year when I watch all the walkers with the banners.”
Two board meetings ago, Mullane said, “We were at SAVE Inc. and we got a tour. And I’ve been there before, but it’s been a long time, and it reminded me of why we do this. It’s good people doing good work.””