On December 1, 2005, thanks to the combined efforts of volunteers, Snohomish County staff, and County officials, the county dedicates a lasting memorial for people affected by AIDS and HIV. The date, World AIDS Day, has been chosen as the most appropriate time to dedicate the new memorial, located just behind the Snohomish County Courthouse on the west side of the County campus.
Planning a Monument
Plans for the Snohomish County AIDS memorial were born out of a modest kitchen meeting of friends in May 2000. Debby Stewart-Nielson, Nick Tipton, and Kevin McCollum-Blair were founding members of a group of volunteers that came to be known as the AIDS Memorial Project of Snohomish County (AMPS). The group was centered at the Everett Underground, a gay bar where political meetings and fundraisers were frequently held. After a gradual start the movement gained steam when the Gay Men’s Task Force joined in the planning process, and the artists David Lewis and George Little were selected to begin the design process. Over the next five years $15,000 was raised for the project through a variety of fundraisers such as raffles, rummage sales, dance parties, lip-synch performances, spaghetti dinners, and more. Stewart-Nielson told the Everett Daily Herald that AMPS encountered very little opposition from the community throughout the process.
Location and County Involvement
Originally AMPS purchased land within Everett’s Evergreen Cemetery for the AIDS memorial with the understanding that the placement would be in plain view. After a change in management altered the location of the memorial several times, the group decided to cancel their contract and seek a new site. County Executive Aaron Reardon was contacted to see if there was space on the Snohomish County campus in Downtown Everett. Reardon passed on the request to County Facilities personnel, and the west side of the mission-style Snohomish County Courthouse was selected and approved. A meeting between County officials and monument planners was arranged to discuss the project. Included were Bob Teichman, Pat D, Kevin McCollum-Blair, Nick Tipton, and Charles Fay from AMPS, and Mark Thurnburg and Richard Ryan from the County. During the meeting it was discussed that the County was committed to maintaining the monument and surrounding plaza, however if it was ever decided that the County needed to expand its facilities onto that land, the monument would be relocated to a suitable new location.
Design and Installation
The decision to select Bainbridge Island garden artists David Lewis and George Little was an inspired one. Their love for embracing historical architectural elements while merging natural themes and bright colors allowed the monument to harmonize with the backdrop of mature rhododendrons and mission-style architecture. Two aged columns flank a central stela with three design components; the entire design was once washed in a delicate periwinkle color, though this has faded over time. The top panel of the stela shows a relief of a willow branch in front of a celestial orb, with leaves cut out from the concrete. The middle panel shows two doves holding a tied red ribbon, the universal symbol of AIDS remembrance and advocacy.
The bottom panel holds a bronze plaque which reads: "AIDS MEMORIAL of Snohomish County. We remember our friends and family lost to AIDS. We honor your struggles, your lives, and your memory. We dedicate this memorial to all those lives touched by HIV and AIDS. WORLD AIDS DAY, 2005."
Lewis and Little recommended brothers Matt and John Tong to assist in the installation of the monument at the chosen site on the Snohomish County Courthouse grounds. The owners of The Plant Farm, a nursery located at Smokey Point, donated plants to be used to landscape around the memorial prior to the dedication.
On December 1, 2005, family, friends, and officials gathered around the small plaza west of the courthouse to witness the dedication of the AIDS Memorial of Snohomish County. About 50 people braved the cold to bear witness to an emotional afternoon of speeches, prayer, and conversation. According to coverage in the Seattle Gay News, the Snohomish County AIDS memorial was believed to be the first of its kind in Washington, and possibly the first in the Pacific Northwest. At the time of the memorial’s dedication, 836 people in Snohomish County had been diagnosed with HIV or AIDS; 324 had died. Two years later, McCollum-Blair was interviewed about his life as a person living with HIV, including what he felt was the significance of the new AIDS memorial to the people of Snohomish County. He said he believed it acknowledged that the faces of AIDS mirrored the community. "Everybody has a picture of what they think an AIDS patient looks like," he said. "There are mothers and dads. Whole families are affected" (Herald, 2007).
Upgrades and Ongoing Activity
Additional landscaping was recommended by Richard Ryan and executed by landscape architects and master gardeners Steve Furnas and Travis Lenz in 2010. Snohomish County also installed flood lights to improve the appearance of the monument at night. Charles Fay and Eric Addams built a retaining wall around the site around the time of the landscaping improvements. In the years since its dedication, the Snohomish County AIDS memorial has become a gathering place for commemorations and memorials on World AIDS Day, held annually on December 1. It is a place for quiet contemplation, and it is not uncommon to see flowers placed at its base.
Vandalism and Repair
In 2020 the memorial was anonymously vandalized. County Facilities staff collected the broken pieces and handed them over to the AIDS Project Snohomish County until repairs could be completed. Artists Little and Lewis were contacted to see how repairs might proceed. Because the mold used to cast the original piece no longer existed, two possible options were suggested: remove the top portion and cap off the piece or attempt to piece the top back together. The second option was chosen. The report prepared by the Snohomish County Facilities Department detailing the repairs stated:
"In the summer of 2022, Bill Penor, Facilities and Fleet Deputy Director, led a general cleanup project of the Mission Plaza which included heavy trimming of shrubbery, cleanup of landscape, installation of mulch in planter beds, and restoration of all lighting systems around the AIDS memorial and Mission Plaza. This project prepared the way for the ultimate restoration to preserve the original intent of the AIDS memorial. Facilities’ staff members Ian Andrews, Adam Wood, Kerry Albertson, and Garrett Smith proposed, planned, and accomplished a durable solution to repair this significant monument, which involved a two-step process: 1) piecing together the broken pieces that were salvaged; and 2) filling in the remaining areas with material that could be shaped and cut to match as closely as possible the former image. Then the paint was tinted to match the existing work ... The repairs were completed in time for unveiling on World AIDS Day, December 1, 2022" (Snohomish County, 2023).
The AIDS memorial can be viewed on the 3000 block of Wetmore Avenue, across the street from the Everett Municipal Court Building. The Mission Building Courtyard is located up a set of concrete stairs that lead to the older mission-style building with a clock tower; within this plaza are the AIDS memorial, as well the Snohomish & Island County Labor Council Worker’s Memorial.