Getting the word out


Claudia Peschiutta

GLENDALE -- Though red ribbons are no longer found on the lapel of

every celebrity, a small community group continues working to keep AIDS

awareness on the public’s agenda.

“As the AIDS epidemic has appeared to slow down, many people do not

find the issue to be as fashionable at it was three or four years ago,”

said Marilyn Gunnell, founder and president of Glendale Leaders for AIDS


The 57-year-old community activist said membership has declined since

the group -- which promotes AIDS education throughout the city -- was

founded in 1993.

While some have moved or passed away, dying interest in the issue has

also caused membership to dwindle from a high of more than 100 to fewer

than 10 active members, Gunnell said.

“It has become increasingly difficult to recruit new members because

people are not as concerned,” she said.

The growing apathy worries Gunnell.

“A lot of people are saying, ‘It’s not a problem anymore. I don’t have

to worry about this,” she said. “They think if you can take a pill, it’s

not a problem...but it’s not true.”

While drugs have been found to extend the lives of some AIDS patients,

Gunnell pointed out that many treatments are losing their effectiveness.

No cure has been found for AIDS and the epidemic is believed to have

killed nearly half a million people in the U.S. since 1981.

Glendale leaders educates people about the virus by hosting

information booths at local health fairs and other events. The group has

also established a book collection on the issue at the Glendale Central


Gunnell said she founded the organization to make good on a pledge she

made to a longtime friend, Judy Ritchie, who’s son, Alan, received a

tainted blood transfusion and was diagnosed with AIDS at 8. Alan died in


“I said, ‘Judy, I will give you my promise that something good will

come out of this,’ ” Gunnell said. “Alan’s life will not be in vain.”

Ritchie said Gunnell has made good on her promise.

“She’s made a difference and it hasn’t been easy,” she said.

Gunnell’s first efforts to bring AIDS education into the Glendale

community met with much opposition.

As a member of the Glendale Sunrise Rotary Club and an advisor to the

group’s Interact club at Herbert Hoover High School, Gunnell and a group

of students organized a campus AIDS awareness week in 1993, despite

resistance from school administrators, she said.

The club later hosted an information booth at the school’s annual tour

of homes. A girl at the event took home a pamphlet that had information

on gay sex and “her mother had the royal heart attack,” Gunnell said.

The incident led to a controversy on the issue, which Gunnell said led

to her characterization as a zealot who “filled the children’s minds with


Many in the Glendale community were closed to learning about AIDS in

the past, but things have greatly improved, Gunnell said.

“It has changed astronomically,” she said, pointing to efforts such as

the city’s mandatory AIDS education program for all employees.

“Glendale had come from being frozen in the ice age to being on the

cutting edge,” she said.