25 Stories: Evelyn Myers
February 16, 2012
Rev. Earl Connor retired in 1986, but Evelyn knew he was working on something from the hints he dropped. “AIDS.” “AZT.” “Test positive.” When Earl asked Evelyn about properties for sale, she had no idea that she was about to help found what would become Indiana’s oldest and largest HIV/AIDS service organization.
Earl opened The Damien Center in June 1987 in an empty archdiocese building. “When we started, the phone never rang. Nobody was there, and nobody knew much about us,” said Evelyn. To help spread the word, the Center hosted an open house; because of the stigma surrounding the disease at the time, they had no idea if they would be picketed or if anybody would come.
After the open house, Evelyn saw the cavernous building grow into a bustling place with furniture, volunteers, and clients, led by the hardworking reverend. Together with a team of volunteers and a handful of staff, The Damien Center became the first truly coordinated effort to care for people who had contracted HIV.
Apart from The Damien Center, Evelyn was a quiet champion for HIV, in her own humble way; when the disease was new, she noticed that people would avoid those living with HIV in church. To combat the ignorance, she decided to lead by example and be the first to take the Eucharist after people with HIV. “I would like you to think that I knew I was on the cutting edge and doing something that was unique,” she said. “But I didn’t. I was just helping out a friend.”