AIDS award renamed to honor Wellstone for outreach work

Andrew Pritchard

The late Sen. Paul Wellstone did not live to receive the Minnesota AIDS Project’s lifetime achievement award, but his name will be present whenever the award is conferred in the future.

The project gave its Hanson-Henningson Lifetime Achievement Award to the senator and his late wife Sheila Wellstone on Monday. It announced the award will be renamed the Paul and Sheila Wellstone Lifetime Achievement Award beginning next year.

Wellstone was told Oct. 23, two days before his death in a plane crash, that he and his wife would receive the award.

“It was less about a specific piece of legislation than it was about his overall work,” said Amy Weiss, the program’s communications director.

Wellstone was a major supporter of the project’s Lunch Out Loud event, Weiss said, where people with HIV meet informally with lawmakers.

Wellstone also sponsored the 1995 and 2000 reauthorizations of the Ryan White CARE Act.

The act’s programs for people with HIV reach approximately 500,000 Americans, particularly in urban areas, according to the HIV/AIDS Bureau of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

President George W. Bush’s 2003 budget plan

proposes maintaining the Ryan White programs’ $1.9 billion budget, preserving its status as the government’s largest AIDS program.

At the 2002 AIDS Walk in May, Wellstone told walkers “What we have is not a moral crisis, but a public health crisis.”

He also supported U.S. assistance, such as lower drug prices, for people with AIDS worldwide.

“What’s happening in Africa is devastation, and we must take action to help these countries – not squeeze them for profits,” he said during a Senate debate in May 2000. “Otherwise, more people will suffer and more will die.”

The Hanson-Henningson award was named for Dick Hanson and Bert Henningson, two gay rural Minnesota men who had HIV.

The two were longtime social activists, said AIDS program’s community affairs director Bob Tracy. A St. Paul Pioneer Press feature on the pair before their deaths in the late 1980s won the paper its first Pulitzer Prize.

Henningson was also a political science professor at the University’s Morris campus, Tracy said.

The Hanson-Henningson award was given for the first time last year to former DFL state Sen. Allan Spear, Minnesota’s first openly gay legislator.

At this year’s event, the AIDS program also honored state Reps. Jim Davnie, Scott Dibble and former state Sen. Julie Sabo, all Minneapolis Democrats.