Wade Blank, "Atlantis Community" y ADAPT
My friend and mentor, Wade Blank, was one of the founders of Atlantis Community, an independent living center in Denver, Colorado, and the national, grassroots disability rights organization, ADAPT. He was a Presbyterian minister, but you would have never guessed it from his looks, or his demeanor. He wasn't "preachy" at all, but very liberal and open-minded. He accepted everyone for who they were, and hated injustice and intolerance.
Wade was born in Pennsylvania, but grew up in Canton, Ohio. He began his life of social justice activism while he was in college. At the time, he was very conservative, and a supporter of Barry Goldwater. His college room-mate, an African American, accused him of being a racist, which Wade hotly denied. One day, his room-mate told Wade that he was going down to Selma, Alabama to march with Dr. King, and invited him (actually, he dared him) to come along. Wade went, and his life was changed forever!
I met Wade in 1987, while still living in Chicago, my home town. He was visiting from Denver and was present at the monthly meeting of Chicago ADAPT. At the time, I was very new to ADAPT, and had only been around for a year, working at the local level.
At the end of the meeting, I was introduced to Wade, and we immediately hit it off. He had studied for the ministry in Chicago, and had also lived and worked on the South Side, in the very neighborhood where I was born! I also discovered that we had three important things in common - both of us were activists to the core of our beings, we loved to read, and we both loved cats. Though soft-spoken, Wade loved jokes and pranks. He was a natural teacher with much wisdom to share.
Almost one year later, I decided that I wanted to work for Atlantis Community, which houses the national ADAPT headquarters. I called Wade, and asked if there were any job openings. He invited me to come visit him, his wife, Molly, and their family and apply for a position. Unfortunately, there were no openings for positions that I was qualified for in Denver at the time, so Wade suggested that I go to Colorado Springs and apply for a job at the Atlantis/ADAPT office there. I went and applied, then, returned home to Chicago.
A few days later, there was news from Colorado Springs - I had been accepted for a position there! I rode the Greyhound bus to Colorado, and decided to go to Denver first, and see Wade and Molly. Though I arrived unannounced, they hugged me, and welcomed me warmly. After dinner, I took the bus to Colorado Springs and arrived at my new place. After a few hours, the significance of the date finally hit me - it was December 4, 1988 - Wade's birthday!
After working for two and a half years in the Colorado Springs office, I was finally able to transfer to the Denver office, and work directly with Wade. I enjoyed working with him because he was caring, passionate, and patient. He taught me leadership skills that I still use to this day. The most important thing that he taught me was to be mindful of my health. He would say, "Anita, you have to take care of yourself, or you are no good to the movement".
In February of 1993, Wade and his family went on vacation to Todos Santos, Mexico. It was the first vacation that he had taken in fourteen years. I remember saying goodbye and wishing him a happy vacation as he was leaving the office. He gave me a hug and joked, "Hold down the fort". It would be the last time that I saw him.
On Monday, February 15, 1993, Wade, Molly, and the kids went to the beach for one last swim. They were flying home later in the day. Wade and Lincoln, who was 8, went swimming while Molly and little Caitlin relaxed on the beach. Lincoln was caught in an undertow, and Wade tried to rescue him, but they both drowned. That was the saddest day of my life.
Though 17 years has passed since his death, I still miss Wade. He was a friend, mentor and father figure to me. I miss his smile, his jokes, and our long talks on activism and turning anger into positive action. His legacy lives on though ADAPT, and he will never be forgotten.
There is more about Wade in these articles:
A Brief History of ADAPT and Who We Are
My Journey with ADAPT