Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Aleta and Jean, June 5, 1999. Photo by Mike Silverman

Aleta Fenceroy died the other day, and she will be sorely missed, not just by her partner Jean and the rest of her family, but also by all the hundreds of friends and acquaintances near and far that she touched during her life. I count myself lucky that I was one of those friends. I first discovered the Fenceberry team shortly after I came out of the closet, nearly 10 years ago. A friend named Bill told me about this great resource for news articles and letters to the editor on gay issues called "Fenceberry" and so I emailed them and got signed up. I am a total pack rat when it comes to email; I have every email I have ever sent or received going back to 1995, so it is quite easy for me to see exactly when I got my first Fenceberry "Articles" email; it was September 30, 1997:

From: Fenceberry@aol.com
Subject: Articles

1. PROVIDENCE JOURNAL Letters on Promise Keepers
2. HARVARD CRIMSON Red Cross Caters to Homophobia
Blood Donor Questionnaire Discriminates Against Gays
3. OKLAHOMA DAILY Letter: Critics of gay marriage aren't always prejudiced
4. NEW YORK TIMES Saudi Sentences for 2 Britons May Be Eased
5. BATTLE CREEK ENQUIRER Guest editorial on why Coming Day is important

As always, not only did the content of the articles inform readers, but with the email addresses of the newspapers included, it made it easy to send feedback and write letters to the editor for newspapers all over the country. For a budding fresh-out activist like me, it was like fertilizer for a plant.

The Advocate magazine did a great story on Aleta and Jean in their June 17, 1999 issue:

Better known as Fenceberry, Aleta Fenceroy and Jean Mayberry have become an indispensable part of gay politics without ever having left their living room in Omaha, Neb. For the past three years, the couple have E-mailed gay-related news to other activists as well as to journalists, alerting them to stories of which they might never have otherwise known. “Activists lived in New York City,” Mayberry says. “I never thought I was important enough or powerful enough to be an activist. I just felt I should do something.” That urge has broadened the knowledge of hundreds of people who get Fenceberry’s messages. “There are so many exciting things happening in small towns and cities all over the country, and we wouldn’t have any way of knowing about them if it weren’t for the Internet,” Fenceroy says, “Now we can read about them as soon as they happen.”

As the years of the late 1990s passed, I eagerly enjoyed each new batch of articles as they arrived in my mailbox each day. I sent in my own news clippings from local Kansas papers (remember, this was in the days before Google, when there was no decent web-wide search engine and aggregation technology still didn't exist). As I corresponded with both Jean and Aleta, we became friends, and when I heard they were moving from Sioux City to my old home town of Omaha, I was even more exited, since I finally would be able to meet the people on the other end of the computer screen.

Over the next several years, we became good friends, Jean and Leta, and myself and Dave. We would visit them several times a year when we came up to Omaha to see the family. In 1999, Jean and Aleta were honored guests at my wedding. We drove to Lincoln with them to help lobby against Nebraska's anti-gay constitutional amendment in 1999, and got to hear Aleta sing in her choir (she had a great voice!). My husband Dave became Aleta's official computer doctor, helping her upgrade "Articles Central" (the true center of the Worldwide Gay Media Conspiracy!) and in one case we even hosted Aleta overnight as she drove her sick silicon "patient" down to Lawrence so Dave could do some emergency fix-ups...come wind or rain or CPU failure, the news had to get out! Another fun story is when Aleta and Jean came down to Kansas City for something (I don't remember what) and Dave and I took them on a tour of Lawrence and Kansas City, showing off the boulevards and fountains, and at some point Dave casually remarked about Kansas City's new Cheesecake Factory restaurant, and Aleta practically yelled in joy, "cheesecake factory!" -- needless to say, that is where we ended up for dinner that night, and on several future occasions we became cheesecake couriers on trips to Omaha. In 2000, independent of each other Dave and I ran into Jean and Aleta in Washington DC, at the Millennium March on Washington, a huge rally for gay equal rights. They were representing Nebraska, and we were representing Kansas in the "march of flags" across the stage. Things fell way behind, as they always do at these things, and the four of us had to wait for hours backstage in the hot sun before finally getting a couple minutes of glory in front of the crowd.

Another great memory of Aleta was watching her garden at her Omaha house bloom. Since we only visited a few times a year, we got to see the garden in only a few discrete times, so one visit it was pretty barren, then next time there was some plants growing, and then the next time after that it was a bounty of beautiful plants and flowers that would make a botanist green with envy.

I could go on forever....as you can see, Aleta really touched our lives and I have so many fond memories of her and her loss leaves a real void in hundreds of peoples' lives, including my own.

Mike Silverman


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