With that sage fatherly advice, Ron and Steve first set out in the 1980s to help mitigate the suffering of Baltimore’s AIDS victims, hosting charitable fundraisers for 150 to 200 people in their Victorian townhouse in Federal Hill to benefit Health Education Resource Organization (HERO) and Moveable Feast, raising thousands of dollars for the stalwarts of Baltimore’s defense against the AIDS pandemic and among the first local organizations to foster a community that cared for men, women and children living with HIV/AIDS.
Simultaneously, they reached out to their straight neighbors in Federal Hill, joining Ronald J., a former president of the Allen Center’s board of directors, in assisting senior citizens. Ryta Arrington, director of the Allen Center, who knew Ronald J. and knows “Ronnie” told Baltimore OUTloud, “We are a nonprofit organization but our funding never comes in on time. It is six or seven months behind. And that’s when Ronnie comes in. The charitable events at The Rowan Tree have been keeping us afloat financially. They have a special passion for helping seniors.”
On April 30th, the Allen Center moved from Federal Hill when Grace United Church of Christ sold its property. Their new address is 1401 Towson Street in Locust Point where they share a large multi-purpose auditorium with the Episcopal Church of the Redemption, providing a variety of services for seniors on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Ryta said, “I am hoping to expand our senior membership next year.”
Not only do Ron and Steve care for seniors who may sometimes feel lonely, neglected or ostracized due to health and age issues, but they have another passion: helping neglected and abused dogs…even though they do not have a dog.
In October, the Rowan Tree hosted an emergency fundraiser to benefit “Curly,” a dog that had suffered life-threatening back and spinal injuries due to abuse. Kim Smith, event coordinator for Dog Rescue of Maryland, immediately contacted Ron and Steve. “For the past nine years,” Kim recounted to Baltimore OUTloud, “they have held fundraisers to benefit our dogs. Within three hours, they and their patrons raised an amazing amount of money for Curly’s expensive surgery. They are the most remarkable individuals I ever met.”
For Ron and Steve the yuletide season began earlier than normal this year on November 11th at the Rowan Tree, hosting Anita Minett’s first fundraiser for Baltimore’s homeless. Anita, Miss Rowan Tree 2016 (a.k.a. Ryan Boffen), created a 1990s-themed drag show event where the entertainers performed songs from 1990 to 1999, and guests were encouraged to contribute nonperishable food for the Maryland Food Bank, as well as new or lightly used winter clothing and hygiene products for males and females. Also, during the event a donation box marked “#hungryandhomeless” was circulated throughout the bar, raising over $100 for the Maryland Food Bank. “Ron and Steve gave me full access to their bar,” Anita told Baltimore OUTloud. “We really do appreciate the atmosphere they have created to help us become a better community. And to make the homeless feel more like human beings.”
Another Christmas tradition is Steve’s participation as a performer in a major charity event. This year Steve performed on stage as a country singer in the 18th Annual “12 Days of Christmas” on December 10th at the Conference Center at the Maritime Institute in Linthicum Heights. This premier gay charity event’s theme was “8-Track Flashback with Songs of the 70s,” benefitting the GLCCB Building Endowment, Aids Action Baltimore, the Allen Senior Center, and the Mid-Atlantic Deaf Interpreting Fund.
Rik Newton-Treadway, founders of Hooker & Boys, an invitation-only leather club that sponsors the annual gala, told Baltimore OUTloud, “Ron and Steve are the biggest unsung heros in this town. Right from the start in 1999, some 18 years ago, they have been sponsoring us, donating money, time and talent. Steve has sung live and performed both as Consuela and Elvis. They don’t brag about what they do. You don’t even know they have done it. They never told me or Shawnna Alexander ‘No.’” Shawnna commented further, “Steve and I have been jumping into lots of fundraisers and benefits over the years…we have become known as the King and Queen of benefits.” In November Steve was made an honorary King of Baltimore Pride. Ron and Steve received the 2016 Millard “Barnes” Murphy Community Service Award from Hooker and Boys at the 12 Days Gala.
Part of Weichert Realtors’ annual Christmas tradition is sponsoring a “Dog-Santa” photo opportunity on Thursday, December 15th for $5 at their office at 1234 Light Street, while at the Rowan Tree, located at 1633 South Charles Street, they are conducting two separate fundraising events. The first event is a 50/50 raffle to support the after school activities at the Thomas Johnson Elementary / Middle School (TJEMS), and the second event is a raffle of a “Basket of Cheer” containing 18 bottles of fine wine and liquor to support Dog Rescue of Maryland. Raffle and “Basket of Cheer” tickets are only $5 each, and the winning tickets will be picked on New Year’s Eve. Kim Smith emphasized to Baltimore OUTloud, “We are in desperate need of loving, committed foster homes right now.”
Just before TJEMS’s teachers and staff go home for the holidays, Ron and Steve have a wonderful present for them: a Christmas party at the Rowan Tree. Ron’s mother, Alice, served as a volunteer librarian there for many years, so they feel very close to that particular school, so much so that they also host an end of school year party for teachers and staff, as well as fund an “ice cream social” for approximately 500 plus students at the school. TJEMS’s principal, James A. Dendinger, noted with gratitude that the Zimmerman family’s support has been “from generation to generation.” The last Christmas social event will be the annual party for the Allen Center’s senior citizens who will be treated to “free food, music, and cocktails.”
Reflecting on their extensive Christmas commitments, Ron said cheerfully, “We do our own thing raising money for community services.” And they do it with class!