Gay rights activist Alan P. Koch saw friends die of AIDS on a weekly basis before those with HIV had access to drugs that could improve their immune system. He applied for federal grants, found properties, and created homes and the Positively Nutritious meal program for those with AIDS.
He did it at a time when many people feared AIDS, and he did it with little or no controversy, say his friends and his husband, Dave Benyak, who described Mr. Koch as a caring, nonconfrontational person with a sense of humor that broke through barriers.
On Monday, May 22, Mr. Koch, 61, of Washington Township, died of complications from throat and neck cancer. He also had been diagnosed with HIV in 1987, surviving the disease that had nearly killed him.
In addition to his work as an activist, Mr. Koch was a landscape architect hired to design many parks and gardens in the area. He also enjoyed traveling, especially to Europe, where he would search for new trees or plants. In England, he discovered his favorite Eskimo Sunset sycamore maple tree, with a spectacular display of leaves that morph from deep tan to pink and purple.
The couple planted one in their garden. Across the street, Benyak said, their neighbors placed their dining room table with chairs facing a window so they could enjoy the garden, which provided a park-like setting with rare and colorful plants.
"He was very, very proud of his gardens," Benyak said.
Mr. Koch graduated from Rutgers University with a degree in landscape architecture and spent 35 years working for Gloucester County, lending his designs to many of the county's parks and playgrounds.
In 2005, Mr. Koch told an Inquirer reporter that he looked for environmentally friendly ways to design projects. He used rain gardens to manage runoff.
"I've always taken a keen interest in gardening, long before the current gardening craze," Mr. Koch said at the time. "My maternal grandmother was an award-winning wildflower gardener, and my mother carried her love of gardening into the family."
In addition to gardening and traveling, Mr. Koch enjoyed the movies. He designed a small garden area next to Pitman's Broadway Theatre, a project that is still underway.
Nearly four decades ago, Benyak met Mr. Koch at Gatsby's, a Cherry Hill nightclub that closed in the 1990s.
"We met and we just clicked instantly," Benyak said. "It's been 38 years. We never argued. It was perfect, really wonderful."
The two married in Delaware in 2014 before New Jersey legalized gay marriage. Previously, they had a civil union. They picked up their license at the same counter where the county issued dog licenses, Benyak joked.
Mr. Koch was a former board member and president of the AIDS Coalition of Southern New Jersey.
"He got involved and facilitated support groups," said Bob Farrington, who was also part of the coalition. "We literally were going to funerals every week."
The anti-viral drugs that slowed the progression of the disease became more available in the late 1990s. Prior to that, the disease was an epidemic among gays and intravenous drug users.
"We feel we were there when they needed us most," Farrington said of the coalition, which has disbanded. They stepped away after burning out, he said.
"The toughest part of it was watching people die."
Mr. Koch chaired many AIDS fundraisers, having a natural ability to raise money, Farrington said. He also helped start a Collingswood thrift store that used donations for the food program.
When the thrift store store closed in 2010, Mr. Koch told an Inquirer columnist that there was not much talk of the disease anymore. The closing of the store, he said, "is like another face of AIDS disappearing."
"All the money went to meals for people with AIDS," Mr. Koch said at the time. "We would get huge donations of merchandise from the households of people who had died. ... I brought my best things in there, and so did other people. I even saw Armani suits come in. In fact, I bought one there."
Rodney Conrad had been friends with Mr. Koch for about 15 years, appreciating his "witty, offbeat" sense of humor, with a knack to deliver one-liners at just the right time. "Underneath the humor, he had such a great heart."
In addition to his husband, Mr. Koch is survived by his father, Henry; stepmother, Patty Koch, and a sister.
Services and burial will be private.