Ira Schultz will be remembered by friends and colleagues for his ability to make people laugh. "He had a fabulous sense of humor," says Lin Orndorf, editor of the GLBT magazine Stereotypd. "He loved to be in the spotlight, but only if he was making people laugh."
Schultz, who died of a heart attack Nov. 15 at the age of 52, was known in the gay-and-lesbian community as a major fundraising organizer and the publisher of Stereotypd and its predecessor, Out in Asheville. But he was also a font of humor and a dynamic performer, especially in the guise of his drag persona, Stephanie Sinclair.
"He was our publisher, but he was also our best friend. He was the funniest person I've ever met," recalls Porscha Yount, the magazine's art director.
Born in Pennsylvania, Schultz moved to Asheville about 12 years ago after a stint as a club owner in Fort Lauderdale, where he developed his alter ego. After arriving in Western North Carolina, Schultz established himself as the driving force behind fundraisers for organizations like Loving Food Resources and the WNC Aids Project.
But at the heart of those events was always a desire to throw a party, says Orndorf. For example, an upcoming benefit for WNC Youth OUTRight, titled "Don We Now Our Gay Apparel," grew out of Schultz's desire to see his friends decked out in Christmas sweaters. There was also talk of starting a Stephanie Sinclair scholarship fund.
As Sinclair, Schultz contributed regular nightlife columns to Out in Asheville and Stereotypd and made celebrity style appearances, including serving as a pageant judge at O. Henry's the night before his death.
"Stephanie was just radiant that night," remembers Yount. An ad in the current Stereotypd announces a split bill at the club that would have featured Sinclair and drag favorite Cookie LaRue.
Schultz's passing comes just two months after the unveiling of the glossy redesign of Stereotypd (which Out in Asheville had morphed into back in January), a change he'd long wanted to make.
"Shiny and pretty; it was part of his personality," says Yount.
The redesign followed an attempted merger with two other regional magazines that went sour in September, with the various parties leveling accusations at one another. "It went really badly," Yount reports. "Ira was the most angry, because we almost lost [the magazine]."
But with Stereotypd not publishing that month, the group decided it was time to unveil the new model. "We might as well make a big splash," Orndorf explains.
Schultz was laid to rest Nov. 20 at Shepherd Memorial Park in Hendersonville, but a memorial service is slated for 2 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 28, at O. Henry's. In honor of Schultz's showmanship, the organizers are billing it as a "dress to impress" send-off.
"The one thing Ira always wanted to do was have an event where everyone dressed up," Yount notes. The nonreligious ceremony will begin with remembrances by people close to Schultz, followed by a celebration of his life.
"We can't imagine letting him go without a party," adds Yount.