FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – Trailblazer. A force of nature. Giving heart. Wicked sense of humor. All around amazing person.
That’s how Branden “Della Licious” Blaettner remembers his friend and mentor Charles “Tula” Miller. Miller, 83, died Monday after a prolonged illness.
“It was unexpected, but it wasn’t out of the realm of reality. He left us with a lot of things he wanted to do. He wanted to write his memoirs. We don’t get to choose when we leave this Earth, and we need to make an impact while we’re here,” Della said.
And impact, Tula made. She opened and owned Fort Wayne’s first gay bar, Tulisa’s, in April 1971.
“To be yourself unapologetically is a lesson she taught all of us.”Della Licious
“Tula did drag in years prior to that during a time that she’d have to wear three pieces of male clothing or she’d get arrested. People of my generation and the generation after me and all the people coming up now are all walking on the road she paved,” Della said.
Tula was also the entertainment director and manager of After Dark for decades. Known as the “Grand Empress,” her larger-than-life persona always made an impression on anyone who met her, but Della says the best lesson she learned from Tula was that you don’t always have to be loud to get a point across.
“To be the most powerful person in the room, you don’t have to speak loudly at all,” Della said. “Charles aka Tula should be remembered as a powerhouse in giving. Somebody who did what was right and not what was popular. Somebody who overcame so many odds and so much to be who they are. To be yourself unapologetically is a lesson she taught all of us.”
Decades ago, Tula started the AIDS benefits, which continues to this day. In the last 30 years, Tula helped raise more than a million dollars for the cause.
In the 90s, Della remembers Tula being awarded the WANE TV “15 Who Care Golden Rule Award” for her contributions to the community.
Now the community will remember and honor Tula’s legacy with a celebration of life and tribute drag show at After Dark on Saturday, January 14. Admission is $6. The show will start at 9 pm, before the usual 11:15 pm show.
“Money raised will go to end-of-life expenses. He gave everything he had and he sadly left this world without any money. So we’re raising money to get a nice marker for his cemetery plot, which has already been donated, and send him off in regal fashion. Any money left over will go to many causes Tula supported in life,” Della said.
Della is also working to keep Tula’s legacy alive for generations to see through a display at the Fort Wayne Historical Society.
“There’s a gown Tula gave me on display [there now] and there are so many humanitarian awards in a closet right now that it would be a great tribute to a giving soul to have them on display,” Della said.
If people can’t come to the tribute show, but would like to support the fund for Tula, they can do so through the CashApp to $DellaLiciousFW, DellaLiciousFW on PayPal and on Venmo @DellaLicious.
“As sad as it is that he’s gone, and as much work as there is yet to be done, we’re so much better off that he lived,” Della said.
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