Veterinarian sheds lab coat, and more, for historical renovation

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Feb 01, 2010


Naughty but nice: Jennieann Heischmidt, DVM, is taking it all off ... for a good cause. (PHOTO: COURTESY JENNIEANN HEISCHMIDT)
St. Elmo, Ill. — For more than a year, Dr. Jennieann Heischmidt had a plan to raise money for the rehabilitation of a historic theater in her town. When others finally agreed to her plan, Heischmidt and her Golden Retriever, Shakespeare, ended up being the first models for the St. Elmo Historical Society's semi-nude calendar, "Naughty But Nice."

"I called it a naked calendar, but we weren't completely naked, believe me," says Heischmidt, 57, adding that Shakespeare, thankfully, was very cooperative in staying on the table during her shots. "Mine was the first picture taken, and it was in my exam room with my dog. She's kind of a nutcase, but she's pretty compliant."

It was difficult to get her fellow historical society members on board at first, but the daunting project that lies ahead of the group proved a worthy incentive. The St. Elmo Historical Society has borrowed more than $60,000 for the renovations completed so far to the 1940s-era theater, which will require more than $200,000 to restore completely. Ownership of the theater, which has been idle for years, has changed hands a few times and was purchased by the historical society a few years ago, Heischmidt says.

"The theater is a really neat project. I grew up in St. Elmo and went to the theater all the time," Heischmidt says.

The historical society hopes the theater can be used once again to show movies, as well as host community theater events.

Motivated by the 2003 movie "Calendar Girls," based on a similar fundraiser by a group of British women, Heischmidt says people weren't very hesitant to help out. One model, the calendar's oldest pinup at 71, was ready to be photographed in biker gear with his Harley and his pitbull Harley, until Heischmidt pointed out he misunderstood the project.

She told him to strip down, and he ended up posing with only one Harley — his pitbull — strategically positioned on his couch a la Burt Reynolds, Heischmidt says, referencing a 1972 photo shoot Reynolds did in Cosmopolitan.

Other participants, who ranged in age from 40 to 71, included Heischmidt's retired schoolteacher husband, a waitress and even the owner of the local newspaper, who also happens to be president of the historical society.

"This is maybe shocking, and it's attention-getting," says Heischmidt, a 1978 graduate of the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine and owner of St. Elmo Pet Clinic for nearly 30 years. "What I'm hoping this will do is maybe grab the attention of someone out there who knows something we don't that could help us out."

The group has been promised a $75,000 state grant to fix up the theater, but doesn't know when the funds will come through. Photographer Katherine Ragel donated her service to the project, and printer Dave Campbell of Adworks gave the group a break on printing costs, Heischmidt says.

The initial run of calendars was 250, but about 450 of the $20 calendars have been sold already, some going as far as Australia and Colorado. About $6,000 has been raised by the fundraiser to date.

"It's been a hoot," Heischmidt says.

To support the St. Elmo theater project through a calendar purchase by mail, send $22 to the St. Elmo Devonian at 423 N. Main St. or the St. Elmo Pet Clinic at 309 W. 8th St., Box 111, St. Elmo, IL 62458. Donations of $175 to the historical society will buy a seat with a plaque on it in the renovated theater. There's no word on how much it might cost to secure a cover shot on the calendar for 2011.