By Amanda Dyslin
Free Press Staff Writer
ST PETER — For two weeks, a red 1981 bridesmaid’s gown hung in the unlikeliest of places: the gymnasium at South Elementary Early Learning Center in St. Peter.
And boy was it a hot topic of conversation with the kids.
“For two weeks they’ve been looking at this dress and then looking at me,” said Principal Darin Doherty.
That’s because Christi Maloney, a physical education teacher, crafted a unique plot to help raise money for this year’s Jump Rope for Heart event, an annual national fundraiser for the American Heart Association that numerous schools participate in.
She asked Doherty, if the school raises more than $7,500, would he wear the dress belonging to kindergarten teacher Heidi Wenner?
“Sure. Give me the stats from last year,” he said, learning the school had never raised anywhere near $7,500. “I said, ‘OK, I’ll be safe.’”
But the pledges came pouring in, and Thursday and Friday the South kids did their parts by jumping like mad in the gym during the event.
On Friday, the last day of the fundraiser, phy-ed teacher Bill Stuewe reported a mid-day total of $9,257. (The average annual total is usually between $2,000-$3,000, he said.)
“They’ve been saying, ‘I can’t wait to see him in the dress,’” Stuewe said. “It was a good goal for the kids.”
And so Friday, as promised — over Doherty’s black pants, white button-up and tie — he put on the red, fluffy bridesmaid’s gown, which he couldn’t quite zip up in the back. To cover the fashion faux pas, he wore a black shawl to finish the ensemble.
The kids loved it. Laughter. Exclamations. Lots of smiles.
Doherty said there was another important aspect of the fundraiser this year. Kindergartner Olivia Ailsby has had six heart surgeries since birth due to a heart condition in which the left side of her heart is critically underdeveloped, Doherty said. So she, too, served as a great motivator as well to raise money for the American Heart Association.
“She’s doing really well,” Doherty said. So well, in fact, that even though Olivia was home not feeling well Friday, she still came to school at about noon to do her jumping for Jump Rope for Heart.