- Courtesy Photo
- Styling on a 1945 International TD14
Was it the Carhartts that did it, or the work boots and sparkly dress? The Elmer Fudd hat? Maybe just the broad grins, with tongue firmly in cheek. Whatever the appeal, the Vermont-style pinup-girl calendar that Julie Gagnon Prior put together last year was a resounding success. At 10 bucks a pop, she's made more than $10,000. You do the math.
But it wasn't just for giggles. Prior's goal was to raise money for Lyme disease. That is, to make a whopping donation to the nonprofit information and advocacy organization Vermont Lyme. Last Sunday, at her home in Grand Isle, Prior was able to hand over a check for $10,300 to founder Rebecca Zelis.
As the organization's website explains, Lyme is "caused by an infection with the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi, spread to humans by black-legged 'deer' ticks." As of 2017, the state of Vermont had the highest rate of confirmed and probable Lyme disease cases in the nation, according to the Vermont Department of Health.
Prior is one of them. Two years ago, after an unfortunate delay that prevented getting immediate treatment, she was diagnosed with Lyme and now displays 20 symptoms, she said. Prior is scheduled for surgery to relieve the most painful one, occipital neuralgia. "It goes into your neck, to the back of the head and over the top," she said. "It feels like knives. Basically, the surgery is going to save my life.
"That's why the calendar means so much to me," Prior added. "I don't want anyone to have to go through this. It's fucking hell."
She is quick to credit local support — businesses and craft fairs that sold the calendar, and media attention that included an article in Seven Days. Selling a thousand calendars in the Champlain Islands alone was amazing, Prior said: "I can't thank the community enough. It's mind-boggling."
One unexpected outcome of her experience: Prior, a self-described "redneck," has become a columnist for the North Hero-based Islander, a community newspaper covering the islands. Previously she shared her personal stories on Facebook, which caught the attention of the paper's editor and publisher, Tonya Poutry. Prior said she had never wanted to be on a soapbox — "I'd rather run a chain saw," she quipped — but has found she enjoys the outlet provided by "Julie's World."
The column is "about positive things," Prior said. "I'm driven to make a difference in the world."