Vashon men shed clothes to support schools

Scott Benner poses, wearing only his signature bow tie and cap. - Rebecca Douglas Photo
Scott Benner poses, wearing only his signature bow tie and cap.
— image credit: Rebecca Douglas Photo

When Islander Scott Benner had his portrait taken last month, he didn’t spend much time deciding what to wear. After all, his outfit consisted of a red bow tie, a tweed hat and nothing more.

He’s one of 12 Island dads and professionals who shed their suits and posed nude for an Island cause this summer.

Dubbed “the DreamBoats,” the men are featured in the pages of a 2010 calendar that will be sold at $20 a pop to benefit the Vashon Island School District. (A launch party is planned for Sept. 3.)

Each photo shows a different Island man in the buff, with an accessory or two representing his interests and conveniently covering his personal areas. The photos were taken outdoors by Island photographer Rebecca Douglas and show off not only the beauty of the male models, but of Vashon Island.

The men, and a trio of women who are “producing” the calendar, are hoping to raise $10,000 for a school system that has struggled mightily to forego layoffs this year and even put out a plea to parents to help keep a few teachers on staff.

“It’s nice to have this as a fun way to support the schools in an otherwise dreary financial environment for the district,” said Benner, 43, a financial planner and lawyer. “It was a lot of fun, actually. ... I haven’t done something like that before, and probably won’t again.”

Organizers point out, however, that the school district had nothing to do with the idea and doesn’t endorse the project in any way.

The calendar “was a really organic idea that came out of an unusual, creative bunch of morning banter on the way to work one day,” said Scott Harris, 38, one of the men who will grace the pages of the calendar.

He and others who ride the Vashon-Seattle passenger-only ferry came up with the idea of a “Real Men of Vashon” calendar at first as a joke, and then the idea gathered momentum when the commuters and friends realized they had a marketable idea.

Harris, a 6-foot-2, blue-eyed German-Irish-Norweigan DreamBoat, is passionate about music, he said.

“So I posed with my guitar strategically placed to make for an eyebrow-raising, yet very tasteful, photograph,” he said.

Among other pictorials in the calendar are a weekend garlic farmer with a wheelbarrow full of his backyard harvest, a motorcyclist with his red Ducati motorcycle and a swimmer wearing goggles emerging from the Puget Sound. None show full frontal nudity or buttocks.

School officials, however, have mixed opinions about the calendar, which organizers said is a playful response to typical “beefcake” calendars — with a philanthropic intent.

Newly arrived superintendent Michael Soltman described the calendar as “Island creativity.”

“If it benefits our schools and our instructional programs, without necessarily an endorsement of a particular funding strategy, I think it’s great,” he said.

School board vice chair Laura Wishik, however, said she’s concerned the calendar could send the wrong message to Island children.

“We want our youth to make good choices, including not judging others based on appearance, not obsessing about their own bodies and not taking sex lightly,” Wishik, a mother of two elementary schoolers, said in an e-mail. “No matter how ‘tastefully’ the men are posed, and no matter whether or not they are fathers, the calendar sends the wrong messages.”

School board chair Bob Hennessey disagrees.

“The objectification of middle-aged men is not a problem in our society,” he said. “The only message I perceive here is that we have a group of people who care about our schools and don’t take themselves too seriously.”

Hennessey “would not care in the slightest,” he said, if his three children, who will be in elementary, middle and high school next year, saw the calendar’s photos.

“I think we have to be able to distinguish between pornography and something that’s lighthearted and harmless,” he said.

Board member John “Oz” Osborne concurred.

“It’s not a full monty kind of thing,” he said. “I just find the whole thing so funny, and if they want to donate us money based on the proceeds from that, I don’t have a problem with it.”

Board member Dan Chasan also said he’d gladly accept the money.

“I’m happy to take money from just about any source thats not illegal,” he said. “I don’t consider it putting our stamp of approval on it. It’s not a school district thing.”

But Wishik said she’s so concerned by the calendar’s photographic content that she may vote against the school board taking funds raised by the effort.

“A basic rule of fundraising is you choose what you are raising money for and then pick a way to raise the money that is compatible with the objective,” she said in her e-mail. “When people hear ‘naked men’ and ‘schools’ in the same sentence, they say, ‘Yuck!’ ... Unfortunately, the means and the end are not compatible, and the result is not good for the schools.”

The Island models, their photographer and those close to them, however, are eager to make some money for a school system they believe needs their help. Island businesses and donors have covered the cost of the calendars’ printing, so every penny of people’s calendar purchases will go to Island schools.

And there’s nothing obscene about the photos, Harris said.

“I think the school district is going to appreciate the money even if they’re not in full support of the way we’ve raised the money,” he said. “At 100 paces it may look like a conflict of interest, but it’s actually an intersection of need and opportunity.”

Calendar co-producer Kristin Thompson agreed, and said the content of the calendars has little to do with the cause they’re being sold to support.

“The calendar’s intended audience is adults,” she said. “But there really is no connection between the subject matter in the calendars and the children who will benefit from the money, except that the models are dedicated fathers and community members.”

Douglas, an Island photographer who specializes in portraits, said she was glad to sign on to the project, which was a chance to do portraits of a slightly different variety.

“Still, it’s a sad commentary on our society — that we have to have bake sales and car washes and beefcake calendars to raise money for our children,” she said. “We shouldn’t have to do that.”

The DreamBoats calendar is better than a bake sale, said Jan Staehli, the wife of Mr. January, 53-year-old DreamBoat Rich Staehli.

“After a bake sale, your cookies are gone, but this calendar’s going to last all year,” she said. “I think the whole project is wonderfully inspired and wonderfully tongue in cheek. ... None of these are real dream boats, but bless Rebecca’s heart, she was really able to make them look hunky.”

A launch party for the DreamBoats calendar will take place Sept. 3 at Café Luna. The calendars will be sold in several Island businesses. The DreamBoats are Scott Benner, Peter Butz, Eddie Frohning, Scott Harris, Toby Holmes, Andy Johnson, Tony Liebo, Richard Moore, Rich Staehli, Skip Tavakkolian, Adam Wolf and Eric Wyatt.

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