Academia to Erotica: An old school house transformed
A battle is brewing in an unlikely place – a small rural town in Central Illinois. At issue is the fate of an old school house. Erected in the 1940’s and shut down in 2002, the old Pioneer School House has now re-opened – as a strip club.
“The light fixtures were all rusted out, the paint was all peeling off the walls this building was actually under water for quite a while,” said Bob Kearney, a recently laid off union electrician, who has turned misfortune into opportunity.He’s turned it into the School House Gentleman’s Club, complete with lessons on the wall, class rules, and a school bus parked outside. Kearney calls himself the superintendent. “This building has been for sale for the last couple of years and nobody in this community has taken any interest at all,” Kearney said.But now, there is plenty of interest as neighbors and residents have waged war on the school house, even forming a new group in town.They call themselves the Pioneers for God and set up crosses across the street and work in shifts to try to spread their message to those they think need it the most.Elaine Proffitt often shows up to protest with the Pioneers for God, because for her, it’s personal.“The fact that it’s there in what used to be my school, what used to be my mother’s school, it really upset me because they’re using that fact, that it used to be a school to draw people in,” Proffitt said.But inside the School House Gentleman’s Club, a girl who calls herself Lenore said she never intended to stay in the business, but the money was just too good.“I had done this when I lived in the state that I lived in before but I was honestly wanting to get out of it I didn’t want to keep doing it because I wanted to go to college.Well, I’m still enrolled in college.It’s paying for my college,” Lenore commented.“I think that the economy is really bad right now,” said another dancer, Megan.“It’s really affecting my life. I have a daughter and it’s hard to raise her on just a part-time job so apart from what people think I know I got to do what’s right for her.”But survival for some is sin for others. Employees say many nights the Pioneers for God stand across the street from the club and shout their disapproval at those entering the club.“We say things like, God loves you,” Proffitt said.“Jesus died for you.For us it’s more sharing the Gospel with people who needed it to be shared with them.”Kearney disagrees.“I’m pretty sure that when Jesus gave his sermons and this kind of thing, he was wanting people to come openly, not using his bible as a sledgehammer and say, you’re going to go to church or you’re going to go to hell and that’s what these people are doing,” Kearney said.The club also does not have a liquor license.Instead, patrons check in their coolers with an attendant – only beer and wine is allowed and take their drinks one at a time back to their seats.But neighbors, many of whom would not speak on camera, say the school house should close because it was sinful activity on sacred ground.“To me it’s more like a historic landmark,” Proffitt said.“If the White House closed down and the president didn’t live there anymore, you wouldn’t turn it into a club like that, you just wouldn’t. It’s not proper.”For Bob Kearney, who says he's the only new business to bring 30 jobs to the area, the historic argument is just not valid.“At one time I’m pretty sure all this land was owned by Native Americans.Maybe they should sell their property and find some poor guy living on a reservation and hand over the deed to their property.I mean, how far back do you want to take this thing?” Kearney asked. So for the time being, class here will not be dismissed.