It was December 2007, and 15 of Goldsboro, North Carolina's most respected businesswomen sat around a conference table, each of them naked from the waist up. "What?" photographer Vanessa Woodlock remembers saying when she was asked to take their seminude pictures.
Goldsboro may not exactly be Mayberry, but it is a small Bible Belt city, and Andy Griffith himself did teach choir at the local high school after he graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. So despite their purpose -- a calendar to benefit the local animal shelter that featured community leaders hiding their naughty bits behind their beloved pets -- these risque photos caused a bit of a stir.
It was local pet-supply store manager Suzi Wharton (aka Miss June 2009), a member of the Wayne County Humane Society (WCHS) fund-raising committee, who talked the women out of their tops. The animal shelter was in dire shape: Each year around 7,000 dogs and cats arrived at the dank, 50-year-old building to be housed in overcrowded pens and stacked cat cages. Most never left. The place was so depressing that local residents didn't want to set foot in it, so even the most adoptable pets couldn't find homes and had to be euthanized.
For years the WCHS had pressed for better shelter conditions. Finally, the county agreed to build a new $2 million, 11,000-square-foot facility with a combination of state and private funds four years ago. But the WCHS itself had to pledge $150,000 toward the project -- cash that was definitely not in the small group's coffers.
"We were shooting ideas back and forth about how to raise that much money," remembers Wharton, and someone brought up the 2003 movie Calendar Girls, in which respectable British villagers bared all for charity. The board pounced on the idea, and Wharton roped in Woodlock and her partner Vance Allen -- who usually shoot weddings and formal portraiture -- as the photographers.
Wharton was daunted by the idea of approaching some of Goldsboro's most respected -- and respectable -- businesswomen, but it took only 25 calls to potential models before she landed the number she needed for the July 2008-December 2009 calendar. The list of women who signed on was impressive, and included executives with the Arts Council of Wayne County and the American Red Cross, local business owners, an x-ray technologist, and a community-college teacher.
"I was on board immediately," says Terry Yeh (Miss December '09), an assistant district attorney. "I did need a couple of martinis to see me through the shoot, though!"