Jeannie Wheeldon, fifth generation Durango native, grew up in an artistic family. Her great grandfather, James Jarvis, made the first motion picture in the San Juan Basin – For Love of a Navajo
. Her parents, Earl and Jentra Barker were singers, musicians and actors in the La Plata Players as well as extras in movies filmed in the Durango area including A Ticket to Tomahawk
with up and coming star, Marilyn Monroe.
Jeannie was involved professionally with the Diamond Circle Melodrama (DCM) for 30 years. She discovered that the easiest way to be successful as an entertainer was to surround herself with extremely talented, energetic, positive people. Her friends and colleagues from her involvement in the Durango theatre scene include several leading citizens of the Durango Arts Community who have the DCM listed on their resumes; Theresa Carson, Will Casey, Marcia Clouser, Dr. Ginny Davis, Suzy DiSanto, Deehna Geehan, Helen Gregory, Scott Hagler, Ted Holteen, Meredith Mapel, Ben Mattson and Jared Wright, just to name a few.
In addition to the Diamond Circle, Jeannie was a member of the international cast of Up With People in 1975/76, travelling across the US performing while taking courses to complete her first year of college. Jeannie was among the featured Up With People performers at the 1976 Super Bowl half-time show. Jeannie earned her BA in Drama from Stanford University which included spending her junior year studying theatre in London. Jeannie, along with Helen Gregory, Dr. Ginny Davis and Glenda Hensley, formed Early Stages Productions (ESP) to provide an educational theatrical program for Durango’s youth. ESP in collaboration with Fort Lewis Theatre Department produced several shows including “The Miracle Worker.” ESP also presented children’s workshops and Love, Life and Laughter, a musical revue featuring local women singers, including Jenny Fitz, Melanie McLean and Ivy Walker. ESP also presented Helen Gregory’s musical version of “A Christmas Carol” on the Smiley Building stage featuring many Durango locals. Jeannie, along with the multi-talented Eric Hoit, also produced professional “Live Radio Shows” featuring the stories of Louis L’Amour, working with her child-hood friend, Beau L’Amour and Louis’ wife, Kathy. Eric and Jeannie became friends at Stanford and worked together in the DCM since 1988.
Jeannie would like to share this Sweetheart honor with two people. The first is her grandmother, Marion “Oohoo” Jarvis, with whom she spent a great deal of her childhood. Oohoo taught her to sing and play the piano and took her to stage shows, community concerts and symphonies. As a founding member of the Diamond Circle Corporation, Oohoo took Jeannie to theatre rehearsals beginning at age five and thus began her love of theatre. Jeannie would go from “the little kid at rehearsals who learned every line in the shows and every song, joke and dance from the “olio” acts in 1962 to usher, ticket girl, actress, choreographer, director and finally owner and producer from 1993 until the Diamond Circle Melodrama closed after its 46th season in 2007. Jeannie learned her acting and directing skills from the Melodrama master, Orvis Grout. She also learned from and worked with so many talented professional actors and musicians whom she keeps in contact with as she watches their stage, movie, TV and educational careers grow and prosper.
The other honorary recipient of this wonderful recognition would be her husband, partner and best friend, Steve. Jeannie has developed the left side of her brain to help Steve with the administration side of their investment management business, Intelligent Investment Management, since it began in 1996. Steve first saw Jeannie onstage at the Melodrama and has been her financial advisor, Stage Door Johnny, business partner, balloon chase crew chief, line-rehearser, critic and most appreciative audience member for 28 years. Steve supports her creative endeavors but wishes that they could be accomplished during regular business hours, like most people. Late night rehearsals and performances are not his favorites, but with Steve’s support, Jeannie has continually been involved with the arts community, using the right side of her brain.
After the DCM, Jeannie took a hiatus from performing and became a patron of the arts in Durango. She longed to return to performing in some form and found a home on the DAC stage in 2012 in Beehive, the 60s Musical, and again in 2013 in Cabaret. She performed as part of the 50th reunion cast of Up With People at Disneyworld in 2015. She was then very lucky to find herself cast as Sonia in the Merely Players / DAC collaboration of Vania and Sonia and Masha and Spike directed by Mona Wood-Patterson in 2016. This was her first experience working with the great team of MWP, Charles Ford and the talented Merely Players team. This role earned her a Best Actress in a Play nomination from BroadwayWorld Denver theatre awards.
In her ongoing attempt to “teach an old dog new tricks” and to keep her hand in the arts, Jeannie now finds herself several times a week at Stillwater Music. She plays piano and sings in the folk group, Animas Roots and is learning how to sing A Capella with the DurangoTones adult vocal group. She is also happy to take on the role of “wise grandmother”, NeeNee to her 8-year-old granddaughter, Kyla, who is learning about music, art, dance and theatre just as Jeannie did from her grandmother, Oohoo. Jeannie takes Kyla to her Stillwater youth music classes and rehearses with her at home as well as taking her to as many theatre events as possible around the area.
Community involvement has always been important to Jeannie. She is a 20-year member of Durango High Noon Rotary. She and Steve are still working in the investment management business, they have a small horse farm, spend part of the winter in Tucson and travel often to watch baseball games and see theatrical productions around the country. Jeannie plays tennis, golf, skis and rides horses with her granddaughter. A children’s book is in the early stages as well. As she looks for more outlets for her creativity on stage and maybe the small screen, Jeannie and Steve continue to support performing arts and music programs benefiting children (of all ages) in the Durango area. Jeannie feels it is especially important that arts education is a component of every academic program, with well-documented, immense benefits for the young and young-at-heart. Music and theatre will always be a part of her life and high on her charitable donation list. Jeannie is honored to be recognized by the arts community of Durango and she hopes to continue to live up to the challenge of making our small town one of the best arts communities in the country. Stay tuned!