A Tonys Nod For A Teacher Whose Dedication Stops At Nothing — Even Cancer

By Heidi Stevens
Chicago Tribune

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Illinois theatre teacher Erica Heilmann was nominated for honorable mention at the Tony awards for demonstrating a monumental impact on the lives of students. Her story embodies strength, love and the power of purpose.

OAK LAWN, Ill.

Erica Heilmann missed the email telling her she was being honored at the Tony Awards.

Heilmann teaches theater at Thornton Fractional South High School in Lansing, Ill., and June 1 was the last day of school.

On June 5, emails went out to 20 teachers around the country informing them they’d earned honorable mentions for the Tonys’ excellence in theatre education award.

“They sent it to my work email,” Heilmann said. “School was out. I don’t check my work email.”

But her husband, former Oak Lawn Mayor David Heilmann, had a hunch. He spent June 11, the night of the Tonys, scouring the awards site for a mention of his wife, whose impact, he knew, was award-worthy.

Around 9 p.m., he found her name, the only one from Illinois, on a list of teachers granted honorable mentions for demonstrating monumental impact on the lives of students and embodying the highest standards of the profession.

Judges from the American Theatre Wing, the Broadway League and Carnegie Mellon University made the selections.

Rachel Harry of Hood River, Ore., won the top spot.

Heilmann has spent the past two decades nudging kids toward a love of theater, both at T.F. South and in Oak Lawn, Ill., where she directs the park district’s Broadway Junior program for kids ages 6-14. Three of her own four kids (ages 6, 10, 12, and 15) are in the summer camp. In July, the campers are performing “Oklahoma.”

“She never stops,” said Corinne Kalebich, who grew up performing at Broadway Junior and now co-directs. “To say she’s dedicated is an understatement.”

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