PEKIN — No one can know how many lives the before-and-after mugshot photos of Penny Wood-Rusterholz may have saved from destructive meth addiction.
In the end, she knew they saved hers and her family’s.
That end came last week. The 55-year-old Pekin woman, who ruefully called herself the “poster girl” depicting the drug’s ravages on billboards that spread across America and Europe, died of cancer, bearing a peaceful smile.
“She looked relieved, relaxed, happy,” said Amy Mallery, the oldest of her five children. “She looked like she was 30 years old again.”
Over her last decade, Wood-Rusterholz earned associate degrees in drug counseling and sociology. She became a registered foster mother. She cared for the mentally and physically disabled in a residential home in Pekin, and she tended to customers in a Pekin video gaming outlet that Mallery manages.
She became a rock for her children, 20 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.
“The only thing she didn’t teach us is how to live without her,” Mallery said.
That is the true “after” picture of Wood-Rusterholz’s life.
After years of drinking, milder drugs and young motherhood, Penny fell deep in 1998 into methamphetamine, the highly addictive drug one can make at home. She was caught doing that four years later and faced up to 30 years in prison.
Tazewell County State’s Attorney Stewart Umholtz chose another course in the case. He offered her probation if she would agree to its strict no-drug terms, and to another unique condition.
Wood-Rusterholz permitted use of two mugshots, one taken in 1998 showing a hardened but healthy 36-year-old woman, and her 2002 version — gaunt, pallid, teeth decayed, hair ratty — to be used in a before-and-after anti-meth poster that probation offices, drug clinics, even schools would display.
“When I first saw the (mugshots), I thought we could use them to try to save lives, not to…