Celebrating Veterans Day: Photographing Our Veterans

When Stacy Musser, Willow Valley Communities’ Senior Director of Resident Life and Wellness, had an idea for Veterans Day, she couldn’t have known the impact it would have throughout campus — or how it would turn Veterans Day into Veterans Month, involving hundreds of Residents, dozens of Team Members, and several on-campus clubs and organizations.

Every year, Willow Valley Communities has a Veterans Day program organized by the Veterans Committee. With support from the Residential Life and Wellness team, the group puts on a program that includes presentations and a speaker. This time, Stacy had an idea, and in true Life Lived Forward fashion, Willow Valley Communities Residents took it and ran with it. “It really snowballed,” she chuckled.

The idea was to have photos of Willow Valley Communities veterans displayed in the Cultural Center Gallery. It’s a large, commanding space that typically features the artwork of regional artists — perfect for a Wall of Honor photo display of Willow Valley Communities veterans.

Stacy explained, “I just thought we had this great space, so why not do something personal to show the impact of what our Residents who served experienced? And we do a Veterans Day program every year, so it’s a perfect time to showcase photos on a Wall of Honor.”

Stacy contacted Resident Tony Poulos, President of the Camera Club, who loved the idea. He got to work reaching out to the club’s 200 members to organize the project, working closely with the Willow Valley Communities Veterans Committee to coordinate, schedule, and photograph the veterans. “When we first discussed the project, we estimated that maybe it would be a total of about 100 veterans’ photographs that needed to be taken,” recalled Tony.

But as word spread, the project grew — or “snowballed” as Stacy described, into a total of 350 photos.

Eighteen four-hour photo sessions, held from July through October 2022 across campus, were needed to photograph all of the veterans. Interestingly, 12 of them are women, and one of them is over 100 years old.

Camera Club member Domenick Buttiglieri photographed about half of the 52 veterans who are Residents of Willow Valley Communities’ supportive living communities. He said that was the most meaningful aspect of the project for him. “I met several World War II veterans who flew missions and were willing to tell me about it. I photographed a veteran who landed on Omaha Beach on D-Day when he was 18. He was wounded twice and received the Purple Heart.”

Domenick’s wife, Marjorie, concurred. She worked as an assistant for the photographers and didn’t realize how the experience would impact her. “I came from a patriotic family, and several of the men had served in the military,” she said. “Some even came home with injuries. But they never talked about their experiences or shared stories. It was through assisting in the photography project that I heard many stories — stories that had been waiting to be shared.” Marjorie added, “It was truly a privilege to have been a part of this project.”

Even after all the veterans were photographed, the project was far from finished. The Camera Club then worked tirelessly editing all the photos and getting them printed, framed, and arranged for hanging to create the awe-inspiring Wall of Honor in the Cultural Center Gallery. Resident Life and Wellness Coach Barry Sipe and Cultural Center Events Coordinator Jen Rynier also played instrumental roles in completing the project. “The Wall of Honor would not have come to fruition without their efforts,” Stacy offered.

The photo project was completed by November 1, just in time for the annual Veterans Day program on November 7, organized by the Veterans Day Committee.

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