Capturing a Legacy – Metro-Atlanta Photographer Seeks War Veterans for a Legacy Project

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Story by Erika Neldner

Photos by Darleen Prem

Darleen Prem has a special place in her heart for those who have served in the United States Armed Forces, those sacrificing much to ensure the safety and perseverance of our country and its citizens.

That’s why the daughter of a Korean War veteran and a mother of a U.S. Army veteran embarked on a legacy project to capture the legacy of others.

“Artists create legacy projects so they can leave their work behind in a medium that benefits someone else,” Prem said. “I chose to devote my legacy project to these veterans. These men and women come from generations like no other.”

Russ Vaudrey
WWII veteran Russ Vaudrey holding a photo of himself during his early days of service. Photo by Darleen Prem.

Photography is an artform Prem learned from her father, the late Anthony Stamas, who served in the U.S. Navy and was a Navy photographer in the Korean War. He had an interview lined up with National Geographic when he was due to be discharged from the Navy, but instead, he was flown home by the Red Cross because his father had died. His images never made it back to him, and he never got to interview with National Geographic. But he never gave up on his love for photography. Instead, he shared his love with his daughter, which turned into her full-time job in 2012. Prem’s father got to see her work, her studio and how she shared his love of photography before he passed away in 2013.

Her strong relationship with her father, love for photography and special heart for servicemembers have guided Prem toward her legacy project.

She is seeking World War II, Korean War and Vietnam War veterans to participate in the legacy project. At no cost to the veterans or their families, Prem will customize the photoshoot for each veteran, which can include items special to them or their service to their country. Or, the image simply can be a portrait of them at this stage of life. Prem will give each veteran the digital file of the black-and-white portrait, along with a signed 8”x10” print.

John Lewis Schoenecker, Jr
Schoenecker holding his wedding photo. Photo by Darleen Prem.

“Older people tend not to have portraits of themselves,” Prem said. “When they pass on, it’s only then that their families begin to realize they have no legacy portrait to leave to the next generations. Providing these images gives families something to keep and share about their family’s war hero.”

Prem has had the honor of photographing veterans over the years, including an image (shown right) of the late World War II veteran Chester Reeves and Woodstock Police Officer Keith McGraw, who was featured by the U.S. Department of Justice after a nationwide contest for community policing. Her photography work of veterans also is featured at various local establishments.

The legacy project, in particular, is leaving a lasting impression on families that they weren’t expecting, including Peg Crotty.

Crotty knows just how special this project can be, and it all started with a happenstance meeting at a Marine Corps Detachment event.

Prem was photographing the event, and Crotty’s father, John Lewis Schoenecker, Jr., was the Marine Corps veteran who had the honor of presenting the cake at the Marine Corps Ball.

“She told me about her legacy project and asked if I would be interested in having photos of my dad and I said, ‘Of course I would,’” Crotty said, adding that the process was easy and all she had to do was make the appointment.

That now-cherished photo was taken shortly before Schoenecker’s 96th Birthday. He passed away Feb. 5, 2018, at the age of 97.

The photo now adorns Crotty’s nightstand, and every time she sees it, she sees more than just a photo.

“Darleen captured the essence of my father. He was a gentle, quiet and unassuming man who loved his family. She caught the essence of the life on his face,” Crotty said.

While unplanned, Prem also photographed Crotty and her father together – an image she says she treasures to this day.

“Sometimes there are no words to describe how much something means to you. It’s so emotional and you can’t find the words,” Crotty said. “I am honored to know Darleen and be a part of her legacy project. My family and I will always be so appreciative.”

Like every other veteran and family who have been a part of Prem’s legacy project, Crotty did not pay a dime for this cherished image that has now been reproduced so family members can enjoy it as well, including the remaining generations of the John Lewis Schoenecker name (there are five total).

John Lewis Schoenecker, Jr.
WWII veteran John Lewis Schoenecker, Jr. Photo by Darleen Prem.

 

“Doing these portraits is a labor of love I give to those who have given. They come from my heart and not only leave a legacy of my work but a legacy to the families for future years to come,” Prem said.

Most photoshoots are done in Prem’s Woodstock studio, however, if mobility is an issue, she will travel to the veteran. To learn more or to schedule an appointment, call Darleen Prem Photography at 770-354-0675 or email darleenprem@gmail.com.

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