BUCKHANNON - A Buckhannon Upshur Camera Club member spoke to the Buckhannon Rotary Club Tuesday about a book project that has become central to the club's latest efforts to impact the lives of local veterans.
The club's book, "A West Virginia Sesquicentennial Celebration," which was originally designed to be a club newsletter, evolved into something entirely different, said the club's newsletter coordinator, Al Tucker.
What started out as just another one of the club's photographic newsletters became a separate project entirely when in May of 2013, a camera club member brought up a fireworks display that was to take place in Charleston in celebration of West Virginia's 150th anniversary.
The Inter-Mountain photos by Melissa Toothman
Buckhannon Upshur Camera Club member and newsletter organizer Al Tucker speaks to Rotary about the club’s book and initiative to give free copies of it to Afghanistan soldiers.
Tucker said his original thought was to travel to the state capital with some members of the club and to photograph the fireworks display to include some of the photos in the club's monthly newsletter. Then, upon further examination, he and member John Simons, decided that they should do something a little different with the newsletter because "it was a pretty special event."
They decided to dedicate the newsletter to the state's birthday. A message requesting photographs about West Virginia, its heritage, its places, its people and its nature and wildlife was sent to the club's members. That email was picked up by a Taylor County Camera Club affiliate, Harry White Jr., who told other camera clubs across the state about the project. Soon, clubs were contacting BUCC wanting to get involved in the project, Tucker said.
More than 1,000 photos by more than 40 different West Virginia photographers were sent to Tucker and Simons for the newsletter. They decided to make it a book instead of a newsletter.
"It was fun doing this book," Tucker said. "We met lots of wonderful people, but the real fun started afterwards with what we were going to do with this money."
The book was originally going to feature 150 photos from around the state, but Tucker and Simons wanted to create a more in-depth project because of the number of photos submitted. Instead of limiting the book to 150 photos, they decided just to tell West Virginia's story.
"We're thinking maybe somebody will pick this up in another 50 years and they'll take a look at a mailbox," Tucker said. "Will mailboxes be around in 50 years? We really tried to tell the story of how we are today, and we wanted to document where we came from."
After its publication, the book project took another unexpected turn toward the "real fun" Tucker described earlier. An estimated 1,300 copies of the book have sold to date. The word spread about the book and many people took interest in getting a copy.
"This was more of a fun project, a creative neat little keepsake," Tucker said.
The book and the newsletter generated interest in four countries and across 21 states, Tucker said, adding that the club never expected to make such a large profit. The books have been selling for $10 each, plus tax.
The BUCC found a way to give back to local soldiers with the profit generated from those sales, by giving soldiers in Afghanistan a free copy of the book. The initiative is named Operation Thank You, and members are still traveling to meet soldiers departing or returning from Afghanistan to give them a book.
"We wanted to tell West Virginia soldiers who are going off to Afghanistan how much we appreciate them," Tucker said. "I've fought years of my military services overseas. You get something from home, you devour it... when you're away from home and you get something from home, it's really special."
The club has been working with the West Virginia National Guard through their Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program.
"I have such great pride in these people," Tucker said. "You come away from that just feeling so, so good."
The feedback the club has received from the book has come not only from the soldiers, but others who have purchased a copy of the book.
"I've gotten written cards from a couple that no longer can travel and said how much the book means to them to sit down and see all these places that they've been to in their life," Tucker said.
The book can be purchased online at www.createspace.com/4357439 or by emailing Tucker at firstname.lastname@example.org or Simons at email@example.com. Simons also can be contacted by phone at the Upshur County Senior Center at 304-472-0528.
After the meeting, 21 copies of the book were sold to Rotarians, Tucker told The Inter-Mountain.
The club meets at 6:30 p.m. every fourth Thursday at the Upshur County Senior Center, and guests are welcome to attend.