GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/SPRING VALLEY TRIBUNE
Lisa Vehrenkamp and her mother, Mary Ann Schultz, at the recent Spring Valley Area Community Foundation banquet. They are in the process of recording the stories and voices of people in the Spring Valley-Wykoff community as part of their “Community Stories” project.
GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/SPRING VALLEY TRIBUNE Lisa Vehrenkamp and her mother, Mary Ann Schultz, at the recent Spring Valley Area Community Foundation banquet. They are in the process of recording the stories and voices of people in the Spring Valley-Wykoff community as part of their “Community Stories” project.
“It started with recording my younger sister’s voice,” said Mary Ann Schultz. “She has a disease that makes her voice steadily more difficult to understand, so we thought about recording stories of people while they are still with us to capture those precious voices before they are gone forever.”

Schultz, of Spring Valley, and her daughter, Lisa Vehrenkamp, of New York, have embarked on a mission to do just that – to preserve the sounds of the voices of people they love, as well as the voices of people who are known throughout the community — as part of their project, “Community Stories.”

“We’ve all had a situation where someone passes on and you wish you could hear their voice again,” said Schultz. “With today’s technology, everyone can record someone’s voice and keep it. Also, it can be someone that is still very much alive, but perhaps is far away.”

The pair has chosen to use digital audio files and upload them to a website to make the recordings available to anyone who would like to hear them. Schultz, one of Spring Valley’s Ramaker siblings, explained they picked audio because the files are smaller and easier to manage and share.

“For simplicity, I am recording them on my smart phone and editing on iMovie – I do the interviewing and editing, and I take a picture of the person,” she explained. “I have converted one video so far, and if we would acquire audiotapes or other types of recordings, I would try to accommodate that as well.”

All of the edited recordings are stored on the community-stories.org website. Schultz sends the audio files and photos to Vehrenkamp to post as she hosts and maintains the website. The two also have the original recordings saved if anyone wanted to hear the unedited versions.

The project is underwritten by the Spring Valley Area Community Foundation (SVACF).

“We didn’t have very many expenses, but SVACF has given us startup funds for some equipment and the website,” said Schultz. “We volunteered our time to the project – we have started with our local neighbors for simplicity, but anyone could do this kind of project.”

To date, Schultz and Vehrenkamp have captured and preserved stories from individuals such as Geneva Kidd, Harold Westphal, Carol Westphal Dougherty, Mary Jo Dathe, Don Schultz, Dianne Ramaker Bicknese, Cris Ramaker, Marilyn Bicknese Erdman, Lamont Meyer, Marlys Vehrenkamp Reiland, Marion Affeldt Olson and Geri Tammel. Those people were chosen “quite by happenstance,” noted Schultz.

“People refer some names, and others are people I have always admired or liked their voices. Just relatives of my own relatives could keep me busy for a very long time,” Schultz remarked. “Interestingly, some people are shy about telling stories. They think that they don’t have anything interesting enough to record. But when they get talking, you hear so many wonderful and interesting stories! I have had so much fun learning interesting facts about these people – sometimes a personality that has been hidden or a story you’ve never heard. I have always appreciated people’s voices, or laughter, or personal idiosyncrasies. That’s what makes them special.”

Kidd’s story of being the church organist at a wedding during which the flowers never arrived is featured on the “Community Stories” website as one of the initial recordings, and it’s one that Schultz enjoys.

“I love when the stories start to overlap and some of the same people start to show up. In one case – Geneva Kidd’s wedding flowers story – I found the woman whose wedding it was and asked her about it,” she said. “I have found and had fun learning that the same story can be told differently, depending on the perception of the different people…sometimes it’s interesting to hear different people’s versions of stories which don’t always match up.”

Schultz cited that it’s best to find a quiet spot for conversation, “but when I begin to hear a story being told, I grab it! I don’t want to miss the chance, so that just makes it a little harder to edit. People can just relax and start visiting – we like to keep the stories two to five minutes – and I would like them to think about their favorite story in advance. I can edit out pauses, or booboos, or mistakes. I find myself editing out my own voice because I have a loud voice, so I need to talk less and listen more. However, I hope I am asking questions that are pertinent or questions to help draw out more information.”

Originally, Schultz and Vehrenkamp considered setting the number of recordings they would make at 50, but after the first 10 were made, it ignited a virtual wildfire.

“With the wonderful response we’ve had, we just may be busy for a very long time. There doesn’t need to be an end number. The website can store thousands of stories,” said Schultz. “We had tossed out the idea of two years as a pilot, but we would like it to live on into the future. Who knows – someone else may be as interested as we are in doing this work. We would be happy to consult with anyone that wants to start it for their area or even their family. I’ve had a number of people tell me they are planning to record their own loved ones’ voices. If only one person does that and has a precious memory, I will feel rewarded.”

One of the highlights of initiating “Community Stories” with Vehrenkamp is that it allows Schultz to keep in touch with her daughter.

“My daughter, Lisa Vehrenkamp, is such a fun cohort,” she said. “She has lived far away from me since college, and we love working together because we love staying close, even if it’s through technology. We have done other projects, and we enjoy each other.”

The two have handed out many business cards, and welcome people to contact them through community-stories.org or by phone, 507-421-8275, or email, maryannschultz99@gmail.com.

“Everyone should try to record his or her older family members, themselves, friends and children,” said Schultz. “I encourage everyone to record stories, record voices, write down stories…do whatever it takes to capture our precious memories.”