MEDINA — When Nick Hoeller lost his grandfather in 2007, it was like an awakening for the local photographer, who said Thursday that he wished he knew more about the veteran’s past.
Donald Kormos was 82 when he died.
“My grandpa was in World War II and the Korean War,” Hoeller said. “I really didn’t understand what he went through. When he passed, and as I grew older, I realized how important it was.”
The desire to know more about the veteran in his life sparked an idea with Hoeller, a new project called “Faces of Sacrifice.”
The Medina photographer has been shooting portraits of veterans who live in nursing homes in the city. He took a series of nine photos in the first photo shoot in March. It went over so well, he said he is planning a second photo shoot next week.
“This will help him live on and for everyone to know what sacrifices he made,” Hoeller said of his grandfather.
“I wanted to honor these men and women that gave up so much.”
The 22-year-old Medina High School graduate hasn’t charged any of the vets for the portraits.
“I don’t think the sole purpose is to make money,” Hoeller said. “I want to show my portraits and give the veterans the spotlight they deserve.”
Hoeller formerly worked at a nursing home in Medina and approached the administrator about the idea. After photographing the veterans, he said he was honored by their reactions.
“They were super excited when I went there,” he said. “They liked how they turned out.
“I was very thankful to get as many as I did the first time.”
He said his favorite portraits are of Rowena Lindh, 87, who was in the Korean War, and John Vannorsdall, 94, who fought in World War II.
“I absolutely loved the World War II ones,” Hoeller said. “I loved the expression in their eyes and face.”
Short narratives, offering the veterans an opportunity to talk about their war experiences in their own words, accompany Hoeller’s portraits.
Lindh said she was in college working in a bookstore when she decided to join the U.S. Navy, enlisting in the WAVES, or Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service which was once the U.S. Navy’s corps of female members.
“I learned that if you have been in the service, you could get your college paid for or at least help with it,” Lindh’s narrative reads.
“That’s a good deal, I thought, and it sounds like an adventure, too.”
Vannorsdall, in his own words, said he was able to apply lessons he learned in the Navy when he was chaplain at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania. He was there for 14 years.
“It was the most racist town I’ve ever lived in,” Vannorsdall wrote.
“Most of my students were white students, only a half dozen or so were African-American. The white students in the dormitories would not take black students as partners in that dormitory.
“So, what did I do? I did what I learned in the Navy. I got a hold of the president of a black college in Kentucky and said, ‘Would you accept six of our white students for at least a week in time?’ He said, “Well, sure, I’ll be careful with them.”
“And so, I sent six white students to a black college and they learned something about what America is all about,” he said.
“That felt good.”
The nine portraits currently available for view on Hoeller’s website are all showcased in the same manner — against a dark background.
It was done on purpose, he said.
“They are all photographed in a harsh, dark environment to have you connect with them,” he wrote in describing the project.
“The darkness around them secludes you to just study their faces, no distractions — just you and them.
“This will lead you to get a sense of what they’ve been through by just looking into their eyes, their wrinkles or expressions.”
Even though it might not be a money-making venture for Hoeller, he said he wants to continue “until I run out of veterans.”
Hoeller said he has a degree in photography from Cuyahoga Community College and interned at a photo studio in Cleveland.
Veterans interested in getting their portraits photographed can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.