How community involvement enhances lives can be seen through the lens of lakes area native Stacy Hess, who balances family life with volunteerism, community activism, and entrepreneurship every day. Hess, a photographer in the area for 20 years, has captured numerous families and local sports teams on camera. She continues to glean business via word of mouth to build up her business, Natural Touch Photography by Stacy Hess. In addition to her busy career as a photographer and part-time patient care associate at DMC Huron Valley-Sinai Hospital, she donates her time and passion as a photographer toward the hospital’s cancer survivor program as a standing tribute to one of her closest friends, who succumbed to breast cancer years ago. Hess hails from a family that owns the Brendel Lake Campground, a 50-year-old fixture in the community. Apart from her own community-minded aspirations, her family is renowned for its own local contributions, especially to St. Patrick Parish during its infancy. Hess and her husband of 24 years, Todd, reside in Highland Township with their four sons.
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SCN: As one of the lakes area more notable photographers, you have photographed the likes of the Segers, other affluent families and a throng of sports teams and St. Patrick parish. How have you carved out this niche in the community?
SH: I’ve been a professional photographer for 20 years and I’ve done a lot of events in the area, such as the Portraits in the Park event that I did for about 10 years at Marshbank Park. Every Sunday in October I would photograph many families throughout the month. That helped build my business and many of those same families still call on me now to photograph their children as seniors or for weddings, so that really helped when I was starting out.
SCN: Where are some of your favorite spots to photograph?
SH: I do everything on location, so I go to people’s homes, many of the local parks, Marshbank Park, Highland Recreation (Area), Depot Park, and Milford’s Central Park. Those are some of my favorite spots locally. I also have events throughout the summer where I go on location to the Great Lakes and some of the beaches, places like that that are interesting spots, as well.
SCN: Do families ever ask you to photograph on their property?
SH: Many times families will call me to come right to their home or their grandparents’ home or maybe there’s a family farm — those are great places to go to because they’re meaningful to the people.
SCN: What kinds of services do you provide and how do you continue to grow your business, Natural Touch Photography?
SH: A lot of my business comes from referrals and also my website: stacyhessphoto.com. I attend several seminars and classes throughout the year, which I’ve been doing for the 20 years I’ve been a photographer. I continue to go to school and take classes and keep current with technology and trends, because if you don’t keep doing those kinds of things you start to look and feel stale, so those things have helped me to grow my business, as well.
SCN: Are you part of any board or a member of any photography organization?
SH: I’m a member of PPA, Professional Photographers of America, and most recently we just had a large imaging convention in San Antonio, Texas, where there was about 10,000 professional photographers there. It was three days of intense classes and it was great to be able to study with local photographers from my own state, as well as photographers from around the world, and share images and learn new ways of doing business and trends. It was great convention and that was just this past January.
SCN: Would you say this is one way you compete in a market saturated with photography services?
SH: You definitely have to find a niche and a way to make your work to stand out from other peoples’ and a way to be different and appeal to what people want right now. I do a mix of photography. I do some traditional, timeless kinds of looks and then I do some more edgy kinds of looks that are a trend right now — more photo journalistic, more of a fashion magazine kind of look. That seems to be really popular right now.
SCN: You have volunteered at DMC Huron Valley-Sinai Hospital for almost a decade. What roles have you undertaken during this time?
SH: I lost a close friend of mine to breast cancer in 2005, and it really touched me when she was in her last few months of her life, to photograph her, her husband and their 5-year-old son at the time. I knew those photos meant a lot to her and they would probably be the last family portraits that her family would be left with, so before she passed away, I had asked her for a contact person at Huron Valley Hospital where she was receiving her treatment. Through that I contacted the Karmanos Cancer Treatment Center and I have been volunteering to photograph all their cancer survivors for their Celebration of Life Day they have every year in June. That has been a special part of my life for the last seven years and I really get a lot of pleasure out of it. By volunteering at the hospital for so many years, I was hired as a part-time patient care associate because of a job posting. I applied for it and that’s worked out really nice, as well. It’s a great place to work.
SCN: The cancer survivor program you mentioned is near and dear to your heart. How has it impacted your life?
SH: It’s a volunteer job and it makes me happy to be able to donate my time and something I can do for people that I know is meaningful for them. Just working with the cancer survivors makes me more mindful and grateful for the things I have in my life, and it’s always nice to pay it forward. It sets a good example for my kids, who have also become volunteers in areas. It’s a great way to give back in your community.
SCN: You are now a recently employed patient care associate at the hospital. Why did you take this on and how do you balance photography with this role?
SH: I took this part-time job because I’m at a time in my life when my kids are all older and it works out for me to be away from the house during the daytime. My husband is also self-employed so our schedules are pretty flexible.
SCN: As a working mother of four boys, what advice can you offer women about raising a family in these difficult economic times, as far as carving out time with your family while trying to earn a living?
SH: It’s just a trick. Our boys are 21, 19, 16 and 12. We have two away at college. We’ve spent a lot of time together and that’s important. One of my favorite sayings about raising kids is all kids spell love, T-I-M-E.
There are also more resources now than when our parents had only the Dr. Spock book available. We’ve always tried to attend parent education fairs like the one through Walled Lake Schools, a great thing to attend for information. It’s also important for us to take care of ourselves while raising the kids, staying connected with our own friends.
SCN: Not only are you deeply entrenched in the community, but your husband and elder son dedicate time to the Knights of Columbus. As a family, why is giving back to the community a priority?
SH: Everybody can find some time in their life. I know everyone’s really busy, but set aside a little time to help out in some way. There are many organizations that will gladly take any time you can offer, whether it’s help organizing canned goods at pantries or food shelters, or organizing a fund-raiser. It makes you feel good to give back. I also think it’s a catchy thing. I started volunteering and then my husband and oldest son became volunteers through Knights of Columbus. People see you volunteering and think “I can give back in some way,” and it goes on and on. It’s a good example for my kids and people to find time, as well.
SCN: Share with us your role in spearheading events for your subdivision. How many events do you help coordinate and what are they?
SH: I help coordinate a lot. I have been called “Julie McCoy,” the Love Boat cruise ship director. I just like to plan things and be around friends and family. One of the events I’ve planned is the neighborhood progressive dinner which we usually do in the winter months when there’s a lull in activities. I e-mail around, pick a theme, and people sign up to make a dish or host part of it at their house. We have all the courses, such as soup, salad, appetizers, a main dish, and dessert. There are usually two to three families assigned to each course. We enjoy going to each other’s house and walking through the neighborhood.
Our neighborhood beach association holds an annual end of summer picnic. I’ve organized that for the last several years. I do winter ski weekends, road rallies, chaired a school auction fund-raiser and an occasional bus trip. We like to have fun and stay connected to our friends and neighbors.
SCN: Why is party planning in your neighborhood so important?
SH: It forces us to get together. When somebody sets the date and plans an event … otherwise you get so busy with your kids that you don’t always take time to stay connected with your friends … Remember as adults we need to get out and have fun and maintain relationships with our own friends. We’ve always told our kids that you don’t stop setting playdates just because you’re an adult. It’s important to maintain those friendships.
SCN: What tips can you give people who want to throw a neighborhood party together, but don’t think they have the time?
SH: It’s pretty easy with technology now. You can send out e-mails and suggestions to neighbors. You’d be surprised how many people are open to helping organize an event. Try it and it kind of evolves from there. Every year it gets a little bit better and you decide new ways to do things or by getting together at parties, people talk different things at events they’ve attended so you get other ideas from people. It doesn’t have to be the same every year.
For example, this year we decided for our neighborhood annual party, we are going to a nine-hole golf (course). By that I mean there will nine families that will create some kind of gold hole or putting green at their house. When we go to each house, everyone will have to putt and we’ll keep score. At the same time there will be themed food at each house and everybody will contribute for a little cookout, sort of like a progressive dinner. It gets the guys and kids involved in building some kind of golf hole or range together.
SCN: At the beach party, do you ever have a company come in and do anything special?
SH: Yes, we have had a water ski show out of Davisburg. They are local professional water skiers. That was great. We try to use local people if we’re getting a DJ or catering. Last year, we wanted to keep the price down, so we didn’t have it catered — rather, we had a pot luck theme so more people could attend because of the economic times. Not everybody had the money to attend the event with families. So we made it free. From some of the association dues, we purchased hot dogs and ice cream. It worked out well and everyone could attend.
SCN: Your mother and father have owned Brendel Lake Campground for over 50 years. Share with us what that experience was like growing up and how you’ve seen the community change.
SH: When I grew up there, there was nothing across the street except Kmart. Now there’s the White Lake market area with the JCPenny and Marshalls. Now there will be the out-patient care center they just broke ground on pretty much across from my parent’s driveway. There’s still a lot of property there, but it’s becoming more of a downtown White Lake area.
I grew up riding bikes, building forts in the woods, gardening, and swimming. A lot of people don’t know that on my parent’s property through those woods down a quarter mile, a lot of their property is on Brendel Lake. It was a great place to grow up. We didn’t have electronic things like we do now. We pretty much played outside most of the day. The property is for sale and they’ve had many offers, so who knows what the future will be for that property.
SCN: To what do you attribute the campground surviving its 50-year run in the community?
SH: A lot of the campers come annually to the campground. To them that’s has been their piece of Up North. Most of the campers are from the city areas such as Hazel Park, Madison Heights, and Detroit. They started off camping with their families and it became their tradition to come back every year.
SCN: Your family has also been involved in St. Patrick Parish since the early days. In what regard and how have you contributed?
SH: My parents were one of the original parishioners when the new church was built in the ’60s, so they’ve been long-time members and have always supported the church and its expansions. We grew up always attending. My kids went to school there, as well. I spent a lot of time volunteering for events and working in the school while the kids were there. It was a great experience.