Reetz, a self-described local history buff, is co-creator of a forthcoming, as-yet-untitled coffee table book that will look to trace Genoa’s rich, yet sometimes-surprising roots. From all the way back from when local Civil War veterans were beginning to drift back into town from the fronts to help lay the foundation of the village, with their blood, sweat, tears and limestone to this past Christmas Eve, when a near-apocalyptic fire that started with a single spark and a devilish breeze nearly burnt a good portion of that hard-fought foundation back down into the ground.
Reetz, with the help of friend and fellow American Legion member Kirk Hise, spent a good part of last fall and all of this winter poring over seemingly thousands and thousands of photographs. He is currently accepting submissions from anyone in town who wants to offer up even more, with the hopes of getting his epic picture retrospective of life in his hometown over the past 140 or so years done, put together and in local shops by Christmastime.
“As of right now, I’d say that I’ve probably looked at, studied and scanned well over 400 to 450 pictures, and we’re definitely hoping for more,” he said. “Hopefully once this article hits the paper, some people will see it, and bring their photographs to us.
“I’d be more than happy to scan all of their pictures, and put them on a CD for them,” he added.
“I know how important peoples’ photographs are to their families’ histories, and their own personal identities, and this is a way in which they can have a back-up for posterity,” offers Reetz, adding that he and Hise have spent considerable time cleaning up and digitally enhancing photos.
“My wife thinks I’m crazy,” he said. “She asks me, ‘How in the world can you spend seven or eight hours on just one photo?’
“But I’ve actually been into this hobby for about five or six years now. I started getting into it just before my mom and dad passed away, because we were looking at old family pictures, reminiscing and trying to get everything squared away,” he said.
A new 20-inch flat-screen computer monitor, which he got for Christmas, has added a new dimension to working with the photos. “It allows us to see certain things in photographs that we couldn’t see before, like names on no-longer-existing street signs, lettering on old faded store fronts or a person sitting on a sidewalk in front of a particular house,” he said.
“Originally, Kirk was the person who came to me with the whole idea - he’s the man with the great picture collection,” Reetz said. “He knew that I have the computer expertise to take the pictures and to do all of the things that we need to do to clean them up a little bit and bring some of them into better focus.”
Reetz added some of his own photos, purchased some online and on eBay and asked around for people to share their pictures.
“We have everything from old postcards to wrinkled-up black and whites to Polaroids to nice digitals – the whole gamut,” Reetz said.
The collaborative collection includes faded black and whites from early 1900s Genoa for instance, along with a collection of washed-out Polaroids from the ‘80s, which seem to bridge the generations gaps together as they tell the story of life in Genoa – people shopping for hammers, nails, and paint at Skilliter’s old hardware store on Main Street; perusing the comic book, baseball card and penny-candy selection at the old Genoa Pharmacy downtown; enjoying a cool, refreshing ice cream treat on the old picnic table outside of GiGi’s dairy queen on Route 51 on a summer night; and other nostalgic, time-honored scenes.
There are also pictures of a number of the grand old houses in Genoa, including one of the late Dr. Dufencock’s shadowy mansion, built in 1908, with the old trolley tracks still running in front of it; photos of churches, schools and forgotten hotels; and many, many other pictures as well.
“That’s really the coolest thing about looking at all these old pictures - finding out neat things about your town, showing other people and hearing them say, ‘I didn’t know that,’” Reetz said.
“We just lost a corner in the fire, but we’ve got pictures of what it used to look like, if we want to restore it to the way it looked before,” he said.
“Because we’ve had fires here before, and we’ve rebuilt, and moved on,” Reetz said. “It’s just part of who we are.”