By Jeff Bahr
Bloomfield resident Gene Nichols is teaming up with the Bloomfield Public Library in an effort to help preserve individual family histories. Nichols, a retired journalist and public relations executive, has offered to videotape community members, 65 and older, as they recount fond memories and major milestones in their lives.
Nichols says that he nursed the idea for some time. It stems from a yearning to know more about his father’s history. The little that he does know, however, is quite interesting.
Nichols’ dad, Russian military cadet Vladimir Yegorev jumped ship and entered America in 1917 while serving as a hand on a car go vessel. To say that he didn’t have much choice in the matter is an understatement. At the time, the Bolshevik Revolution was sweeping through Russia. After shipmates told Yegorev that the “Bolsheviks have probably murdered your family,” the young seaman realized how foolhardy it would be to return to his home country. When his ship docked in New Orleans, Yegorev made his bid for a new life in America and hopped off.
At first, Yegorev lived under an alias, but he eventually became naturalized under the name of Walter Nichols. From that point forward details about Nichols’ life turn somewhat sketchy, save for son Gene’s memory that his dad was a “very loving man.”
With a gnawing hunger to know more about his father acting as impetus, Nichols toyed with the idea of recording people’s history for posterity – but the project didn’t get off the ground until a pivotal event set Nichols’ creative wheels into motion.
Alfonso Queresimo, an Italian-American described by Nichols as the “Mr. Fix- It” of his neighborhood, was known not only as a giving person and “all around great guy” to Nichols and fellow neighbors, but as a man who could cook up some mean Italian dishes when he put his mind to it. Working as a chemist for the pharmaceutical giant Hoffman LaRoche, Queresimo would incorporate his natural affinity for combining disparate elements with his grandfather’s original Italian recipes. The final result was nothing short of “fabulous,” explained Nichols with reverence in his voice.
A modest man by Nichols’ account, Queresimo never spoke much about his own background. Only after he died did Nichols learn that he held a Ph.D in chemistry from Columbia University. He pondered how many other details he and others would miss out on when their loved ones were gone. This thought finally prompted Nichols to move forward with his idea.
Piggybacking off of the popular National Public Radio show StoryCorps – a series that recalls an episode in an individual’s life – Nichols decided to make his biographic effort even more comprehensive. With his videos, Nichols hopes to feature “many chapters from a person’s life” starting with the earliest events recalled by an individual and carrying through to the present day.
With a needed assist from Bloomfield Public Library Director Catherine Wolverton, and Lisa Cohn, who has volunteered her time to help out with online duties, Nichols’ brainchild is primed and ready to go.
In order to gather the rich moments that make up a person’s life, Nichols will conduct on-camera interviews with each participant, which he’ll then format, edit and store on a DVD. “If anyone is unhappy with the results, the material will be discarded,” says Nichols to help assuage fears of the camera-shy. If people like it, Nichols will then instruct them how to upload their personal story to a website that, with proper access codes, can be viewed by friends and family alike. Samples of the questions that Nichols will ask, as well as a video explaining the process can be viewed in advance on his website.
Probative questions including one’s education and school background, influential teachers, enduring friendships, circumstances leading to marriage, defining moments, etc., get down to the nitty-gritty of each person’s unique story. “The interview will mean something different to everyone,” said Nichols when asked about the impact of his new service.
Life StoryCam sessions are being conducted free of charge for anyone age 65 and over. They are currently available by appointment only. To learn more and/ or to arrange an interview, please contact Gene Nichols at 347-560-8056 or visit www.lifestorycam.com.
The Bloomfield Public Library is located at 90 Broad St., Bloomfield. For more information on this event or upcoming programs please call 973-566-6200 x 502. For notification of upcoming programs, visit the library’s Facebook page or follow them on Twitter. To receive notices of upcoming events directly in your email inbox, visit www.bplnj.org, and join the library’s Google group.