"Grandpa Camo" may not be a familiar face to many Sentinel readers, but chances are you may have seen a photo or two taken by him gracing its sports pages.
Paul Gerard, a 1964 L’Anse High School graduate has taken his love of photography and shares it with anyone visiting his website grandpacamo.com. Over the past couple of years, Gerard's website has literally exploded with thousands of full-sized pictures posted from mainly Delta County high school sports teams. However, he ventures outside his “home turf” quite often.
In 2010, Gerard started his first website http://www.paulgerard.net. Although that site is still up and running, Gerard opened his second site to cover high school sports. It runs the gamut from football and basketball to cheer team competition and horse shows.
Gerard said he began shooting high school sports a couple of years ago when youth attending his church were also on various athletic teams.
"I went to their athletic events and photographed them (the youth from his church). Then I, started photographing the whole team, then everybody," Gerard said. "I was doing CD's then DVD's. In January of 2010 was producing 25 DVD's twice a week."
Gerard said that got to be time consuming so the idea of developing a website came to mind. Arriving at the website's name was a family event.
"I was down visiting my nephew and he told me I needed a 'dot com' and it had to be something easy to remember,'' Gerard said. "About three hours later, grandpacamo.com was it."
Gerard explained he always wore a camouflaged hat when taking outdoor pictures such as football, track and cross-country. He now wears black indoors and camo outdoors.
Gerard’s love for photography started decades ago. Following high school graduation where he pursed a general interest in photography, he enrolled at Michigan Technological University (MTU) and then moved across Keweenaw Waterway to attend Suomi majoring in biology.
However, in June of 1966, Gerard enlisted in the U.S. Air Force and served in Korea as a ground radio electronics repairman. He returned to Vandenberg Air Force Base (AFB) and later to Keesler AFB in Biloxi, MS, where he became an instructor in radio repair.
In April of 1969, Gerard was sent to Korea for the remainder of his tour of duty, again as a radio repairman. In late May of 1970,
Gerard returned statewide and finished up his degree at Northern Michigan University (NMU) While at NMU he landed a photography job at NMU’s News Bureau.
In August of 1972, he married his wife Kristine in Gladstone-the place he has called home since. While at Northern's News Bureau, then head photographer Don Pavolski recommended Gerard shoot some film for the now defunct Delta Reporter.
In September of 1973, Gerard 'became a darkroom technician and photographer for the paper ,a job he held for two years. In October of 1975, he opened his own shop Paul's Picture Place in Gladstone where he specialized in portrait photography. His daughter Rachel arrived in 1977 as he put it “too early”. ;
Gerard said his business needed another year to become profitable and was doing wedding photography on the side. But since his daughter arrived too soon, he sought another job, this time with the Michigan National Guard. In 1981, he got the job from, which he retired working as a quality assurance representative from the Department of Defense (DOD).
While employed with the DOD, Gerard had the opportunity to partake in three six-month tours in Bosnia. He was there in 1997 1999 and 2001. Of course, he said there are plenty of International pictures from his visit. He also shot 20 hours of video while then and whittled it into a 30-minute production.
His wife Kristine died in 2006, and is buried in L’Anse, and Gerard retired in January of 2007. It was at that point that Gerard became more heavily involved in high school photography.
Those attending the 1966 L’Anse High School boys state championship team program this winter probably got a glimpse of Gerard with his trademarked camouflaged hat. He was also at this year's annual L’Anse-Baraga Figure Skating program at Meadowbrook Arena.
"I figure I take between 300-500, pictures a day," Gerard said. "The most I’ve ever taken was 5,200 for a girls cheer competition. I try to stay busy said Gerard. "As long as there is no lady in my life, I can do it!"
Gerard has three camera bodies and four lenses about $12,000 worth that allows him to work his magic. He estimates he takes about 125,000 pictures a year.(2013 400,000 per year) For the most part, Gerard limits himself to about a 60-mile radius for his “coverage area”.
But he has traveled to L’Anse, Calumet, West Iron County, Lake Linden-Hubbell and even St. Ignace to cover various high school sporting events. Gerard said he has many smaller schools that use some of his work in their yearbooks. In fact, some schools contact him personally for permission. But as you can see on his website, he doesn't charge for any photos as long as they are for personal use. “I don't want people to profit by selling my pictures. They are there for free,” said Gerard.
He said as more and more high school youth have gotten to know him, they ask for personal pictures at events he attends. He's always happy to oblige.
Because of his dedication to UP high school sports, the Upper Peninsula Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association (UPSSA) recently awarded him the James Tretheway Distinguished Service Award. The accolade is given to those who make exceptional contributions to high school sports.
Gerard said he was quite surprised and honored to be noted for his passion.
“Giving is much more fun to do. I do what I do and I think I do it well,” said Gerard. ‘The parents can’t take the same pictures. They don’t have access to the same caliber of equipment.”
When not peering through a camera lens, Gerard has plenty of other hobbies to keep him busy. He enjoys cooking, international food and bee-keeping.
“I have about 12 hives,” Gerard said. “They are not commercial and their honey isn’t tainted. By eating local honey, it has reduced allergies and pollen. I’m no longer deathly ill in the spring and fall (from allergies).
Although this year’s high school sports season is winding down-Just track and golf remaining. Gerard said is is already scheduling events for next fall. He said he’ll spend quite a bit of time this summer and early fall at the Gitche Gunmee Bible Camp in Eagle River, MI.
Gerard also shoots for runmichigan.com where he covers Upper Peninsula Track and cross country. He’ll be attending next months UP Track and Field finals in Kingsford.
And then again, he noted high school football and cross country seasons aren’t that far off.
(Published in The L’Anse Sentinal, May 4, 2011, used with permission)