CHARLESTON - It was just a small seed of an idea someone had at the Buckhannon Upshur Camera Club.
At the May 23 club meeting, someone mentioned the big fireworks display coming up at the West Virginia Capitol to mark the state's Sesquicentennial celebration and that club members should shoot some photos.
"I said, 'Hey, we can make a special section in the newsletter.' I got to thinking a couple days later, 'Let's see if we can tell the story of the state today,'" said club member Alan Tucker.
They put out the call for photos on various aspects of the Mountain State - nature, people, heritage and so forth. Word got out, someone mentioned the project on Facebook, other people heard about it.
"Within a week or two, I started getting calls from people in Morgantown, Ravenswood, Fairmont, emails from people out of state," said Tucker. "We started to amass just an incredible number of photos."
The end result was that 42 photographers submitted more than 1,000 photos, which were then whittled down to 265. With help from club member John Simon, they worked through the Amazon subsidiary CreateSpace to create the 40-page, full-color photo booklet "A West Virginia Sesquicentennial Celebration," featuring the photos played in small formats, several to a page.
"I went off into a closet, basically, and tried to tell the story of West Virginia through the photos that were sent," Tucker said.
The booklet, priced at only $10.60, began to sell and generate income for the club, money they decided to use for a good cause. Tucker and Simon are both Air Force veterans.
"We got the idea and recommended to the club that we provide books to our West Virginia men and women who are serving in Afghanistan," Tucker said.
They dubbed it "Operation Thank You."
Said Tucker, "I can't think of any better way to make their days brighter. In our minds, this is the best use of our money."
The club has arranged to distribute booklets to the members of the West Virginia Army National Guard and Army Reserve who are going to be returning from Afghanistan. One service member, Capt. Josh Wilson, stationed in Afghanistan with the 10th Mountain Division, wrote a note back to the club after receiving a copy:
"One mail call in particular stands out, as I remember it I received a rather large manila envelope and when opened, much to my surprise was a breathtaking book of pictures that immediately captured my attention and brought me home to the beautiful hills of West Virginia. I spent most of my evening enjoying the work the volunteers from the Buckhannon Upshur Camera Club had put into capturing the natural scenery of our beautiful state. I enjoyed it so much I would insist on showing it to fellow soldiers I met who were also from West Virginia - all of them thoroughly enjoyed the pictures and captions and expressed how uplifting it was to just see pictures of luscious green mountains and streams from our mountain mama compared to the mundane brown surroundings of eastern Afghanistan."
"We've been thrilled with how it all turned out," said Tucker, noting that the club had so far printed more than 1,000 of the books and that the West Virginia Division of Tourism wants 250 of those.
Club members traveled to Beckley on Dec. 7 to bring books to a yellow ribbon ceremony for the 863rd Military Police Company, a unit that will deploy in 2014, one of several such book-distribution events planned for armed service units.
"A seed was planted and out of it grew an oak tree. It's something that just spiraled," said Tucker. "Maybe 50 years from now, someone will look at the book and get a feel for what we were like in 2013."