Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Jeff Van Natta touched many lives (tribute feature)

The late Jeff Van Natta shows off the plaque he won
for his low elapsed time during a media event several years go
at Summit Motorsports Park prior to the NHRA Nationals.
Enjoy this NORWALK REFLECTOR tribute written by Zoe Greszler about my late buddy and former co-worker, Jeff Van Natta. What a guy! 

This newspaper story was published in today's (Aug. 23, 2016) issue. Reach Greszler at zoegreszler@norwalkreflector.com.

NORWALK, Ohio — Some people just touch your heart from the moment you meet them.

That was Jeff Van Natta.

He touched so many hearts and lives. For about 10 years he captured those people and moments through a camera lens with the NORWALK REFLECTOR, something for which he was known.

Van Natta died Saturday evening at UH Amherst Health Center in Amherst after battling several health issues over the years. He was 67.

Norwalk City Councilman Chris Castle knew him for several years, both on a work and personal level.

Castle said Van Natta not only touched his life, but worked his way into his whole family’s heart, even influencing their meal-time discussions regularly.

Chris Castle accompanies himself
on acoustic guitar during a 2015
Imagine Norwalk event.
“I’ve been thinking about this guy a lot the past couple days,” Castle said.

“My children love Jeff Van Natta — loved that man. We play a lot of dinner-table games over meals. One of those games is a fake game-show game we called ‘That’s So Random with Jeff Van Natta.’ They take photos of things, animals, a guinea pig, a dog, etc. — random shots like Jeff (did). Then they pull out their phones and show the pictures and we have to guess what they are and where they were. 

“When I told my kids that Jeff has died, we immediately turned it into ‘That’s So Random with Jeff Van Natta,’ as a dedication to the great man,” he said.

“That’s how much of a reach he had though. He touched the hearts of everyone — so many lives. If he touched one person, chances are it carried over to the whole family. The first thing my 10-year-old said was, ‘Wasn’t it funny how he swung the camera around and showed you the photo he just took,’” Castle said.
“He was always so happy and smiling and so proud of his pictures.’”

Co-worker Cary Ashby knew Van Natta as the hard worker he was. (Check out more of my memories that didn't make into this story at the bottom.)

“Jeff was a real go-getter,” Ashby said. “He was so dedicated to getting photos, he was willing to jump up from the middle of eating and run to cover a breaking-news assignment.
The late Jeff Van Natta (far right) snaps photos at a state volleyball tournament
at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio.
“He was a very generous guy. One day last July I came back to work from lunch and found a fairly expensive, boxed Batman action figure sitting on my desk. There was no note. Since Jeff knew I’m a diehard Batman fan, I eventually figured out he gave it me. He bought it ‘just because’ — just because he saw it and thought of me,” Ashby said.

“That Batman remains in my bedroom in plain sight every day.”
This is how many people in Huron County, Ohio will remember
the late Jeff Van Natta — taking photos.
Here he covers a local baseball game.

Scott Ford, a retired teacher who helps run the Lefty Grove Baseball League, remembers the same generosity and kindness.

“He was a very positive, very upbeat fellow and he didn’t hesitate to help with anything,” Ford said. 

“He provided hundreds, maybe thousands, of memories for kids at Lefty Grove baseball. He got the memorable, live-action shots, catching the ball mid air. I don’t know how he did it. If you called him and asked him to grab the photos and he’d be there,” Ford said.

“He was always a nice guy too. Just a pleasant person to be around and to talk to. He was always willing to talk with you.”

It was no secret Van Natta held some of his photography assignments in an extra-high regard, such as Pleasant Elementary.

“We loved him; I’m not just saying that,” Principal Janice Smith said.

The late Jeff Van Natta checks the photos he's taken at Summit Motorsports Park outside of Norwalk, Ohio.
He enjoyed taking pictures of Sumitt — but then again, he could find joy in everything he shot.
“We had a special relationship. And he loved us. I don’t think he told everyone, but we were his favorite.

“He was the most kind and caring person and always smiling. He was always so positive despite his health. He’ll always have a special place in our hearts. He was great with the kids,” she added.

There will be a wake from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at the Latter Day Saints Church in Sandusky, Ohio. There will be calling hours from 3 to 5 p.m. Saturday at Walker Funeral Home in Norwalk.

* * * * *

Here are some memories I shared with Zoe about my buddy Jeff that didn't make her touching tribute story. …

Ashby recalled covering many memorable assignments with Van Natta. He remembered the photographer as a "people person" who was kind, dependable and patient. …

In September 2013, the pair covered a multiple-agency raid of a Plymouth home where authorities suspected there was a prostitution ring through a home-based massage parlor. Van Natta and Ashby also covered the Cleveland Browns' organized team activities training camp three years ago.

Van Natta was known to take photos of Ashby when he covered a high-school sports game or another assignment.

"Jeff took a lot of pictures of me over the years that I will always treasure. On our personal time, he took two amazing sets of pictures of my daughters a few years apart. He never let me pay him for them," said Ashby, whom Van Natta always called "Mister Cary."

Habitually, Van Natta spent his own money to make large prints of photos he took of important events in people's lives. Then he would present a framed photo to the person as a gift. …
This is when I felt like the fifth Beatle! 1964 The Tribute was generous enough
to let me have my picture taken with them before their 2011 concert at the
Ernsthausen Performing Arts Center at Norwalk High School.
And of course, my buddy Jeff Van Natta teased me about getting another "celebrity shot."
One of Ashby's memorable times working with Van Natta was when 1964 The Tribute, a world-famous Beatles tribute band, performed at the Ernsthausen Performing Arts Center in mid-February 2011.

"The band was generous enough to let me have my picture taken with them before the show. Jeff always teased me about what he called my 'celebrity shots.' I felt like the fifth Beatle that night," Ashby said.

"Keep in mind 1964's co-founder, Mark Benson, is very particular about what photos are published of the band. He was very pleased with what Jeff took before the concert and ended up giving him free reign to take whatever photos he wanted," he added.

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