Honoring our Volunteers

Trade associations depend upon volunteers who are dedicated and steadfast. Sonia Wasco is such an individual. Recently honored by the DMLA for a career steeped in service to the Stock industry, this interview(reprinted with their permission) gives insight into not only Sonia’s good works, but speaks to the staying power of small agencies.

She was the winner of the first ever DMLA Lifetime Achievement award last year and it was more than well deserved! Most President’s serve their term and a year as Past President and then move on.  But that isn’t the case with Sonia, as we learn here:

What has been your role over the years at PACA/DMLA?

I began working at Grant Heilman Photography in the spring of 1986. Grant Heilman, Jane Kinne, and Bob Roberts were good friends and confidants who spoke regularly by phone. Before the end of the year, they had me signed up for my first New York City PACA meeting and sharing conversations with Susan Turnau. At that time, she owned and operated Miami based Sharpshooters stock photo agency and was the chairperson of PACA’s Ethics and Grievance Committee. I became a member of the committee along with Bob Zentmaier from Photo Researchers (now Science Source) and quickly found myself surrounded by some of the best ‘Movers and Shakers’ of the stock agency world. I could not help being impressed and motivated to be successful like them. I served on the Ethics and Grievance Committee for six years before moving to Chairperson for another six years. From 2000 to 2002, I served as President, a role that became extremely challenging as PACA found itself without an Executive Director and in difficult financial straits at the end of my term. I take pride in being part of the team of strong PACA leadership who helped to rebuild and bring the organization out of the brink of destruction. Then PACA President, Patrick Donahue (Corbis); Vice President, Cathy Aron (Photo Network) (these two offices switched places shortly after elections); Secretary Dexter Lane (Peter Arnold); Treasurer, Doug Segal (Panoramic Images); Members at Large, Jeff Burke (PictureArts) and Roger Ressmeyer (Getty Images) along with Jeff Shultz (Alaska Stock); Sharon Dodge (Illustration Works); Nancy Wolff (PACA Council); Bob Roberts and Roberta Groves (H. Armstrong Roberts); Jane Kinne (Consultant) and Chris Ferrone (Retrofile) spent many hours re-writing the PACA Bylaws and Operating Manual and running the organization. Special note needs to be given to these dedicated individuals who I believe saved the Association from demise. PACA’s Executive Office of Past President also was quite memorable for me. Following my term as President, the next four Presidents left the industry following their terms and I was asked to step back on the Board to fill the role of Past-President. We often joked that my office was unending. Lately, I have served on the Program Committee for conferences and as Nominating and Elections Committee chair.

What does winning the lifetime achievement award mean to you?

It is extremely humbling to receive this award. So many PACA/DMLA members over the years have given so much to the organization. I have met incredible people and made life-long friends with other members from all around the world through my experiences with PACA/DMLA. To be recognized by my peers with an award of this nature for something that I have enjoyed doing for nearly 30 years seems overwhelming. I have the deepest respect for those PACA/DMLA members who have served before and after me and feel very privileged to be the recipient of the first Lifetime Achievement award. Perhaps it has something to do with being the Past-President for so many years? I certainly hope it doesn’t mean I am getting put out to pasture!

Looking back at the organization’s success, which contributions of yours are you most proud of?

As each new PACA/DMLA President comes into office, they establish goals they want to achieve. When I became President in 2000, the photo industry world was very fractured among the different photography related associations. No one trusted what each other was doing, and I was troubled by this. I set out to mend the issues that drove us apart. We began inviting other associations to our meetings and opened discussions among us. These steps resulted in much healing and mutual efforts that benefited photographers. I also had a personal mission to visit or talk with every PACA member during my term. I was so impressed by what my colleagues were doing and how great their individual companies operated. I left the office of President a richly inspired person. Over the many years of my involvement with PACA and now DMLA, this inspiration has been what has driven me to stay involved and want to jump in with both feet to work to get things done!

You studied animal science and agriculture in college. How did you that transition into a career in stock photography?

By never closing a door. When I graduated from Delaware Valley College (now University) I was looking to go to grad school to study veterinary medicine. Just prior to graduating, Penn State University came to our graduating class and dangled teaching jobs in front of us because they did not have enough certified teachers of agriculture to fill open positions. My degree from Delaware Valley was in Large Animal Science with a minor in Small Animal Science. I took Penn State’s offer of a guarantee to teach in September if we took their summer intensive studies in Education (and went on to get a Master’s in Agriculture Education) and found myself teaching high School Agriculture at Shippensburg. Following this six month position, I was hired to teach Agriculture at Warwick High School in Lancaster County. One of our science teachers who did science research and experiments for Grant’s science photos gave him my name as a candidate for an opening for the Director of the photo library. Grant flew in from Colorado for my interview and I was the lucky candidate to be offered the job. Grant wanted someone who could ‘talk agriculture’ as 60 percent of the company’s business was supplying images to the animal health and crop advertisers and magazines. The other sector of business was the high school science textbook market. My ten years of teaching agriculture couldn’t have given me a more perfect background for working with the clients that purchased images from our collection. Grant was also looking for someone to run the business as he incorporated and transitioned to retirement. In 1987, I was named Vice President of Grant Heilman Photography, Inc. I was promoted to President and COO in 1995. Over the years I received stock bonuses and purchased additional stock whenever possible. In 2011, I purchased Grant’s final shares of stock as he officially retired from Corporation to officially become the owner of the company. One of my fondest PACA memories was watching Grant receive the PACA Member Emeritus award in 1996. He was one of the most inspirational people in my life, and I was so fortunate to receive that phone call back in 1986 that put me in touch with him. I know I speak for the many people who have had the opportunity to stay that he enriched their lives by knowing and working with him.

For more about Grant Heilman Photography, look here: http://www.heilmanphoto.com ,

for the DMLA: http://www.pacaoffice.org

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