McHenry's StorySave Productions helps connect families with video

When Pete Arens knew his dad was sick, the Johnsburg man didn't know that interviewing and video recording his father's stories would create a new career for him.

But that experience, of hearing his dad talk about his own military career and the stories he had about his own parents, led Arens to found StorySave Productions in McHenry.

The project also drew Grub Hub's attention. Arens was given a $10,000 grant in February from the company, which he drives for, to help expand his business idea.

Arens, 37, had just left a health care marketing job and was looking for his next career. While figuring out what his next move would be, he went home to visit his parents in Indiana. That is when his father was diagnosed with cancer.

“I was sitting in the living room watching a World War II documentary. My dad was sitting there eating his dinner and I realized I knew nothing about my grandparents” who both served in the war, Arens said. All but one of his grandparents had died while Arens was still a toddler.

He started asking his father questions about his own military career and his grandfather's. Aren's dad also told him about his relationship with his own father.

“He started to cry and my dad was not a crier. It took me aback, ” Arens said, and he realized the significance of what he was hearing for the first time.

The next day, he asked his father if he could ask him those questions again, and this time on video.

His father passed away before they completed the project, but the experience made Arens realize other families could benefit from capturing those stories on video.

“I felt inspired to start a business helping families to tell their life stories, so what happened to me doesn't happen to other people,” Arens said.

He hopes that as the business grows, he can help others build relationships and memories with their family.

One of his recent clients was 63-year-old Julie Biccum-Prosser of Wonder Lake.

“I think it is a brilliant idea and I jumped on it. To have your story told for many generations to come is a huge gift,” Biccum-Prosser said.

She has had two recording sessions with Arens.

The first time, they didn't get into anything that could be hurtful or negative, Biccum-Prosser said. “We did touch on those things the second time. It was 'This happened to me and I don't want it to happen to you so these are the things you should look for.' ”

He knows that getting people to open up about both the good times and their struggles can be difficult, Arens said.

“People struggle with the idea because it requires them to be introspective, it requires them to think about the difficult times in their life that they want to keep hidden,” he said.

Older generations “can pass down their wisdom to younger generations, for better or for worse” via the recordings, he said.

For Biccum-Prosser, she wanted to leave behind something for her grandchildren and children to share in the future. As a mother who lost one of her sons two years ago, at age 32, a recording can also help keep his memory alive, too.

“If something happens to me, this gives my family and generations to come a chance to get to know what Julie, grandma or great aunt, was,” she said.

Arens has a list of more than 300 questions to ask his clients before they get started to help determine what path they will take. “That is part of the process ... what are the stories they want to tell,” he said.

What he did find was that when he did a similar recording with his mother, some of her memories were different from his father's, including how they met and courted.

What has inspired him has been the opportunity to change how people view death by recording their stories first.

“I want to convince people that there is value ... in recording life stories for the future generations sake,” he said.

Pete Arens of StorySave Productions in downtown McHenry on Dec. 13, 2022. The Johnsburg man's company records family member's stories on video for future generations. Janelle Walker/Shaw Local News Network
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