PRINCETON — For years, he stood behind the camera. And for just as many years, he captured faces, events, moments ... preserving life so others could appreciate it for years to come.
Bill Lamb, 91, of Princeton died Monday at Walnut Manor Nursing Home in Walnut. He leaves behind a legacy of a fellow with a camera who had a kind smile and a dry sense of humor. He also leaves behind a myriad of memories which he was able to capture on film and share with countless folks in the area.
While Lamb was perhaps best known for his photographic skills, he had a long career at Josten’s in Princeton (now MTM Recognition) and was the projectionist for years at the Apollo Theater in Princeton. According to long-time family friend Sharon Rabe, Lamb also belonged to a theater organ organization and traveled around the country to hear organ concerts. Not only did he enjoy playing the organ and piano, he had a large collection of theater music.
In World War II, Rabe said Army officials quickly learned Lamb’s film projection skills, so Lamb was often the one they would turn to when running the training films for the soldiers.
Lamb was also known for his yearbook photography work at Princeton High School, much of which was done on a complimentary basis. Many a sports team, athletic contest and PHS student were photographed by Lamb, and those photographs not only graced the pages of countless yearbooks but also are framed and valued treasures in many PHS students’ scrapbooks and homes.
In his later years, Lamb wrote a popular column in the Bureau County Republican called, “Out of the Past,” where he would use his photographs to compliment his words. Those columns were highly regarded by many readers, who would often call to ask when the next “Out of the Past” would be published.
“Bill had a good sense of humor,” said Rabe. “If anyone ever asked him if he had ever been married, he would always say, ‘No. I’ve always been happy.’ He was a very quiet and humble person and very appreciative of anything people did for him. He would always say, ‘God Bless You,’ when you had done something for him ... He will be missed by all.”
Former PHS teacher and coach Rita Placek knew Lamb long before she taught/coached at the school. However, Placek was quite taken with Lamb’s photographic skills and more so with his ability to work with students, teachers and situations.
“He volunteered his services to Princeton High School as far as taking all the pictures of the teams, the yearbook pictures. I’m quite sure he would not accept any money to come and do the pictures. I’m fairly sure it was mostly volunteer,” she said, adding she knows Lamb was even taking photos long ago when he was a student at PHS.
“He was awesome with the kids, and the kids loved him. He was very patient and always on time,” Placek added. “He developed his own pictures, and once he got them developed he would always bring them to me — 8-by-10 pictures in an envelope — and deliver them to me in the gym. He was so accommodating and would do whatever you wanted, whatever pose you wanted, and then wait until we got organized ... He really meant a lot to me and this community.”
Former PHS Superintendent Roger Swan knew Lamb for years and years, not only from his photographic work at PHS but also as a friend. Swan spoke of the countless photos Lamb took at the school and how he knew Lamb was “a very strong supporter of Princeton High School.” But Swan knew more of the man behind the camera.
“Bill was his own man,” Swan said. “He wasn’t real social. He was not one to talk a lot about himself. Bill was the kind of fellow who would do things behind the scenes for others,” he said, adding the two would occasionally visit a local restaurant for a cup of coffee and piece of pie.
BCR Editor Terri Simon said she had many, many conversations with Lamb throughout the years. While several of those chats focused on his “Out of the Past” column, others were a bit closer to Lamb’s heart where he would share memories of days gone by.
“I’ve known Bill since I was a little girl,” Simon said. “I think the thing that sticks out the most to me about Bill Lamb is that he was a humble man. He asked for nothing, expected nothing. He always found it difficult to believe people liked his column, his photos.
“I just saw him about a month ago, and even though I knew Bill wasn’t feeling well, I told him I would be ready for another column anytime he was ready to write one. Like always, he said, ‘Oh, nobody wants to read those old things.’ Bill was humble — never an open book, so to speak; I admired that about him,” she said.
Princeton resident and fellow photography enthusiast Joel Nelson of Princeton met Lamb when he was in high school.
“I was a fledgling yearbook photographer, and he was the seasoned pro who eventually took me under his wing,” Nelson said. “Bill took his photography very seriously and was a master of exposure. He could survey any scene and know exactly how to adjust his camera for a perfect picture.
After high school when Nelson and a friend decided to do some professional photography, Lamb was always around to offer some advice and even gave Nelson some of his equipment.
“I recall the time that I decided to stick with 35mm exclusively, and Bill nearly disowned me! He couldn’t fathom capturing an image on a little chip of film; needless to say, digital media was out of the question!” Nelson said.
Nelson remembered times when Lamb, another friend and himself would go out for an evening snack — a good bowl of soup or a homemade dessert. “I don’t think he ever met a pie he didn’t like,” Nelson said.
“Bill was a very private man, who lived very humbly. He didn’t like talking about himself but would eagerly offer stories about photography, theater or local history. He had a real sense of humor and knew all of the Princeton characters,” Nelson continued. “Bill Lamb was a giant among modest men. He will be greatly missed by this community!”
An obituary is pending at Garland Funeral Home in Walnut.
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