Like many in the corporate world in mid-life, Wanda Schlafly was burned out. She worked in the business world but felt burned out. She liked her job, she just didn’t love it. As a Supply Team Manager overseeing more than 50 employees, she loved helping and encouraging people to shine at their jobs but she often found her creativity being dismissed by the upper management team. “In a male-dominated management field, there was no appreciation for me being a woman,” Wanda explained. “They told me, ‘Don’t get emotional, don’t be passionate.'”
Yet, emotion and passion were so much a part of her personality that Wanda found it difficult to stifle both while leading her team.
When the company offered to double her pension at the age of 55, Wanda took the retirement escape. Yet, she certainly wasn’t content to just drift through the second half of life with nothing to do. “I wanted to do something that allowed me to be more free–that showed the world who I am,” Wanda said.
The purchase of an iPad gave Wanda an idea: she could offer classes to senior citizens and show them how to navigate this piece of technology. During her visits to senior centers and assisted-living homes, Wanda met 100-year-old Louie and she was fascinated by the memories he shared of his life. Louie was the youngest of ten and had ten children as well. During one of their visits, Wanda set up her video camera and captured the stories as Louie reminisced. She added pictures to the video and presented it to him and his children.
“They loved it,” Wanda said. “I started filming other stories, including the Women Entrepreneurs Secrets of Success networking group. That’s when I decided to shift the focus of my business to capturing stories.” Sunshine Video was born.
Soon, Wanda became known as the Story Gal, the one who could bring out the memories and stories of the older generation. For Wanda, the business meant stepping out of her comfort zone and learning new things for the various parts of her company–mastering YouTube, editing, and learning to network for the first time. Whenever she became stuck, she simply saw the challenge as a new opportunity to learn. “My business empowers me, I wake up every day looking forward to the day–what can I do, what can I learn, how can I get better at what I do–instead of of ‘oh my god it’s another day or whatever.’ I wake up feeling happy about being alive.”
The people she filmed fascinated her. 104-year-old Isabelle, a mom to six children, lost her husband when she was 65. The war refugee from Lithuania who shared her memories at her 100th birthday party.
“I’ve some of the most amazing people–they don’t let age get in the way or their circumstances–they keep their minds and bodies active,” Wanda said. “They inspire me to live a better life and makes me want to live a more full life.
“This experience has changed my views on aging,” she continued. “I never thought about the process of becoming older. I think people tend to forget older people–they are still people living their lives, they still are human, still need interaction and love, they are still apart of our society. I would like to see more interaction between seniors and children. We should put daycare centers in senior centers and let them interact! We have only a short amount of time in front of us to capture stories from our elderly loved ones. Their lives and values were very different from the generations that have followed. They aren’t captured on Facebook or in automatic photo albums. They have lived through the Great Depression and World War II and gave birth to the Baby Boomers. They grew up before TV and the internet. I feel so blessed when families let me into their lives and help to capture the essence of their family values, lives and times. It really doesn’t get any better than that!”