Bill Frakes was in grade school when grandfather Adolph Roemmich first took him to Brown’s Thrift Shop in Sutton.
The youngster would page through the magazines on the rack near the front of the store while his grandfather shopped for groceries.
He was enchanted with the images and stories in magazines such as Life, Time and Sports Illustrated, periodicals that offered a window to a world far away from the boy’s home in Scottsbluff.
“I realized right away that I loved images,” Frakes said.
This past summer, the 58-year-old returned to Sutton to reminisce. His grandfather had died in 1966, and it was his first trip back in years.
He drove by Roemmich’s old house, admired the updates and then decided to make the short trip to the store.
He was amazed to find the same magazine rack — just with a darker patina from decades of use.
Fifty years later, two of the magazine covers featured Frakes’ photographs.
You may have never heard of Frakes. But if photographers were rock stars, Frakes would be a household name.
He has won hundreds of awards, including a Pulitzer for work for the Miami Herald covering Hurricane Andrew in 1993. His photos have been featured in all the top magazines, and he has been on contract with Sports Illustrated since 1983.
He has lived a life many dream about, covering major sporting events and news stories in 138 countries and all 50 states.
He also co-founded a media company, Straw Hat Visuals, and writes and directs video projects.
“I take everything I earn and put it back into photography,” Frakes said from an office in New York City, dressed in clothes, down to the boots, he bought at Young’s in Valentine.
He’s never forgotten his Nebraska roots.
Frakes was in the state to do some of his own work when he was contacted by Kathy McKillip, director of the Nebraska Tourism Commission.
The commission was looking for an artist to help illustrate its new campaign, Visit Nebraska, Visit Nice, and to show off the beauty of the state’s outdoor wonders.
“Our goal was to show the authenticity of the state and to translate why Nebraskans are so proud — something that’s hard for those outside of Nebraska to understand,” McKillip said. “Bill was recommended because he is a native Nebraskan.”
She didn’t know it at the time, but she had just hit a home run.
A series of short documentaries that Frakes was working on, a mix of video and still photography, was just what the commission was searching for. Frakes was funding the project out of his own pocket, and the commission partnership helped him continue.
During the next year, Frakes spent 160 days in Nebraska on 10 trips between assignments. He had creative freedom to tell his stories.
Frakes camped and slept on friends’ couches. He soaked in every moment of the state’s diverse topography while visiting 71 counties. He ended email correspondences with “GBR!”
So many times, Frakes said, you hear people calling Nebraska the “fly-over state.”
“If they took their time, looked around slowly and stopped to enjoy the good life, they would find an American oasis filled with kind, generous, courteous people and abundant natural beauty,” Frakes wrote for his project.
Early last week, the commission began releasing the project, which consists of eight videos and a collection of still photographs.
“We reached more than 84,000 people in the first hour,” McKillip said.
Hundreds of thousands have since checked out the series in the commission’s social media campaign, the last of which was released Sunday.