Tri-Valley Couple Documents Life In Quarantine For Local Families

Courtney Teague

TRI-VALLEY, CA — A Pleasanton couple has traveled to more than 150 homes across the Tri-Valley, photographing slices of life in quarantine as part of the national Front Steps Project.

Bill Stekelberg is the photographer and wife Ann Stekelberg is his secretary, managing his schedule and booking appointments, she said. Mr. Stekelberg and other photographers who have joined the Front Steps Project capture families in front of their homes — maintaining social distancing but bringing people together by "highlight(ing) the faces of our community," Front Steps Project organizers say on their website.

The Front Steps Project is a way for the Stekelbergs — two senior citizens "who didn't know how to help out" — to make an impact at a time when they're asked to stay inside to protect themselves from the new coronavirus, Mrs. Stekelberg said.

"We can't do anything to help (first responders), except something like this," Mrs. Stekelberg said.

The Stekelbergs, married 42 years, are retired teachers who lived in Fremont for many years and worked in San Jose, Mrs. Stekelberg said. They moved to Pleasanton upon their retirement.

Before they began quarantining in February, the Stekelbergs filled their days traveling to take photos throughout the western United States, exploring dozens of U.S. National Parks, and visiting their kids and grandchildren across five states. Mrs. Stekelberg uses her husband's photos to make note cards, which the Stekelbergs donate to military organizations for use as "thank you" notes in care packages.

The Stekelbergs first learned about the Front Steps Project after their daughter and newly born grandchild in Connecticut were subjects of a local photographer. Mrs. Stekelberg said they called the founder in Massachusetts, who said they're welcome to use the Front Steps Project name and bring the project to Tri-Valley.

The Stekelbergs started about a month ago and now photograph about five families per day in Dublin, Pleasanton and Livermore, from at least six feet away.

"It got to be a full-time job," Mrs. Stekelberg said. "We were working 10 hours a day."

They've photographed people wearing masks and carrying toilet paper, families in Easter outfits and a woman on her 86th birthday.

Among the most memorable photos were shots Mr. Stekelberg took of family members from separate households standing on opposite sides of a lawn, arms outstretched toward each other, Mrs. Stekelberg said. And then there was the firefighter-nurse power couple whose children held signs saying "We stay home for them."

Mr. Stekelberg photographs families for free, but the couple suggests people make a donation to an organization such as Pleasanton Military Families. So far Pleasanton Military Families has received $700 in donations as a result of the Stekelbergs' project, Mrs. Stekelberg said.

And while local families are delighted to have the photographs as keepsakes, the adventure is therapeutic for the Stekelbergs too, who have had to cancel trips, including one to visit their newborn grandchild.

Mrs. Stekelberg said she looks at the photos every night to help her sleep without feeling anxious. She saves every email from families they've worked with to remember how happy the photos made them.

"This has really filled the void for us," she said. "It gets us out in the sunshine, we get to see people. The response has been overwhelming."

View a gallery of Mr. Stekelberg's photos from the Front Step Project and his travels here.

The Stekelbergs are particularly interested in photographing health care workers and first responders, and plan to continue with the Front Steps Project until the shelter-in-place order is lifted. Anyone interested in having their picture taken can contact them here.

Subjects of Mr. Stekelberg's photos are encouraged to donate to Pleasanton Military Families here.

This article originally appeared on the Pleasanton Patch