Springfield man preserves family histories

Photos Courtesy of Richard Squires
Richard Squires started LifeStory with a simple premise: Through a series of interviews, he’s able to weave together someone’s life story into a compelling and cogent narrative.

SPRINGFIELD, NJ – There was the baker whose cheesecakes were so delicious, Frank Sinatra would order them by the case.
There also was the furniture maker who used his guile and engineering skills to stay alive during the Holocaust.
And even more, there was the entrepreneur who rubbed elbows with Hollywood royalty such as Liza Minnelli and Barbra Streisand.

Each one of their amazing tales, and those of many other people, have been carefully crafted by Richard Squires.
As the creator of LifeStory, a business that tells the adventures of seemingly average people in published form, he pours his blood, sweat and ink into every book.

Squires gathers information through extensive interviews. He not only speaks with the subject, but also his or her family members, friends, business associates and others. He gathers photos, too. Then he takes all of it and weaves it into a compelling and cogent narrative that is bound into a keepsake that can be shared with generations to come.

“LifeStory preserves family history and the great stories our loved ones can tell us about their lives,” Squires said. “For our loved ones that we, as their family members and close friends, are interested in their stories and that it is very important for us to preserve their stories for future generations to enjoy going down the road.”

Squires is often hired by children or grandchildren to capture these stories. He said the key is to record those oft-told tales. In the case of Paul Goldhersz, that meant reliving how he stayed safe during the Holocaust by volunteering for various work, including making ball bearings that helped the Nazi trains run.

However, Squires has become a master of the interview. He’s able to draw out details and information that even the family didn’t know – whether he’s writing about Lionel Levey and his encounters with Streisand and Minelli or Al Dunayer and his creamy confections.

“He tells his story to people because he has a story to tell,” said Cindy Elgrably, Dunayer’s daughter. “Now he has it in writing which is nice for grandkids and the future. He was so happy to do and I was so happy to gift that to him. He’s so proud to show his book to people.”

LifeStory’s origins can be traced to Squires’ grandfather, Benjamin Squires, who flew a fighter plane during World War II. He had to eject to safety twice, but found himself in the ocean surrounded by sharks.

“He said to me, ‘Are you going to write my life story for me?’” Squires said. “At first I was like, ‘Well, that sounds like a lot of work, Grandpa.’ But then I thought about it and I was like, ‘Yeah, I’ll interview you.’ I interviewed him for about five hours over the course of a couple of sessions, transcribed it, edited his words, pulled it together with pictures. It went over pretty well and people thought it was a good idea.”

The idea of LifeStory was put on the shelf for the most part for a couple of years as Squires worked on other projects. Early this year, he returned to LifeStory with renewed enthusiasm.

Crafting these stories is a labor of love for Squires, who has used his writing skills doing communications for major pharmaceutical companies, marketing for the Newark Museum or creating many short stories that have been published. He finds people and their unique stories fascinating. It comes across in his voice when he talks about them and in his words.

The business side of LifeStory, however, is challenging for Squires. From initial interview to finished product, he charges clients in the four figures. Coming up with new ways to connect with potential clients, whether they want to create a LifeStory book for a bride and groom or a high school graduate, often takes him out of his comfort zone.

“I’m more the artist type,” he said. “It’s quite psychological for me because my father is a businessman. My two brothers are businessmen/salesmen. I’m different. I’m the artist. There’s the fear of failure in launching a new business. I’ve been reading business books. I’ve been trying to educate myself. I talk with my family. There’s marketing and promotion. I had to get on social media, which I don’t really like.”

Just as he’s making his way in the business world, Squires also has had to learn how to navigate the sometimes tangled web of family dynamics. He’s discovered that not everyone gets along in every family. That leaves him with a dilemma when he sits down to write a LifeStory book: What should go in and what should stay out.

“My approach has been to be diplomatic,” he said. “I hear things that do not go into the book. There have been cases where I got the true story about how someone felt about someone.”

In one case, a husband was hardly mentioned during the interview process. Turns out, he wasn’t the best spouse or father. That gave Squires a heads-up as to how to approach the book.

“It gave me context as to why she didn’t talk about him too much,” he said. “So now I don’t have to bug them about, ‘Hey, shouldn’t we get a little bit more information in?’”

At the end of the day, at the end of the final chapter, Squires never loses sight on the fact that he wants to create something the family can be proud to pass to future generations.

“I think people inevitably are interested in their family history,” he said. “They’re not always interested all the time. Teenagers are probably not interested because they are busy living their lives. But, it gets to a point where they start asking questions and usually when it’s too late. You’ve got the book.”

For more information, log on to www.lifestorymemoir.com.