SPOTLIGHT: Westville senior helps others tell their life stories

WESTPORT – Most school children have completed the required family tree and family history project. The project typically involves interviewing relatives, writing a paper, and making an oral presentation, accompanied by old photos and documents. But a second career for Westville senior Stanley Dalnekoff has him taking the research and presentation of family history to new heights.

Dalnekoff, who grew up in Glasgow, Scotland during World War II, firmly believes that “every person’s life is interesting. No matter how ordinary you might think your life is, to your descendants and future researchers it is extraordinary!”

Dalnekoff seeks to help families pass down their stories — in audio, video, or book form. His website invites potential clients to “Let your grandchildren get to know you!” Dalnekoff, the grandfather of four, says.

Dalnekoff’s colorful personal story includes growing up the son of a leather merchant in Glasgow, obtaining his CPA degree, moving to Israel and opening a business in Beersheva in the 1960s before moving to Connecticut and founding New Haven Travel Service in 1966. Dalnekoff, along with his wife, Donna, who holds a PhD in comparative literature from Yale, turned their travel agency into a $20 million business. The Dalnekoffs raised their three adult children in New Haven, where they have served the Westville Jewish community for more than 40 years. Stanley served as president and gabbai of the Westville Synagogue for many terms, and Donna has been a long term board member and editor of the synagogue newsletter. The Dalnekoffs were also instrumental in the founding of the Hebrew High School of New England.

“I was always interested in history — especially Jewish history around World War II – and I wanted to get more into technology as a way of documenting it,” says Dalnekoff, who chanced upon the Association of Personal Historians. “Six hundred people in the world do this for a living–and many happen to be Jewish.” Dalnekoff’s latest venture as a personal historian is an opportunity for him to focus on his life long love for Judaism, Jewish history and the Jewish people. “We have a heritage and we like to pass it down to future generations–it is like a living will–what was good and bad, how we handled trials and tribulations.” Dalnekoff suggests that aging has made people more interested in telling their story. “I specialize in Jewish people. I empathize with them. We have a special story to tell.”

Dalnekoff sends a list of possible topics to prospective clients. In the first meeting, he reviews photos and videos and begins to listen to the family’s story. Dalnekoff then begins recording the story. Dalnkeoff and his team manage all aspects of videography, sound, and lighting which he feels enhance the look and feel of the final movie. Once the recording sessions are completed, Dalnekoff reviews the tapes, suggests additions or deletions, scans and digitizes photos and adds footage from family movies. Dalknekoff has also been known to carefully research and add appropriate music and footage from town or world history from the time period. Once the family reviews the video and gives final approval, the DVD is made and delivered to the client. “Our sole purpose is to provide you with the ability to let your children, grandchildren, extended family, and friends get to know you!” says Dalnekoff.

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