Western Iowa Tech Community College


Thursday, May 18, 2023

Bruce Binning's Legacy In Denison Lives On

Bruce Binning's Legacy In Denison Lives On

Bruce Binning loved taking pictures. He was a photographer for more than 50 years. He and his family moved to Denison in 1965 when he became the photographer at the Denison Bulletin Review. Over the next many decades he’d become the defacto town documentarian.

“I now know how difficult it is to have achieved certain photos because I know how fleeting the opportunities are,” Angie said.

That’s Angie Carlyle, Bruce’s daughter. She’s also a photographer. She says he was an award-winning photographer - but he was so much more than that.

“If anything to me that's his legacy,” Angie said. “As much as his photography is the legend he was in terms of his kindness.”

Kelly Binning, Bruce’s son, says his dad cared about people and he tried to capture that through photos. And he was popular.

“Matter of fact, the neighbor kids used to love him so much that they would come over and ask if dad was home instead of asking maybe if I was home,” Kelly said.

Bruce passed away in 2019. Angie says there was a common theme the day of his funeral among the people who spoke of her father.

“That stuck with me is somebody said, ‘you there wasn't a more approachable man in Denison,” Angie said. “Kids could come up and bug him and say, 'take my picture!' and he would be patient and kind.”

From county fairs, ice cream socials, sock hops, athletic events for the Denison Monarchs. From hard news stories like the grain elevator collapse in 1980 to a cow related car crash at the bucket of worms in 1977 – Bruce captured it all.

“It's luck catching a moment, being in the right place at the right time and you don't get do-overs,” Angie said.

After Bruce passed away, the family found more than 50 years of captured moments in the form of photo negatives. They were packed away in envelopes and in boxes stuffed away in storage. Each box contains around 100 envelopes and each envelope contains anywhere from 3 to 50 negatives according to Angie. Many from the 80s and 90s but also lots from the 1970s. 

“But we just kind of uncovered things that we had never seen before just that that just blew us away and spoke of his talent,” Angie said.

Kelly says his family tried to get Bruce to showcase the photos publicly, but it never happened. In 2016 Kelly created a Facebook page to post some of these photos. The page sat dormant for several years until Bruce’s passing. Then over the last several months, Kelly started the process.

“I just kind of grab a handful of envelopes out of the box and glance over what dad had written on them and take a look at them in the light and then I just start scanning,” Kelly said.

It didn’t take long. Word spread fast. There were old photos being posted. Monarch track meets and steak fundraiser dinners. People recognized relatives that had long passed or old friends that moved away.

“Oh my gosh, that's a picture of my grandmother or my grandfather I've never seen that picture before,” Kelly said.

Bruce’s photos told a story when they were first published and decades later they were telling another story.

“Dad always had a way of bringing people together through his photography,” Angie said.

And now he’s doing it all over again. Bruce is gone, but his legacy lives on.

“It's a great thing,” Kelly said. “It brings back so many memories. It's good for the community. That's the whole purpose behind this is trying to rekindle some of that sense of community.”

Angie says the family knew of the impact their father had on Denison during his life. They hoped it would have the same effect today.

“It's leaving his mark in a very permanent way,” Angie said. It warms our heart, and it does give us some peace of mind that he's getting the kudos that he never sought or or never got when he was alive.”

In the past few months, the Facebook page has blown up.

“That's kind of where it snowballed,” Angie said. “I mean people just absolutely flooded us all with private messages about ‘Please add me.’”

People are taking a trip down memory lane, seeing photos they’ve never seen before of times gone by. Angie says it’s heartwarming.

“I get stopped at the grocery store by people who tell me the same thing,” Angie said. “I feel like it's kind of unexpectedly unified a lot of people in town.”

Kelly says there was one woman who noticed a picture of her brother who had passed away that she had never seen before. She was having trouble seeing the photo on her phone as it was blurry, so he sent it through messenger so that she could see it on her tablet.

“She just thought that was the best thing,” Angie said. “She thought it was great.”

Angie says her dad was very humble and while he would be happy to see his photos bringing smiles to people all these years later…

“He would probably just be shaking his head..."I don't know what all the fuss is about,” Angie said.

What about reaching out to the Crawford County Historical Society?

“Maybe there would be a Bruce Binning room at the McHenry House or something,” Angie said. “And I just thought, Maybe there would be a Bruce Binning room at the McHenry House or something. And I just thought, wow, that is a fantastic idea. that never crossed my mind and I don't know if that's something they'd be interested in or not.”

Angie says there are a bunch more negatives at the Denison Bulletin Review and maybe when they get through with all the boxes they’ll turn there for more photos. You can join the Facebook group at “Photos by Bruce A. Binning.

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