Editor’s note: This interview has been edited and condensed for space and clarity.
Lauren Befus started her career as a reporter for this magazine, then the Greenville Daily News and later Mercy Health. Along the way, she heard story after story from World War II veterans, patients, doctors and ordinary folks living their lives. Those interviews inspired the idea that stories are worth preserving. In fall 2017, she launched Memory Lane Jane, a local life story writing company.
What was the inspiration behind Memory Lane Jane? I’d been writing about people for years as a reporter, but in 2010 my husband’s grandfather approached me about writing his story. We didn’t tell anyone as we spent a year recording his story, searching through boxes of pictures, mementos and files, and researching at the Grand Rapids Public Library. At Christmas 2010, he gave books to everyone. We all opened them at the same time, and it brought the house down. That was when I knew this is what I wanted to do.
Why did you choose that name for your business? My grandmother’s name was Jane, and I would do anything to go down memory lane with her. I can’t because she’s gone. When I launched my youngest child into kindergarten in fall 2017, it was go-time. I’ve finished eight life story books since then and have eight in process now.
How do you gather the information you need? I start with interviews. I record the interviews and record videos of the person, then send the voice recordings to a transcription service, then to a person who helps me organize the information. I like to do all the interviews in person because of the connections that happen when I do, and to go through pictures and mementos, then do any other work via phone or Skype. The books are full-color and include photos, documents, lists of their favorite things, favorite recipes, things going on in history at that time and more.
How much does a memory book cost? There’s a range from as low as $2,000 to
as high as $20,000 depending on what the family wants.
What do you love most about your job? There is something so sacred about sitting down with someone for hours and hearing them talk about their experiences, the good stuff and the hard stuff. I get to sit at the feet of people who have done the most incredible things. And every story is worth telling. You might think you don’t have a story, but what you lived through is important to your family.
How do people respond when they see the book? The actual presenting of the
book is so emotional, when they get to see what they’ve done in book form. We both cry. The book is a validation of a life. It’s your legacy created while you’re still alive, and it’s a priceless gift to your family.