America’s barns hold history — and heart, says Tom Laughlin ’77, who treks across the Midwest to document their stories. What’s on the pages of your life story? Tell us in a class note today. Email email@example.com.
Tom Laughlin ’77 (COM) lives in Lake Geneva, Wis. He writes, “I’ve enjoyed my years since UD, producing media across many platforms for companies large and small. I’ve just released the third installment of my PBS television series, American Barn Stories and Other Tales From the Heartlands. I also do personal presentations of the show to groups and continue to be amazed at the passion so many people have for our old barns.” He invites alumni with their own
old barn stories or video production needs to contact him at www.americanbarnstories.net.
Fresh from graduation, Laughlin set his sights on a broadcast news desk. “The start of my illustrious career as a newscaster was in the mailroom of CBS affiliate WBBM in downtown Chicago,” he says. “I took a small-town radio job in Wisconsin before transitioning into newspaper photojournalism work. I also began working freelance video crew jobs in the Milwaukee area. Since then, I’ve managed to stay in the production business, scratching out a living with a camera.”
When Laughlin put out a call for barn stories in Wisconsin farm newspapers in 1999, he received four dozen responses, including one from Art, a struggling 60-something farmer whose wife had recently passed away. “We’ve been good friends ever since,” Laughlin says, adding that he’s helped Art bale hay and move 40 cows into the barn for winter. “He has such a quirky personality; he’s a show in himself. I’ll try to get at that one of these days.”
His PBS connections helped Laughlin launch his own programming more than a decade ago. “I shot footage of old barn stories in 2000 and had it produced and ready to go when 9/11 happened. The project got shelved for several years,” he says of the series, which premiered in 2006 as Wisconsin Barns: Touchstones to the Past. Since then, Laughlin has added presentations to libraries and other groups. “People hold something deep in their heart and soul about our old barns, and it’s my pleasure and privilege to capture that,” he says.
“As a kid growing up in the 1960s, I always wanted to be a cowboy, like Roy Rogers,” Laughlin says, noting that he was inspired to do things differently after his 56-year-old father died from lung cancer in 1980. A well-respected hobby photographer, Laughlin’s father introduced him to cameras at an early age. “I’ve made a living in the creative world of cameras, editing, video production, media and writing, and I love it — I think my dad would be proud.”