CATLIN — It took barely a minute for Ed Sudlow to strike up a little chatter after exiting his car outside Salt Fork High School’s gymnasium on Monday morning.
First with Neil Yelenick, who was performing some work outside the school.
Then with Storm senior Olivia Birge, who was hopping around a hallway on crutches.
The 61-year-old Sudlow is a Salt Fork icon.
He attended the high school between 1974 and 1978, back when it operated as Catlin High before an educational consolidation with Jamaica High that was approved in 2014.
“I thoroughly enjoyed everything about high school here,” said Sudlow, who grew up in a house across the street from the school building. One of his sons recently bought that same home.
“I just enjoy being tied to it,” Sudlow continued, “and if there’s anything I can do to make other people’s experiences good (then I’ll do it).”
And Sudlow means anything.
Even with his five children long graduated from the school district — the last departed high school in 2008 — Sudlow spends plenty of time helping Salt Fork’s students and athletes.
When he’s not at his full-time job in corporate communications with Attorneys’ Title Guaranty Fund, Inc., Sudlow can be found keeping a scorebook, operating a basketball clock or taking photos.
Tons of photos.
“Every class that comes along, I like being around the kids, the players, the coaches, the officials,” Sudlow said. “I expected I would be an engineer and probably end up somewhere 1,000 miles away. I didn’t expect to come back to Catlin or even the area.
“But I’m pretty happy with the way things turned out, because it’s home.”
Sudlow’s photography roots run hand-in-hand with his Vermilion County ties.
His father, Paul, arrived in Danville after World War II and opened a photo studio in 1946. Ed didn’t expect to become a professional photographer, and the studio eventually closed following Paul’s death in 1992.
But Ed worked in the field alongside John Milewski, who at one point snapped photos for Paul’s company. Milewski, who died in 2006, would shoot pictures at Catlin High events among jobs at other schools and elsewhere.
“It’s not uncommon to have two homecomings or two proms on the same night, or a couple weddings, so I helped him out,” Ed Sudlow said. “I never got away from it, but I wasn’t doing a lot of it.”
That changed in 2006, when then-Jamaica Schools Superintendent Mark Janesky reached out to Sudlow with an offer.
“(Janesky) said, ‘Are you interested in bidding on the school pictures (job) next year?’” Sudlow said. “I said I hadn’t really thought about it, but why not. And, lo and behold, I got the job, and I’ve been doing it ever since.”
It feels as if every photograph inside Salt Fork’s gym has been taken by Sudlow. A white “Ed Sudlow photography” stamp sits in the bottom right corner of such images. Team photos taken by Sudlow cover wall and shelf space within the gymnasium foyer.
His piece de resistance, however, resides in the hallway directly behind the basketball court. That same hallway in which he offered well-wishes to the crutches-wielding Birge.
Forty-nine photos, each one in its own 16-by-20 frame, line both of the hallway’s walls. They honor individuals who received all-state athletic recognition, with the most recent additions coming from the 2018-19 school year.
Even more are on the way. Storm track and field collected numerous all-state honors during last month’s season-ending meets in Charleston.
“We had no idea it was going to expand like this,” Sudlow said with a laugh. “We might’ve done 11-by-14s.”
Sudlow said he and then-Catlin High Principal Kevin Thomas discussed the idea of an all-state wall after they came to the realization that the Salt Fork sports cooperative, which formed prior to the educational consolidation, didn’t boast such a feature.
“When I was in high school, we had a couple all-state football players. Their pictures were out in the foyer, and there was a state-championship track relay team that had their picture up there,” Sudlow said. “But really not much after that. Whether anybody was missed in that span of time, I don’t know.”
Here’s the kicker to Sudlow’s all-state celebration: He shoots and frames the photos free of charge.
“I just thought that the kids deserve some recognition,” Sudlow said. “I didn’t want the families to have to foot the bill because, frankly, some of them couldn’t do it. And I didn’t really want to charge the school for it, either.”
Dustin Dees, who took over as Salt Fork’s athletic director in May 2020, said Sudlow’s approach to the all-state wall encapsulates his impact on the Storm community.
“He is small-town athletics,” Dees said. “When you’ve got a guy like him around ... you never want those guys to go. Yeah, you could probably fill some positions with somebody else, but he is going to be with you thick and thin.”
To display that last point, Dees also knew of Sudlow back when Dees was a St. Joseph-Ogden High School student in the early-2000s.
“You can’t really miss Ed, because Ed’s a real tall guy,” Dees said of the 6-foot-8 Sudlow. “He was the first to mention he’d be available to help work any girls’ basketball games (after Dees was hired as Salt Fork’s AD). ... He’s willing to do it, and he doesn’t even have any kids in the system right now.”
On that front, Sudlow notes: “I’ve got grandkids, and they’re coming up.”
Safe to say Sudlow doesn’t plan to relinquish his various Salt Fork duties anytime soon.
“I just enjoy the people,” Sudlow said. “And they are getting past the age where none of the people I went to school with have kids in school anymore — but it hasn’t been long.”