John Lewis Stage


John Lewis Stage died peacefully on October 28, 2021 at his home in Warwick, New York. He was 96 years old. After decades of traveling around the world as an internationally recognized freelance photojournalist, he took great pleasure in living his later years next door to the house where he was born.


John L. was the fourth of nine children born to Lawrence and Ruth (Ryerson) Stage. He enjoyed country living as a boy, helping out on the Ryerson farm by climbing the cherry trees to pick fruit and hiking up Hickory Hill to go fishing.


He was introduced to photography at Warwick’s Park Avenue School by Tom Shost, his 7th and 8th grade science teacher. As a “shutterbug” in the 1930s, Stage’s high school hobby would become his career. He started studying at Rochester Institute of Technology, then World War II interrupted his plans.


John L. was one of four Stage brothers who served overseas in the military. When he enlisted at 18 years old, he’d hoped to follow his brother Larry into the Air Force and serve as an aerial photographer. But various circumstances intervened and John L. ended up in the Infantry. He landed at Normandy on D-Day + 5 and served in the European and Russian theaters. By the time he was 19 he was leading a battalion of 40 other soldiers. A decorated WWII combat veteran, Stage was awarded a Purple Heart, a Silver Star and a Bronze star. Later in life, he became an anti-war veteran.


He returned to Warwick after his discharge and reconnected with childhood friend Jeanne Buttlar. They married in 1947 and set off to Ohio where the GI Bill allowed John to study photojournalism at Kent State. After graduation, he got his first professional photography job with International Harvester. While living in Chicago, John’s first two daughters were born.


It wasn’t long before the heyday of magazine publishing in New York City lured Stage back east and the family settled in Pleasantville. As a freelance photojournalist for 38 years, assignments from magazines (Holiday, Life, Look, National Geographic, Travel & Leisure, Town & Country), book publishers and occasional advertising agencies took him to all 50 states and more than 100 foreign countries. He specialized in photo essays which portrayed the people, the land, the history and the culture of communities and countries. Some of his favorite assignments included special issues on the Muslim world, the South Pacific Islands, the Rocky Mountains and the Great Atlantic Seacoast.


John L. worked for many years with art director Frank Zachary. His photography peers included Slim Aarons, Arnold Newman, Burt Glinn and Henri Cartier-Bresson. A book about Holiday magazine states, “John Lewis Stage could always be relied on to capture the Great Outdoors in all its wide-angle magnificence.” He was named Photographer of the Year in 1959 by the Magazine and Ad Agency Art Directors of America.


In 1961, John L. divorced Jeanne and married Gillian Webb. Three more daughters were born while they lived in Manhattan, eventually moving to New Milford, NY.


One of Stage’s proudest accomplishments was creating the book Birth of America for our nation’s 1976 Bicentennial. Over three years, he traced the early history of the first thirteen states, photographing on location to recreate scenes of the settlers’ lives and their fight for independence. The book received wide circulation in the U.S., Japan and Europe.


Returning to Warwick after retirement, with his third wife, Suzanne Bradner, Stage became active in preserving the rural character and environment of his hometown. He co-chaired the Open Space Plan for the town and helped create the park at Cascade Lake, followed by a long project to purchase development rights, resulting in 8700 acres of farm land preserved forever. He used his photography talents to advance these causes. He served on the Board of Directors of Pacem in Terris and was deeply involved helping others in his community. He lived a long and useful life.


Stage was charming, hard-working, playful, full of laughter, grateful and always interested in life. He loved Chinese food and dessert, especially ice cream! He had a journalist’s mind, and a photographer’s eye, seeing beauty everywhere. He loved his “five girls” more than they could ever know, adored his grandchildren, confident he was leaving the world in their good hands, and was delighted by his great-grandchildren.


John L. Stage was predeceased by his parents and his siblings Larry, Jessie, Doug, Dick, Bob, Harold and David and by his first wife, Jeanne Stage. He is survived by his sister Peg Schultz and her husband Mel, his second wife Gillian Murphy and her husband Richard, and his third wife Suzanne Stage. He is survived by his daughters, Audrey Stage and her partner Wayne Davis; Margot Stage and her husband, David Crane; Sara Culotta and her partner Ben Seidman; Abigail Stage; Kaiopa Stage and her partner Paul Young. Four grandchildren, Nicholas Sireci and his partner Katie, Trevor Stage and his wife Lisa, Chelsea Putney and her husband Joe, and Isabella Culotta; five great-grandchildren, Analeigh, Eloise, Grayson, William Lewis and Bode, numerous nieces and nephews and a multitude of good friends.


A private burial will take place November 6, 2021 followed by a Celebration of Life at the Mulder Chapel of the Warwick Conference Center, 62 Warwick Center Rd at 2:30 pm. Arrangements by Lazear-Smith & Vander Plaat. Gifts in John L. Stage’s name can be made to Pacem in Terris, the Warwick Historical Society and the Town of Warwick Friendly Visitor Program.

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I will deeply miss John, he was my elder Brother . May God Bless him forever. Let us remember our Love and all Blessings on his Journey.
Vincent J Bressi
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