Beyond his talent and the way he could tell a whole story with a single image, NFL Hall of Fame photographer Vern Biever was a really nice guy.
One day several years ago, my mom received an unsolicited package from him and opened it to find several prints of my dad during his playing years with the Green Bay Packers.
My dad, Ron Kostelnik, played defensive tackle for the Packers from 1961 through 1968, which was smack in the middle of Biever’s 61-year career as Green Bay’s official photographer. He is responsible for nearly every iconic photo you’ve ever seen of the team from 1946 to 2007.
I came across one of the prints he sent my mom when I was sorting photos last week, because my dad’s high school had requested a head shot of him.
I loved the picture so much, I texted it to my siblings.
It appears to have been taken during a practice and you can see sweat dripping off my dad’s face. He looks tired in the photo, but also intent and maybe even a little pleased. I imagine it is exactly how Coach Lombardi would want his players to look, midway through a practice.
The photograph got me thinking both of my dad, who died in 1993, and of the man who took it.
Vern Biever began shooting the Packers when he was 18-years old, essentially a volunteer whose only request was a ticket to the game. “If you give me a field pass, I’ll give you the prints,” he reportedly said.
In 1942, he enlisted in the army, where he worked as the division photographer for the 100th infantry and earned a bronze star for improving troop morale with his photography.
Following his discharge, he returned to finish up his degree at St. Norbert College and continue his work with the Packers. For many years, he worked at his dad’s hardware store during the week and then shot the games on Sundays. His alma mater described his life eloquently in a St. Norbert newsletter he saved.
“For 6 days a week each fall, Vernon J. Biever is one of Port Washington’s leading dime store clerks. On the 7th day he is one of the country’s leading football photographers.”
Vern Biever died in October of 2020. His catalog of photos will live on for generations, which is a perfect legacy for a man who once said, “This hobby is so interesting I would do all of it at a loss.”
Money didn’t motivate Biever, nor did fame. He just wanted to take cool pictures and I’m so grateful he did.
If you want to read more about this very interesting man, I recommend this article, which was one of my main sources for this piece.