Life & Branding, Full Circle

Aug 23, 2022 | Branding, Mindset

So here I sit at my desk, trying to decide what my next blog post should be about. What do small business owners and leaders want to know about branding? What frustrates them? Why do they choose to rebrand, or not? I note several relevant topics, but my right hand Amelia says I need to write about personal things that are happening in my life in addition to writing articles solely about branding. The thing is, everything in my life in some way or another seems to circle back to branding and design.

Last week I jumped to my Facebook feed and was shocked to see a post announcing that my former graphic design professor Lanny Sommese had passed away. The post took the breath out of me. I couldn’t concentrate on work. I couldn’t cry. My head spun with memories and anger and gratitude. This man… This infuriating, degrading, brilliant mentor—was gone. As a senior design student at Penn State, he was the sole reason for 2 a.m. calls home to Mom. He pushed and pushed and pushed for smarter ideas, powerful messaging, more appropriate typography—until you either broke, or stepped up to tackle the next challenge.

It’s been 28 years since I pinned a project up on the critique wall at 207 Visual Arts Building. Twenty-eight years. Yet his absence still affects me.

The last time I saw Lanny was in 2018. Amelia was finishing her degree in the Penn State Graphic Design program, and I had gone to University Park to celebrate her accomplishments at the annual Follies show. I saw Lanny at the after-event reception, but I’m pretty sure he didn’t recognize or remember me. It’s possible that I was forgettable in a sea of students taught over his more than 45-year teaching career, but more likely Alzheimer’s had sadly begun to impact his memory.

I can’t help but think how ironic it is that Lanny succumbed to Alzheimer’s, a progressive disease that destroys memory and mental functions. His obituary paints a colorful picture of his complex mind, but it’s not possible to have a deep understanding of Lanny’s intellect and masterful ability to conceive graphic ideas unless you knew him well, knew his work, or studied under him.

At the same time, in-house last week at Odessa Design, we were designing a fundraising letter and donation form for a client and friend who Walks to End Alzheimer’s each year. It has become Sally’s life mission to raise funds to help find a cure to this debilitating disease that took her mother more than 20 years ago. Last year she was the #1 individual fundraiser for the walk in Lancaster, and I have no doubt that her efforts will prevail this year, too.

Today, Lanny is still on my mind. As I scrolled through comments on the original Facebook post, I came across a link to a candid interview that was posted in 2015—A Designer’s Journey: Lanny Sommese. I watched and listened, content to hear his insights and stories once again…and then… gratified by the coincidence of Lanny talking about the WOW-factor in graphic design. I had not heard this narrative before today, but the irony of my own “Smart Brands that WOW” is not lost on me.


The Lancaster Walk to End Alzheimer’s will take place on Saturday, September 24, 2022 at Overlook Park, Lancaster, PA. If you would like to help Sally reach her fundraising goal and accelerate research to find a cure for Alzheimer’s, please consider donating.



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