By Tom Kendra

MUSKEGON–Tim Reilly dusted off his old Olympus 3 Megapixel camera in the early 2000s, with an ulterior motive in mind.

I started taking pictures as a way to be involved in my kids lives, without getting in the way,” explained Reilly, who is married to Shelly, and their three children – Rosie (31), Megan (28) and Mickey (26) – are all Muskegon Catholic Central graduates.

He discovered quickly that he had a knack behind the lens. And that he loved it.

For the next 10 years or so, Reilly was EVERYWHERE at Muskegon Catholic – shooting his daughters’ theater performances and talent shows, then quenching his thirst for sports with liberal doses of MCC football, basketball and baseball.

Reilly linked up with the Local Sports Journal in 2011, and the two have been a dynamic partnership ever since.

He has also become a fixture at the Michigan Irish Music Festival and the Milwaukee Irish Fest, quickly becoming a favorite of the bands (his photography now adorns the covers of five different Irish music albums).

But it was when he put those two passions together – sports and Irish – that Reilly made his dreams come true by bursting onto the scene at his personal promised land:

The University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind.

Reilly shot his first football game at Notre Dame in 2011 and has steadily moved up the ranks in South Bend. Over the past decade he has also shot Irish men’s and women’s basketball, hockey, volleyball, lacrosse and now is the official photographer of the ND Pom Squad and the ND Dance Team.

Reilly shakes his head and laughs at the progression.

I’m living my dream doing this stuff,” Reilly said. “I guess it’s a pretty good story, because the photography started from nowhere, as a way to be more involved with my kids. I had no idea the magnitude it would grow into.”

Photo courtesy of LSJ photographer Tim Reilly at a Notre Dame football game vs. Navy in 2021

Meeting in Mendon

Reilly’s partnership with the LSJ started with a meeting in the small, southwest Michigan town of Mendon in 2011.

LSJ Publisher Jason Goorman approached Reilly after the Crusaders’ crushing 28-21 loss to Mendon in a district championship game and inquired about possibly using some of his photos with their story.

Reilly’s response goes to the heart of his unselfish nature.

Anything you want,” Reilly said. “In fact, I can send you a link and feel free to pick and choose what you need.”

And that’s how it began. Reilly has given a similar answer to many different people at MCC, Irish festivals, Notre Dame and various other organizations. Reilly, who has worked for the past 33 years as a dentist and now co-owner at Great Lakes Dental Excellence near The Lakes Mall in Muskegon, has never charged more than a nominal fee for his photography.

I am really proud of him,” said Shelly, who met him when the two were both in dental school at Loyola University in Chicago. “He does it all for the right reasons – to benefit others. That’s just the kind of person he is.”

Reilly said the real payment for his photography is that it brings him closer to the passions in his life: his family, the Catholic Church and Catholic education, Irish music (which reminds him of his grandfather, who played the squeezebox) and sports, as he grew up playing baseball every day in his hometown of Los Angeles, Calif.

After graduating from high school in 1980, Reilly headed north for college at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash. He graduated from Gonzaga in 1984 and that same year, his father tragically died of a heart attack at the age of 53, but he knew that his son had already decided to follow in his footsteps and attend dental school at Loyola.

He met Shelly, who is one year younger, at her freshman orientation and the two have been together practically ever since.

The Reilly’s did consider taking over his father’s practice in Los Angeles, but they decided instead to move to Whitehall in 1988 and join her father’s dental business and have lived in the same house ever since.

I am so thankful for the people here and the opportunities they have given me,” said Reilly, who now has a 4-year-old grandson, Braxtyn. “I just want to take great photographs and give them to people. Nothing’s better than walking into someone’s house and seeing your pictures on the wall.”

Photo courtesy of LSJ photographer Dr. Tim Reilly during the North Muskegon girls soccer semifinals in Comstock Park in 2022

An artist at work

Reilly will turn 61 years old in August, but he still brings a childlike enthusiasm to everything he does.

He still gets excited talking about MCC’s 2006 state championship football game – the first game he shot at Ford Field in Detroit.

You know I was the first one on the field that morning and Mike Holmes was second,” Reilly said, talking about Holmes, who is his good friend and a Hall of Fame prep coach. “I was so stoked and I still get that way.”

Reilly is a perfectionist who works hard every day to make Great Lakes Dental Excellence the very best it can be – and there’s no doubt he brings that same competitive nature to his photography.

He has worked tirelessly at photography over the past 20 years, observing the techniques of more experienced shooters, watching YouTube videos to pick up pointers on how to best photograph different sports and constantly upgrading his equipment. Reilly is now a mentor to the staff of volunteer photographers at LSJ.

Occasionally, his dental and photography worlds collide, as they did when he was shooting for LSJ at North Muskegon’s girls soccer state championship match earlier this summer at Michigan State University.

Two of those smiles on that North Muskegon team were mine,” Reilly said with a smile of his own.

He has become such a fixture and so well-known on the sidelines that many people don’t know that he has a full-time day job.

I love dentistry as much as I love photography,” explained Reilly, who has no plans to stop doing either of his passions anytime soon. “So people ask me all the time how I can do both and my answer is always the same. You make time for the things that you love.”

Beyond the camera

Lance Armstrong wrote a book in 2000 entitled “It’s Not About The Bike” – understanding that the impact of what he did transcended cycling.

The same could be said about Reilly, as his photographs are only part of the story.

The way he interacts with the kids is really amazing,” said Shelley, who is also a dentist at GLDE and is known to cover her husband’s shifts when he is away shooting an event. “Tim just has that positive nature. When he sees that they are down, he’ll give them a pep talk.”

His impact on the students at Muskegon Catholic has been so profound that he was the school’s graduation speaker in 2012.

The powerful connection he has with his subjects is especially apparent in his work as the official photographer of the Notre Dame Pom Squad, a job he started five years ago.

Reilly became something of a counselor over the past 16 months, helping the squad through the cancellations and other challenges of Covid, then received a heartwarming video thank you from every member of the team.

I have become a much more confident leader and I could not have done that without your constant support and guidance,” Caroline Leonard, the captain of this year’s Pom Squad, said in her video. “Thank you for the hours and hours you put in to make us feel that we were really doing something worthwhile.”

As much joy as he gets from creating a beautiful smile for one of his patients, he gets a similar satisfaction from hearing about the impact of his photography sessions and subsequent pictures.

I’m a 60-year-old hanging in a 20-year-old’s world,” said Reilly. “Hopefully, I can add some perspective to their lives. I just tell them not to worry. As messed up as things seem, it’s really good out there and they will get there.”