StoryCorps

Fridays during Morning Edition

StoryCorps provides Americans of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to record, share, and preserve the stories of our lives.

Since Dave Isay founded StoryCorps in 2003, the organization has provided more than 100,000 Americans with access to a quiet booth and platform to record and share interviews about their lives. These Conversations are archived at the U.S. Library of Congress.

At the heart of StoryCorps is a simple, timeless idea: provide two friends or loved ones with a quiet space and 40 minutes of uninterrupted time for a meaningful face-to-face conversation that will be preserved for generations to come. StoryCorps seeks out the stories of people most often excluded from the historical record and preserves them so that the experience and wisdom contained within them may be passed from one generation to the next.

During the 1990s, in the tiny town of Parma, Mich., Bob VanSumeren lost his way.

He dropped out of high school and started abusing drugs and alcohol. When VanSumeren turned 18, his parents got a divorce, and he became essentially homeless, mostly couch-surfing at friends' houses. It was around this time that he and his high school sweetheart, Jillian, broke up. VanSumeren had fallen in with the wrong crowd.

Eventually, he robbed a gas station and a bank. He served nearly six years in prison for those crimes.

StoryCorps' Military Voices Initiative records stories from members of the U.S. military and their families.

During the 1918 flu pandemic, Blanche Reeves was living in rural Iowa when she got sick. Even though she was still recovering in November 1920, she managed to cast her vote in the presidential election.

Her determination to exercise her vote continues to inspire Blanche's daughter, Helen Merrill, a century later. In a remote StoryCorps conversation last week, Helen, now 91, told her granddaughter, Elizabeth Hartley, 27, how voting has become a "sacred thing" for her.

When her town of Leverett, Mass., went into lockdown, 60-year-old Jinny Savolainen wanted to do something meaningful with her time.

She lost her 32-year-old daughter the previous August from complications related to spina bifida, a condition she had since birth. Then, when the pandemic hit, Savolainen lost her job as a patient services representative in a medical office.

Lauren Magaña followed in her mother's footsteps when she became a social worker. It's been a most challenging year for both of them. They work mostly with elderly patients — those particularly vulnerable during the coronavirus pandemic. But Magaña and her mom, Michelle Huston, have been able to lean on one another.

Huston, now 50, and Magaña, 26, first recorded a StoryCorps interview in 2018 — long before the pandemic had figured into their work — to talk about why they chose to enter a career in social work.

New York City Public Schools reopened part-time this week, but preparing to get more than 1 million children back to school, whether in-person or virtually, hasn't gone smoothly.

Last minute schedule changes have left parents, teachers and students frustrated and confused.

Fortunately, Emma Pelosi and Debra Fisher, who work with young children with special needs in New York City public schools, have been able to lean on each other during the chaotic moments.

When Erin Haggerty moved with her family from Northern California to Iowa, she was about to enter high school as one of the only Black teens living in her community.

She looked forward to the change in scenery. They first visited Iowa City during winter, when the small town was blanketed in snow.

"There was just so much open sky and everything was covered in white. It was really beautiful," Haggerty, now 48, told her father George Barlow, 72, during a StoryCorps interview last month.

Albert Petrocelli died from COVID-19 in April, at 73 years old. His death marked the second time the Petrocelli family was touched by unexpected tragedy.

Nearly two decades earlier, Petrocelli, a retired New York City fire chief, and his wife, Ginger, lost their youngest of two sons, Mark, in the attacks on the World Trade Center.

In a 2005 interview with StoryCorps, Albert and Ginger remembered Mark, a commodities broker who was just two days shy of his 29th birthday when he died.

Recently, Joe and Vinny Bianco have seen slow days at their tool shop in Brooklyn, N.Y.

The twin brothers took over Bianco Brothers Instruments from their father in 1992. Now, each of their own sons is working beside them, expertly sharpening knives and blades for a wide range of trades. They also manufacture instruments for a variety of different professions.

Despite the pandemic's impact on small businesses like theirs, the family looks forward to being in business well into the future.

As nationwide protests continue to inspire conversations about racial inequity in America, Ayim Darkeh is reminded of his not-so-distant past.

Darkeh, an emergency room doctor in New York City, spoke with his mother, Shirley, in June about his experiences with racism dating back to childhood.

The family moved to Westbury, Long Island, in the 1970s, where Ayim was one of the few Black students at his elementary school.

Growing up in East Los Angeles, cousins Martha Escutia and Marina Jimenez lived in awe of their grandfather, Ricardo "Papu" Ovilla.

Ovilla came from Mexico during World War II as part of the Bracero Program, which brought millions of Mexican guest workers to the U.S. to address the country's labor shortage.

Mike Rudulph was 20 years old when he joined the U.S. Marine Corps. He served during the era of "don't ask, don't tell," deploying to Iraq in 2003. Soon after he returned home from his first deployment, he logged onto the Internet and met Neil Rafferty.

"By the end of the week, we were saying 'I love you' over the phone," Rudulph, 40, said to his now-husband, Rafferty, 35, at StoryCorps in Birmingham, Ala.

For almost 30 years, T. Chick McClure and their father, Chas, were estranged. Then, four years ago, Chick reached out to their dad to change that. Soon after, their dad invited them on a two-week-long road trip to get to know each other again.

During a StoryCorps conversation, Chick, 49, and Chas, 73, talked about the trip that brought them back together.

For nearly a century, the Quander family has come together every year to honor and preserve their history — one that traces its roots back to the story of Nancy Carter Quander, the family matriarch, who was formerly enslaved by George and Martha Washington.

The 95th Quander family reunion was scheduled to take place just outside of Washington, D.C., this weekend. But because of COVID-19, the family decided to not gather this year.

Tomás Ybarra-Frausto grew up in the 1940s, just outside of San Antonio, on a ranch that belonged to his grandfather.

"The one thing that was instilled was traditions that were related to the land," Ybarra-Frausto, 83, told his friend Antonia Casteñeda, 78, in a StoryCorps interview from 2012.

An early memory tied to those traditions, he said, was an umbilical cord ceremony. "The umbilical cord they had taken away when you were born, it was in a little box," he said. "You got to pick where you wanted that to be buried."

Nia Cosby was just 4 years old when her mother was sent to prison.

In 2005, her mom, Chalana McFarland, was sentenced to 30 years for multiple counts of mortgage fraud. The judge in her case went on record to say he was giving her a harsh sentence as a deterrent for those wishing to commit similar crimes.

But last month — in an effort to help curb the spread of COVID-19 in Florida prisons — Cosby got to welcome her mother back from the Federal Correctional Institution, Coleman facility in central Florida.

In the late 1950s, Kenneth Felts met a young man who became the love of his life.

Felts, now 90 years old, had not revealed that relationship to his family until a few months ago, when he finally told his daughter, Rebecca Mayes, that he is gay — a secret he'd been keeping for more than 60 years. It happened in mid-March, when Felts was quarantining because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The two spoke about Felts' first love, Phillip, during a remote StoryCorps conversation from Arvada, Colo., this month.

By the age of 4, Hadiyah-Nicole Green had lost both her mother and her grandparents.

She was sent to live with her Aunt Ora Lee Smith and Uncle General Lee Smith in St Louis, Mo. But in her early 20s, both her aunt and uncle were diagnosed with cancer.

Green, who now works as an assistant professor in the surgery department at Morehouse College's medical school, started the Ora Lee Smith Cancer Research Foundation in honor of her late aunt.

Vivian Garcia Leonard studied to become a pharmacist in Cuba before coming to the U.S. in 1961.

Her daughter, also named Vivian, eventually followed in her mother's footsteps. So, too, did her daughter, Marissa Sofia Ochs. Today, the three generations of pharmacists live near each other and work in New York City.

But recently, the elder Vivian, who's 82, stopped working to limit her exposure to the virus.

In a remote StoryCorps conversation recorded last month, the women talked about living through the coronavirus pandemic.

The coronavirus pandemic has forced Dr. Joseph Kras, an anesthesiologist training in hospice and palliative care, to face some tough choices.

His 18-year-old daughter, Sophie, has lupus, which makes her high-risk should she contract COVID-19. Kras has to be very careful when he goes home, and he makes sure to keep his distance from his daughter and disinfects common surfaces to keep her safe.

At the beginning of the pandemic, Sophie was upset her dad kept working.

Just months before starting his freshman year of high school, Cole Phillips lost his vision to glaucoma.

When he entered Bentonville West High School in Arkansas in the fall of 2016, he met Rugenia Keefe — or, as Phillips calls her, "Miss Ru" — a paraprofessional who attended classes with Phillips for the next four years.

Aidan Sykes was just 6 years old when he joined his dad, Albert, to protest the killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. They've been attending protests against racial injustice ever since.

This episode of StoryCorps originally aired in 2015.

At StoryCorps, Aiden Sykes, then 9, asked his father, Albert, some of the heavy questions on his mind, including why they attend civil rights demonstrations together. Albert said he worries about bringing up his black son in a society where the odds are stacked against him simply because of his race.

"My dream is for you to live out your dreams," Albert said.

Since the coronavirus pandemic hit New York, Dr. Roberto Vargas has been working long hours, running labs that do COVID-19 testing in Rochester.

To minimize his family's risk of exposure, Roberto has been isolating himself from his wife, Susan, and their four kids since March.

For two weeks, Roberto stayed at a hotel near Rochester Regional Hospital, where he works as the director of microbiology. Then, he moved to the basement of his home.

Around Memorial Day of 2000, Emily Aho took her then 75-year-old father, Emilio "Leo" DiPalma, on a trip back to Germany, where the World War II veteran served as a guard at the Nuremberg Trials.

Coming up on Memorial Day two decades later, Aho holds those memories with him especially close. Last month, DiPalma died of complications from COVID-19 at 93 years old in Holyoke, Mass.

"He had all these things he wanted to talk to me about. I'll never forget it. I may not have had a lot of time with my dad before, but I had that week," Aho, 62, said.

When Evette Jourdain was struggling to get back on her feet, landing a job as a postal worker gave her security. Now, during the coronavirus pandemic, the job carries new risks she and her colleagues never imagined.

Jourdain, 32, and her friend and fellow mail carrier Craig Boddie, 48, spoke for a remote StoryCorps conversation last month from Palm Beach, Fla., about how their work has changed since the coronavirus outbreak in the United States.

Alice Stockton-Rossini and her 90-year-old mother, Jackie Stockton, survived COVID-19.

But the virus took the lives of some of their friends and a relative.

The outbreak in their community in Ship Bottom, N.J., can be traced back to Stockton's 90th birthday party, held at her church on March 8 before much of the U.S. began practicing social distancing.

In a recent remote StoryCorps conversation, Stockton told her 62-year-old daughter that she didn't realize she had contracted the virus until she landed in the hospital.

As the coronavirus pandemic hit the U.S., Dan Flynn made his way from Santa Barbara, Calif., to New York City, joining 58 others as part of a national mortuary response team.

Flynn, a funeral director, has been with the team since 2008. The group helps identify victims and assist with mortuary services to help loved ones find closure. While in New York last month, Flynn assisted with autopsies and photographed, fingerprinted and catalogued bodies.

New York City bus operators Tyrone Hampton and Frank de Jesus have witnessed a crushing loss in their field of work. As of Wednesday, 83 Metropolitan Transportation Authority workers have died from COVID-19, 30 of them also bus operators.

Hampton, 50, and de Jesus, 30, spoke for a remote StoryCorps conversation about how the outbreak is putting their love for the job to the test.

Friends Josh Belser and Sam Dow are more than 400 miles apart from each other, but, as health care workers, they're united in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

Belser, a nurse in Syracuse, N.Y., and Dow, a health care technician in Ann Arbor, Mich., grew up together in Florida.

Both are self-isolating from loved ones and regularly speak with each other, but the childhood friends connected remotely this week for a special StoryCorps conversation.

Pages