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.

Editor's note: This story contains language that some may find offensive.

On the morning of April 20, 1999, 16-year-old sophomore Lauren Cartaya escaped quickly from Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., after two students began opening fire.

Lauren's older brother, Zach, then a 17-year-old senior, hid for three hours in an empty classroom with his classmates. The gunmen killed 13 people and themselves in what was then considered the largest mass shooting at a high school.

Last year, 33-year-old Walker Hughes — who has autism and is minimally verbal — was rushed to the hospital after he tried a new medication that made him agitated.

"We're driving at rush hour and my sweet guy is screaming and grabbing me and we're just scared to death," Walker's mom, Ellen Hughes, now 69, said in a StoryCorps interview recorded in February. "This is not the guy I know at all."

Growing up in a Catholic family in El Paso, Texas, during the 1950s, Dee Westenhauser had a hard time fitting in. "I knew I was a girl," says Westenhauser. But she couldn't share her true identity with anyone in her family.

Last year, at the age of 63, Westenhauser came out as a transgender woman. On a visit to StoryCorps in February, she fondly remembers how her late aunt helped her feel comfortable in her own skin.

It's been 20 years since Carolyn DeFord, a member of the Puyallup tribe, last saw her mother, Leona Kinsey in La Grande, Ore.

DeFord was raised by Kinsey in a trailer park in La Grande. She remembers her mother as independent and self-sufficient, working odd jobs to scrape by.

Miriam Pratt was five years old when Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968. She remembers that after her father, Seattle Urban League leader Edwin Pratt, found out, he paced back and forth in his bedroom.

"He was emotional," Pratt's daughter tells Jean Soliz, her godmother, at StoryCorps. "I had never seen him like that."

Nine months later, her father would suffer the same fate. On a snowy night in 1969, Edwin was shot in his home, while Miriam and her mother, Bettye, were inside.

Shotzy Harrison grew up not really knowing her dad, James Flavy Coy Brown.

He was in and out of her life. James, who has been treated for multiple mental conditions, spent most of his adult life homeless. Once, Shotzy, now 30, found him living in the woods behind a hotel.

At StoryCorps in 2013, the two had reunited, and he had moved in with her and her two daughters in Winston-Salem, N.C. But her dad's presence was short-lived. and they would lose touch again that same year.

In the summer of 1981 in Louisiana, Liz Barnez, then, 16 and Lori Daigle, then 17, shared a secret kiss.

"I actually remember that first kiss," Daigle tells Barnez in a StoryCorps conversation. "We drove out to the parking lot of Lake Pontchartrain, and I remember never being so afraid and so excited in my entire life."

They had met the year before as athletes on competing Catholic high school teams. There was an instant spark.

Army veteran Sgt. Mickey Willenbring has always been a fighter. She grew up shuffling between homes — with her parents on the West Coast, with family on Native American reservations in the upper Midwest and within the foster care system across the country — during an adolescence she describes as sometimes violent.

But the military struck Willenbring as a way to channel the aggression she says built up during an unstable upbringing. In 1998, Willenbring, then 20, enlisted in the Army and deployed to Iraq five years later.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

It's Friday, which means StoryCorps. And this morning, we hear from a family who lived inside a library. Back in the 1940s, custodians who worked in the New York Public Library often lived in the buildings with their families. Ronald Clark's father, Raymond, was one of those custodians. And for three decades, he lived with his family on the top floor of a branch in Upper Manhattan. At StoryCorps, Ronald told his daughter how growing up in the library shaped the man he would become.

Husband and wife Larry and Sharon Adams have spent the past 20 years bringing boarded-up homes in their Milwaukee neighborhood back to life.

The love they share for their community grew out of their love for each other. During a StoryCorps interview in October, Larry, now 65, and Sharon, 72, remember how they first met.

It was 1997, and Sharon had just moved back to her childhood home on North 17th Street in Milwaukee's Lindsay Heights neighborhood. But like several other properties in the neighborhood, it needed some work.

This story is part of the StoryCorps series of conversations.

Last Valentine's Day, Maya Altman stepped out of her freshman biology class at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School when she heard booming sounds.

Rodger McDaniel was 21 years old when his father died.

His dad, Johnny McDaniel, worked over the years as a miner and milk truck driver, married and divorced Rodger's mother three times – and he loved music.

Rodger remembers his beautiful singing and his shiny, black guitar.

"Even though my father didn't have much of a formal education, he taught himself to play the guitar by ear," Rodger, 70, tells StoryCorps in Laramie, Wyo.

Nearly 60 years ago, a U.S. B-52 bomber carrying two hydrogen bombs broke apart over rural North Carolina.

The bombs fell into a tobacco field. They didn't go off, but if they had, each 3.8-megaton weapon would've been 250 times more destructive than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

Lt. Jack ReVelle, then a 25-year-old Air Force munitions expert, was called to the scene. His job: make sure the bombs did not explode.

The day Martin Luther King Jr. gave his landmark "I Have a Dream" speech in August 1963, a lesser known moment in civil rights history was unfolding in southern Georgia.

More than a dozen African-American girls, ages 12 to 15, were being held in a small, Civil War-era stockade set up by law enforcement in Leesburg, Ga., as a makeshift jail.

Two decades ago, Maria Rivas emigrated from El Salvador to the United States, where she received temporary protected status (TPS) allowing her to stay and legally work.

But later this year, TPS – a humanitarian program — is set to expire for nearly 200,000 immigrants from El Salvador, including Rivas. If forced to leave the U.S., Maria won't take her U.S.-born daughter, Emily, with her.

Alagappa Rammohan has amassed enough books over the course of his life to fill a library. In his estimation, he has 10,000 — everything from religious texts to quantum physics.

In a StoryCorps interview taped this summer in Chicago, Rammohan, 79, spoke with his daughter, Paru Venkat, 50, who tells him that one of her earliest memories involves his love for books. She remembers asking him to help her with her homework.

New York City's Times Square has a ball drop on New Year's Eve. Tallapoosa, Ga., rings in the new year by dropping a taxidermied opossum named Spencer.

The "Possum Drop" is a tradition that career taxidermists Bud and Jackie Jones helped establish in their small town.

Bud, 88, and Jackie, 82, have been married for 62 years, and at a StoryCorps interview recorded in September, they spoke about their colorful love story — which began with a missing pet on their very first date.

Last year, friends Jeanne Satterfield and Barbara Parham reconnected for the first time in a decade at a place neither of them expected to be — a homeless shelter.

On a visit to StoryCorps in October, Satterfield and Parham recall how reuniting at the Pine Street Inn, a shelter in Boston, couldn't have come at a better time.

"When I came through the door, I was scared to death," says Satterfield, now 62. "I didn't know what to do. I had never been homeless before."

In 1973, Barnie Botone got a job in Albuquerque, N.M., working on the railroad. He was 22 years old.

Now, 67, Botone remembers when he told his grandmother that he'd be working as an engineer for the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway. He had been excited to share the news, but her reaction, he explains in a StoryCorps conversation, was not what he expected.

"She cried with a moan, because the irony — it was too much to bear," Botone says.

Rick Rosenthal has been a year-round Santa for nearly seven years — maybe no surprise given his jolly demeanor and bushy white beard. What sets this Santa apart is something entirely different: his Orthodox Jewish faith.

Rosenthal has traveled the world for Santa events and has participated in television commercials, parades, trade shows, tree lightings and parties. He even runs a school for aspiring Santas. In a recent interview with StoryCorps, he sits down with his old friend and mentee Adam Roseman to talk about how he discovered his unexpected calling.

Larry Dearmon met Stephen Mills in 1992, around the height of the HIV and AIDS epidemic.

In a recent interview with StoryCorps, the married couple reflects on a loss that brought them together — the death of Larry's former partner, Michael Braig, of AIDS.

"When I first met him, I was in the Army, and oh, he was handsome. He was extremely intelligent, ambitious. He loved everybody," Larry says.

Stephen asks him to describe what happened when Michael was diagnosed with HIV, which later progressed to AIDS.

Roy Daley was 23 years old and living in Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital, when a friend offered him a job in the U.S. He immigrated with just two shirts and a change of pants to start his new life.

That was 50 years ago.

Those early days were challenging, Daley, now 74, tells his wife, Ana Smith-Daley, and his daughter, Lucy Figueroa, at StoryCorps — like when his flight from Honduras landed in the U.S., and he saw what he calls "a monster" at the airport.

John Nordeen and Kay Lee served in the same Army platoon during the Vietnam War.

Nordeen and Lee had very different personalities, but in the life-or-death setting of war, the two bonded. Nordeen, a soldier from Seattle, was one of the first people that Lee, a combat medic from San Francisco, talked to.

But after the war, they lost touch.

In 2015, after a years-long search by Nordeen, the veterans finally reconnected.

This story is part of a new StoryCorps project called One Small Step, which seeks to remind people across the political divide of our shared humanity.

In a recent interview with StoryCorps, two strangers, Tiffany Briseño, a social liberal, and Israel Baryeshua, who identifies as a conservative, came together to find common ground despite their opposing political views.

Editor's note: A version of this story first aired on Nov. 10, 2017.

Kaysen Ford was 12 years old in 2015 when he and his mother, Jennifer Sumner, sat down for a StoryCorps interview in Birmingham, Ala. The youngest of seven children, Kaysen talked to his mother about being transgender.

Kaysen Ford had just finished 5th grade in Tuscaloosa, Ala., when he started using he/him pronouns. It was around that time he began to tell friends and family that he was transgender.

"Because up until then, I did not know that the word existed," Kaysen said.

Irakere Picon was just two years old in 1991 when his parents brought him to the U.S. from Mexico on a tourist visa. The family never left.

Picon grew up in Illinois, and in the summer of 2012, he applied for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program or DACA. Around the same time, he enrolled in Northern Illinois University College of Law in DeKalb, Ill. — and also met his future wife, Arianna Hermosillo. On their first date, he told her that he was undocumented.

Fifty years ago Friday, Mexico City kicked off the opening ceremonies of the 1968 Summer Olympics. World records were shattered in those Games, but it was Tommie Smith's and John Carlos' medal podium protest that captured the headlines.

Melvin Pender, a 31-year-old runner, was Carlos' roommate at the games. During a visit to StoryCorps last month, Pender reflected on the historic event with his friend, Keith Sims, whom he coached in track at West Point.

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

With tattooed arms and a well-worn leather jacket, Duane Topping looks like the kind of guy you'd meet at your neighborhood dive bar. In fact, after serving three tours as an Army specialist in Iraq, that's where he spent many nights to try to ease his anxiety.

But while he was deployed, Duane found comfort in a more unlikely place.

John Torres Jr. grew up watching his father, John Torres Sr. moonlight as a lucha libre wrestler.

Lucha libre is a style of professional wrestling that originated in Mexico. And love for the sport strengthened the bond between father and son.

Torres Sr. died in 2011 from complications with sarcoidosis — an inflammatory disease that usually affects the lungs, skin, or lymph nodes — at the age of 43. Torres, now 30, recently visited StoryCorps with his dad's best friend and fellow wrestler, Abraham Guzman, 49, to remember him.

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