Staff Picks – StoryCorps
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A Dad Tells His Daughter About The Risk That Led Him To The Love Of His Life

Eddie Chang had just finished his junior year in college and was spending some time at his friend’s house in Chicago, when he got reacquainted with his friend’s older sister, E.F. Wen.

Two years older than him, E.F. happened to be home for the summer. She was always the well-liked one around the community, and her playful, rebellious energy caught his eye.

What happened that week sparked a romance that would last them four decades — until E.F. died after a battle with colon cancer.

Eddie came to StoryCorps with their youngest daughter Tria to remember how it all started, and recount all that he still loves about his late wife.

Top Photo: Tria Chang and Eddie Chang at their StoryCorps interview in San Francisco on May 6th, 2017. By Yosmay del Mazo for StoryCorps.
Middle Photo: Eddie Chang and E.F. Wen. Circa 1973
Bottom Photo: From left to right: Eddie Chang, E.F. Wen, Vanessa Chang, Tria Chang, & Meesha Chang. 1993 at Smith College.

Originally aired February 14, 2020 on NPR’s Morning Edition. 

‘I Would Look Out The Window And Talk To Her’: A Daughter Learns To Cope With Her Mother’s Suicide

Josh Weiner remembers his wife, Kari Grosvold, as friendly, glowing personality. She also struggled with bipolar disorder and manic/depressive episodes. In 2008, Kari died by suicide. 

Their daughter Sylvia was five and a half years old at the time. A decade later, Sylvia and Josh sat down at StoryCorps to talk about losing Kari, and the years that followed.

Top photo: Josh Weiner and Sylvia Grosvold at their StoryCorps interview in Portland, OR on March 27, 2019. By Beth Duckles for StoryCorps.
Bottom photo: Sylvia Grosvold with her mom Kari Grosvold in March 2008. Courtesy of the Grosvold/Weiner family.

If you or anyone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline for help at 1-800-273-8255.

This interview was recorded through The Dougy Center for grieving children. It is part of Road to Resilience, a project with StoryCorps in partnership with the New York Life Foundation which leverages the power of stories and storytelling to help children cope with the death of a parent, sibling, or loved one. 

Originally aired December 6, 2019, on NPR’s Morning Edition. 

Facundo the Great

Ramon “Chunky” Sanchez was raised in a small farming community in southern California in the 1950s. As was common practice at that time, teachers at his local elementary school anglicized the Mexican American students’ names. Here, Chunky remembers a new classmate who proved to be the exception to the rule.

Savannah Phelan and Kellie Phelan

Last year, Savannah Phelan was on the internet looking up the organization where her mother, Kellie, works as an advocate and mentor when she came across a video of Kellie talking about giving birth to Savannah while she was in jail. Kellie was seven months pregnant in 2007 when she was arrested on a misdemeanor drug possession charge and sent to New York City’s Rikers Island jail complex. Two weeks before her release, Savannah was born in a nearby hospital.

At StoryCorps, Kellie recalled the joy of spending time with Savannah alongside the parents of other newborn babies in the hospital’s nursery, as well as the shame she felt at being shackled and wearing an orange Department of Corrections jumpsuit. Kellie was returned to jail while Savannah remained in the hospital a few additional days. Soon after, they were reunited and spent Kellie’s final weeks in custody together at the Rose M. Singer Center — a women’s jail on Rikers Island also known as “Rosie’s” — that includes a small nursery where mothers can stay with their children until they are up to a year old.

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After her release, Kellie and Savannah moved into Hour Children, a Queens-based nonprofit that provides supportive programs and transitional housing for women and mothers that have been incarcerated. Today, she works there as a program coordinator, mentoring youth whose parents are formerly or currently incarcerated, and often speaks openly about her own experiences.

At StoryCorps, Savannah, 8, and Kellie sat down for one of the first times to talk about Savannah’s birth, and how she feels after learning that her mother had been in jail at the time.

Savannah and Kellie’s conversation was recorded through the StoryCorps Justice Project, which preserves and amplifies the stories of people who have been directly impacted by mass incarceration. The Justice Project is made possible, in part, with support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Safety and Justice Challenge, #RethinkJails and the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation.

Originally aired August 5, 2016, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Photo: Kellie Phelan and her daughter Savannah in front of a 77-foot mural they helped paint that reflects the experiences of children and teenagers affected by incarceration.

Born Blackwell and Jamal Faison

In February of 2012, Jamal Faison was a 20-year-old college sophomore home on school break in New York City when he, along with two others, were arrested for attempting to steal mobile devices from a subway rider. Transit police arrested Jamal and he spent the next eight months on Rikers Island — New York City’s massive main jail complex that can house as many as 15,000 people at one time.

While incarcerated, Jamal struggled with the difficult conditions on Rikers and turned to his uncle, Born Blackwell, for support. Throughout his teens, Jamal had been close with Born, and during those eight months, almost weekly, Born made the arduous trip from his home in Brooklyn to visit his nephew.

His uncle’s support, telling him to “keep his head” and reminding him, “just because they treat you like an animal doesn’t mean you have to act like one,” soothed Jamal and helped him maintain a sense of worth while knowing that one day he would again be free.

faison1In September 2012, Jamal pleaded guilty to grand larceny and attempted robbery charges and a month later was released from custody. Dropped off in Queens around 2:00 AM, he immediately understood the challenges that would await him outside jail knowing that his conviction would haunt him and his opportunities would be limited.

One year after his re-entry, Jamal became a father and is now raising his son as a single parent, and he hopes to someday return to college and resume his studies. He works at The Osborne Association — a New York-based nonprofit that helps people who have been in conflict with the law change their lives — mentoring youth and helping people who have been incarcerated find employment.

Screen Shot 2016-06-02 at 1.55.12 PMJamal came to StoryCorps with Born to remember the night he was released from Rikers, and to discuss how their relationship supported Jamal through the conditions of his incarceration.

Watch “On the Record,” the animated short based on Jamal and Born’s original StoryCorps interview.

Jamal and Born’s conversation was recorded through the StoryCorps Justice Project, which preserves and amplifies the stories of people who have been directly impacted by mass incarceration. The Justice Project is made possible, in part, with support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Safety and Justice Challenge, #RethinkJails and the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation.

Originally aired June 3, 2016, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Photo of Jamal and his son courtesy of Jamal Faison.

Jim Stockdale and Jasey Schnaars

Many Americans remember Vice Admiral James Stockdale as H. Ross Perot’s running mate during the 1992 presidential campaign. Standing on stage between Dan Quayle and Al Gore during the vice-presidential debate, Admiral Stockdale opened by rhetorically asking: “Who am I? Why am I here?”

Stockdale4Those questions immediately became a sound bite and a punchline for late night comedians, and for millions of Americans, they defined a man they knew little about.

Adm. Stockdale’s legacy goes beyond a few sentences spoken in a debate. Over the course of his Naval career, he earned 26 combat awards including two Distinguished Flying Crosses, three Distinguished Service Medals, two Purple Hearts, four Silver Stars, and in 1976 President Gerald Ford presented him with our nation’s highest military honor: the Medal of Honor.

In 1947, Adm. Stockdale graduated from the United States Naval Academy, and in 1965, then-Captain Stockdale’s plane was shot down over North Vietnam. He was then captured and brought to the Hoa Lo Prison, infamously referred to as the “Hanoi Hilton.”

As the highest-ranking Naval officer held prisoner of war, he became a leader among the other POWs establishing a code of conduct to help keep them from being used by the North Vietnamese for propaganda purposes. Adm. Stockdale, who was forced to wear leg irons for two years while held captive, at one point slashed his own face with a razor to keep from being put on camera, and according to his Medal of Honor citation, he once used glass from a broken window to slit his own wrist in order to “convince his captors of his willingness to give up his life rather than capitulate.”

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During his seven and a half years as a POW, Adm. Stockdale was able to send letters to his wife, Sybil, in California. Quickly, she figured out his correspondences contained coded messages and she coordinated with the CIA to continue their communications while her husband was held captive.

Sybil herself was a force to be reckoned with. She was a vocal advocate for the families of POWs and soldiers missing in action at a time when the United States government followed a “keep quiet” policy, asking relatives of POWs not to call attention to their family members (this policy was primarily for public relations purposes). And as a response, she helped found the National League of Families of American Prisoners Missing in Southeast Asia, a nonprofit organization that is still active today as The National League of POW/MIA Families.

Below: Listen to an excerpt from a February 1973 conversation between James and Sybil, speaking to each other on the phone for the first time in seven and a half years. Recorded by their son Stanford, James was at Clark Air Base in the Philippines at the time and would days later be reunited with his family.

In 1979, Sybil was awarded the U.S. Navy Department’s Distinguished Public Service Award, presented to civilians for specific courageous or heroic acts.

Stockdale2The citation that accompanied the honor noted, “Her actions and indomitable spirit in the face of many adversities contributed immeasurably to the successful safe return of American prisoners, gave hope, solace, and support to their families in a time of need and reflected the finest traditions of the Naval service and of the United States of America.”

In July 2005, Adm. Stockdale died at the age of 81, and in October 2015, Sybil died at the age of 90. They are buried alongside each other at the United States Naval Academy Cemetery in Annapolis, Maryland.

Their son, Jim, a teenager at the time of his father’s capture, came to StoryCorps with his friend, Jasey Schnaars (pictured at left). Jim talked about his mother’s strength as they waited for his father’s return home.

Originally aired May 27, 2016, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Top: Jim Stockdale and his brothers, Taylor (right) and Stanford (left), greet their father, Navy Captian James Stockdale, at Miramar Naval Air Station on February 15, 1973, as he returns home after spending seven and a half years as a POW. (Photo courtesy of Jim Stockdale.)
Middle: Vice Admiral James Stockdale with his wife, Sybil. (Photo courtesy of Jim Stockdale.)

Jeanne Abel and Alan Abel

In the 1964 presidential election, Republican Senator Barry Goldwater from Arizona ran against Democratic incumbent Lyndon Johnson who had assumed office following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. LBJ won in a landslide, but there was another candidate in the race who has largely been forgotten by history: Mrs. Yetta Bronstein, a Jewish housewife from the Bronx.

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One reason Mrs. Bronstein remains absent from the history books is that although she ran, she didn’t actually exist. She was the creation of professional media pranksters Alan and Jeanne Abel. The husband and wife team cooked up Yetta while doing a nightclub act, and decided she should run for the highest office in the land. Registering her as a write-in candidate, she was listed as a member of the Best Party, with a platform that included national bingo and lowering the voting age to 18 so that juvenile delinquents would have something to do (the 26th Amendment was ratified 1971).

Jeanne, a gifted improviser, posed as Yetta, promising voters 16 ounces in every pound and offering free hot dogs and bagels in exchange for votes. She only gave reporters radio interviews because unlike Jeanne who was in her 20s, Yetta was the middle-aged wife of a New York City cab driver. At one point during the campaign, she wrote to President Johnson offering to end her run if he would name her as his running mate (Click here to read Yetta’s letter). Alan, her campaign manager, perpetuated the ruse by using a photo of his own Jewish mother in their election materials.

The Yetta Bronstein hoax is just one of scores of pranks the Abels orchestrated over the past 60 years. The one they are best known for is attempting to advance the Society for Indecency to Naked Animals (SINA), which aimed, in the name of morality, to put pants on the world’s creatures. SINA’s slogan was, “A nude horse is a rude horse.”

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Proving that no prank can go too far, Alan once even faked his own death, leading to a January 2, 1980, obituary in The New York Times. Two days later, for the first time in their history, the newspaper of record ran a retraction of an obituary explaining, “An obituary in The New York Times on Wednesday reported incorrectly that Alan Abel was dead. Mr. Abel held a news conference yesterday…”

The audio for this story includes archival recordings of live radio appearances Jeanne made during the 1964 and 1968 presidential campaigns when Yetta ran a second time for president. In between her runs at the White House, Yetta also ran for mayor of New York City, a seat in Britain’s parliament, and wrote a book, The President I Almost Was by Yetta Bronstein. Years later, their daughter, Jenny Abel, produced and directed a film about her father titled “Able Raises Cain.”

Asked if they’d consider running Yetta against the current field of presidential hopefuls, Jeanne responded, “The comedy is already happening.”

Jeanne and Alan sat down for StoryCorps in their rural Connecticut home. Surrounded by countless boxes filled with documentation of their life’s work, they tell the true story behind their fake candidate.

Click here for more information on the Abel’s hoaxes.

Originally aired April 1, 2016, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Archival photos courtesy of Jenny Abel.

StoryCorps 448: Something To Be Thankful For

In this podcast, we hear about three Thanksgiving traditions: feeding strangers, feeding neighbors, and listening to the ones you love.

macaulay_lgThe first story is from Scott Macaulay, who every Thanksgiving cooks dinner for strangers in his hometown of Melrose, Massachusetts. At StoryCorps, Scott (seen at left), explains how he invites people to his holiday dinner and how a tradition that began with him feeding a dozen people back in 1985 became a meal for close to a hundred diners.

Next, we hear from Herman Travis, another man going above and beyond to make sure people in his community have food. Herman, 55, lives in Holly Courts, a low-income housing complex in San Francisco. Every Tuesday he fills a shopping cart with groceries from a local food bank and makes home deliveries to his elderly and disabled neighbors.

Herman is especially busy around the holidays, sometimes making three or four trips in a single day. He came to StoryCorps with his neighbor, Robert Cochran (seen above right with Herman), who happens to be one of the recipients of Herman’s deliveries.

If you listen to our podcast regularly, you’ve heard us talk about the Great Thanksgiving Listen. This holiday season we are asking history and social studies teachers across the country to have their students use the StoryCorps app to record a conversation with a grandparent or another elder over the coming holiday weekend. Our dream is to have an entire generation of Americans honored in this way by having their stories and voices preserved at the Library of Congress.

photo_1445971842000Already many thousands of interviews have been recorded, and our final story proves that a great app interview can be conducted almost anywhere. Kara Masteller, 21, interviewed her grandfather, James Kennicott, 86, while sitting in the front seat of her 1994 Buick while parked outside a mall in Waterloo, Iowa (they took the selfie at left after their recording ended).

Their 16-minute long interview begins simply with Kara saying to her grandfather; “Tell me about yourself, where did you grow up?” and then they proceed to discuss his upbringing, work, Alzheimer’s disease, and their family.

It was precious time together that, according to Kara, led to more discussions between them about family and life after the recording stopped. Exactly what Thanksgiving should be about.

Click here for more information about the Great Thanksgiving Listen.

Click here to download the app.

Like the music in this episode? Support the artists:
“Sonstiges” by Podington Bear from the album Backbeat
“Send Off” by Explosions in the Sky & David Wingo from the album Prince Avalanche: An Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

James Kennicott and Kara Masteller

Since 2003, we have broadcast hundreds of conversations that were recorded in booths across the country, but this week, for the first time, we present one recorded in the front seat of a 1994 Buick.

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Last month, Kara Masteller, 21, and her grandfather James Kennicott, sat together in a Waterloo, Iowa, mall parking lot and conducted a StoryCorps interview. They choose this location because James, who is 86 and resides in a local senior living facility, had no interested in sharing his business with any of the other people who live alongside him.

Their 16-minute long interview begins simply with Kara saying to her grandfather, “Tell me about yourself, where did you grow up?”

From there, Kara, the youngest of James’ 10 grandchildren, was able to get a man she described as unaccustomed to opening up about his life to briefly discuss his difficult upbringing. He then talked in greater detail about his beloved wife, Annie, who passed away in 2012 (seen above in a 1949 wedding photo), his work as a supervisor at the John Deere factory, the loss of his eldest son Chuck who suffered with Lou Gehrig’s disease, as well as his thoughts on life and advice for others as they age.

In a separate interview with StoryCorps, Kara, a senior at the University of Iowa, remembered her grandfather as once being an intimidating figure in her life, but as they have both grown older and maintained their close relationship, she now sees him as fun, protective, and loving.

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He’s a man who enjoys joking around, dancing, shooting pool, and playing the penny slots at a local casino.

During their conversation, James also offers Kara advice on a happy marriage, “You gotta kinda like each other…if something happened just say ‘I’m sorry’ and get it over with and make up,” because “when you get married, it’s kind of like the two of you are one. You think the same.” And on life in general, advising her to “keep it so the days don’t just go by and that’s all there is, a boring old day…let life roll on…it goes fast.” You need to “roll with age, don’t worry about it, it’s coming. Enjoy life, it’s wonderful.”

According to Kara, after their recording ended (and they posed for the selfie at the top of the page), James continued to share memories with her about Annie before they grabbed a cup of coffee and headed over to the casino to play the penny slots together.

Click here to hear their full interview.

Click here to download the StoryCorps app and begin making your own recordings.

We’re just days away from the Great Thanksgiving Listen, StoryCorps’ initiative to preserve the voices and stories of an entire generation of Americans over a single holiday weekend. Open to everyone, it’s your change to sit down with a parent, grandparent, friend, neighbor, loved one, or anyone else who you are curious about, ask them questions, and listen. Click here for more information on the Great Listen.

Originally aired November 20, 2015, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

GTL_wordmark_orange background-03Photos courtesy of Kara Masteller.

Barry Romo

Barry Romo (above left) grew up in a tight-knit family in Southern California in the 1950s. The youngest of his siblings, he spent his childhood surrounded by a niece and nephews of a similar age.

Barry was particularly close with one of his nephews, Robert, known to everyone as Bobby (above right). Bobby was just a month younger than Barry and Barry considered Bobby to be another brother.
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During the Vietnam War, Barry enlisted in the Army and Bobby was drafted. Only one of them came home. Private First Class Robert Romo was killed in action in 1968. First Lieutenant Barry Romo was chosen to escort his body home.

Barry came to StoryCorps to remember his nephew.

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After Bobby’s death, Barry did not return to Vietnam, he was reassigned to a post in the United States to serve out the remainder of his commitment.

Today Barry is an active member of Vietnam Veterans Against the War.

Originally aired November 6, 2015, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Photos courtesy of Barry Romo and Beverly Mendoza.