Arizona Archives - StoryCorps

Her Son Wasn’t Expected To Survive. Now He’s Showing Her “How To Live”

Isaiah Acosta was born with several health issues, including a rare condition called agnathia in which he doesn’t have a lower jaw. Because of that, he can’t eat, speak or breathe on his own.

When he was born, doctors warned his parents that Isaiah had gone several minutes without oxygen and that he probably wouldn’t last through the night.

Tarah and Isaiah Acosta, approximately a month after Isaiah’s birth

Eighteen years later, on the verge of his high school graduation, Isaiah sat down to have this StoryCorps conversation with his mom, Tarah Acosta.

A note to listeners: Isaiah communicates by typing into an app on his phone and tablet, which then translates his words into audio. 

Top Photo (left to right): Tarah and Isaiah Acosta at their StoryCorps interview in Phoenix, AZ on May 14, 2018. By Mia Warren for StoryCorps

Originally aired May 21, 2021, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

A Pandemic Couldn’t Stop Her: A Lifelong Voter Finds Inspiration From Her Mother

Helen Merrill, age 91, prides herself on one simple fact: that in her lifetime, she’s never missed a single presidential election. 

It’s a determination that she traces back to her mother, Blanche, a woman who raised twelve children in rural Iowa.

Blanche, like millions of others, had become seriously ill during the 1918 flu pandemic. She was also a supporter of the Women’s Suffrage Movement, which was fighting for the right to vote.

By the 1920 election, Blanche had still not fully recovered, but the 19th Amendment had been passed and she was determined to exercise her newly given right.

Nearly one hundred years later, Helen came to StoryCorps with her granddaughter, Elizabeth, to remember how Blanche made it to the polls, and how her strength continues to inspire her to this day.

Top Photo: Helen Merrill and Elizabeth Hartley in 2017. Courtesy of Andrea Hartley.
Middle Photo: Ralph and Blanche Reeves in 1944. Courtesy of Andrea Hartley. 
Bottom Photo: Helen Merrill celebrating Independence Day in July 2018. Courtesy of Andrea Hartley.

Originally aired October 16, 2020, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

A Woman Providing Life-Saving Aid at the Mexico-Arizona Border Shares Her Story

Maria Ochoa is a 70-year-old grandmother who has walked the Arizona desert well over 100 times providing water and aid to migrants who have crossed the border from Mexico. The humanitarian aid she and other Tucson Samaritans provide is legal, as long as they don’t transport migrants or venture onto private land.

She came to StoryCorps in Tucson with her friend and fellow volunteer, Alma Schlor, to share her connection to the work.

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This summer, Maria will have been doing this work with the Tucson Samaritans for seventeen years. She was one of the founders of the organization in 2002.

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Top photo: Maria Ochoa poses by the Arizona/Mexico border wall, south of Tucson, Arizona. By Camila Kerwin for StoryCorps.
Middle photo: Alma Schlor and Maria Ochoa at their StoryCorps interview in Tucson, Arizona on April 20, 2016. By Camila Kerwin for StoryCorps.
Bottom photo: Maria Ochoa walks one of the trails she monitors with the Tucson Samaritans. By Camila Kerwin for StoryCorps.

Originally aired June 21, 2019 on NPR’s Morning Edition.

The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

Since as far back as the Revolutionary War, LGBTQ service members have been discriminated against in various ways by the United States military. On this episode of the StoryCorps podcast, we bring you stories from veterans who were kicked out of the service, as well as some who stayed in the closet to keep their jobs.

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First, we’ll hear from Sue McConnell (above left) and Kristyn Weed, who both served during the Vietnam-era and came out as trans after leaving the military.

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Next, we’ll remember Technical Sergeant Leonard Matlovich, who received national attention for outing himself as gay in 1975 while serving in the Air Force.

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Lastly, Air Force veteran Jeri Dilno and Navy veteran Joseph Patton take us back to the 1950s and early 60s, when they were given undesirable discharges due to the assumption that they were “homosexual.”

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Top photo: Artwork by Michael Caines.
Second photo: Sue McConnell (left) and Kristyn Weed at their 2018 StoryCorps interview in Tucson, Arizona. By Mia Warren.
Third photo: Leonard Matlovich, who appeared on the cover of Time in 1975 to challenge the military ban on gay service members.
Fourth photo: Jeri Dilno with her friend Andrea Villa in 2013 at their StoryCorps interview in San Diego, California. By Cambra Moniz-Edwards.
Fifth photo: Joseph Patton, who recorded in Santa Monica, California with StoryCorps in 2019. By Jud Esty-Kendall.
Bottom photo: Joseph Patton in 1956 when he was a member of the US Navy. Courtesy of Joseph Patton.

Released on May 21, 2019.

Like the music in this episode? Support the artists:
“Overture” by Patrick Wolf from the album Sundark and Riverlight
“Step In, Step Out” by Blue Dot Sessions from the album Crab Shack
“Watermarks” by Blue Dot Sessions from the album Crab Shack
“Untitled #9” by Yusuke Tsutsumi from the album Birds Flying in the Dark
“Cast in Wicker” by Blue Dot Sessions from the album Aeronaut
“Paloma” by Fabian Almazan and Linda Oh

This podcast is brought to you by supporters of StoryCorps, an independently funded nonprofit organization, and is made possible in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people.

Remembering Balbir Singh Sodhi, Sikh Man Killed in Post-9/11 Hate Crime

In the wake of the September 11th attacks, Muslims, Arabs, and Sikhs became targets for hate across the country. Balbir Singh Sodhi was the first person to be murdered in a hate crime in this aftermath.

On the morning of September 15, 2001, Balbir donated the contents of his wallet to the victims of the attacks. He then went to the gas station he owned in Mesa, Arizona and began planting a garden out in front, when a man who was seeking retaliation for 9/11 drove by in his pickup truck and shot and killed Balbir, assuming he was a Muslim man. Balbir was a follower of the Sikh religion and wore a turban as part of his faith.

At StoryCorps, Balbir’s brothers, Rana and Harjit Sodhi, sat down to remember him.

Later that day, Balbir’s killer also shot at people who were of Middle Eastern descent. They all survived. The murderer is currently serving out a life sentence in Buckeye, Arizona.

Originally aired September 14, 2018, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Top Photo: Rana Sodhi (L) and Harjit Sodhi holding a photograph of their late brother, Balbir Singh Sodhi, in Mesa, Arizona. Photo by Mia Warren for StoryCorps.

 

Best Friends and Vietnam-era Vets on Their Shared Sisterhood

Sue McConnell and Kristyn Weed are best friends and Vietnam-era veterans. Although they didn’t serve in the war together, they share a story of courage — on and off the battlefield.

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At StoryCorps, they talked about their other shared sisterhood.

Top photo: Sue McConnell (left) and Kristyn Weed at their StoryCorps interview in Tucson, Arizona. By Mia Warren for StoryCorps.
Bottom photo: Sue McConnell (left) and Kristyn Weed are regulars at Denny’s in Tucson, Arizona, where the best friends say they often talk for hours. Courtesy of Kristyn Weed.

A version of this story aired June 30, 2018, on NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday. It was rebroadcast on August 17, 2018, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Chris López and Gabe López

Chris López always knew there was something different about her youngest child, Gabe. Assigned female at birth, Gabe felt like he was a boy.

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Gabe was always more comfortable in clothing traditionally worn by little boys — cargo pants and superhero shirts — but switched back and forth between these outfits and those often worn by little girls. Just after his seventh birthday, he convinced his parents to let him cut off his long hair and get a mohawk — a haircut he had been wanting for years. Around this time period, Gabe started dressing only as a boy and answering exclusively to “he”.

At first, Chris was concerned that Gabe, being so young, might change his mind. She was scared of how people would treat him as he transitioned. But after seeing how Gabe responded to the changes in his hair and clothing, she felt confident that he had made the right decision.

Gabe, who’s nine years old now, has been attending the same school since kindergarten. In the fall of 2016, when he started third grade, he began having others refer to him by his preferred gender pronouns —”he” and “him” — for the first time.

In 2015, the López family attended a camp for transgender, gender creative, and gender non-conforming youth in Tucson, Arizona.

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Gabe and his mother came to the StoryCorps MobileBooth to talk about how that camp transformed his life.

A version of this broadcast aired May 1, 2016, on NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday, and was rebroadcast on March 3, 2017, on NPR’s Morning Edition. 

Middle photo: Gabe López. Courtesy of Chris López.
Bottom photo: The López family.

Carolyn Shoemaker and Phred Salazar

In her early 50s, Carolyn Shoemaker began a career in astronomy. While she had no formal training, she did have the support and encouragement of her husband, Eugene “Gene” Shoemaker. shoemaker2Gene was a renowned astrogeologist and one of the founders of the field of planetary science, which studies the geology of planets, asteroids, and other celestial bodies in our solar system.

Together they worked side-by-side for 17 years, taking pictures of the night sky in search of comets and asteroids, and in 1993, along with astronomer David Levy, they made their most significant discovery—Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9. In 1994, Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9, which had broken apart, slammed into Jupiter offering astronomers around the world their first opportunity to see the effects of two solar system bodies colliding.

In total, over the course of her career, Carolyn is credited with discovering more than 800 asteroids and 32 comets.

In 1997, while on an annual field trip to Australia, the car Carolyn and Gene were in was in a head-on collision with another vehicle. Gene died from the accident, and while Carolyn was still in the hospital recovering from her injuries, one of his former students, shoemaker3Dr. Carolyn Porco, contacted her to see what she thought of having Gene’s ashes put on the Moon. Carolyn enthusiastically agreed to the idea and with the help of people Dr. Porco knew at NASA, arrangements were made for his cremated remains to go into space as part of the Lunar Prospector mission in January 1998.

To this day, Gene is the only person whose ashes have been placed on the Moon.

Carolyn continued her work as an astronomer following Gene’s death and has been awarded an honorary doctorate from Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, and received both the Rittenhouse Medal for outstanding achievement in astronomy, and the NASA Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal.

At StoryCorps, she talked with her son-in-law, Phred Salazar (pictured in the player above), about working closely with her husband and her decision to make the Moon his final resting place.

Originally aired July 8, 2016, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Top photo: Eugene and Carolyn Shoemaker in 1986 sitting in front of an an 18-inch Schmidt telescope photographed by Jonathan Blair. Photo courtesy of J.Blair/USGS.
Above: Photo of the design created by Dr. Carolyn Porco of the inscription etched onto the capsule of Eugene’s remains sent to the Moon. Photo courtesy of Dr. Carolyn Porco.

Bill Sayenga and Ellen Riek

Bill Sayenga’s father died when he was just four years old, leaving behind his mother, Marie, and his older sister Louise.

Sayenga1In order to support her family, Marie (pictured in 1964 in the player above) found a job with the Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, recorder of deeds office as a secretary, but her pay — about a dollar an hour and just over $2,000 a year — was miserable. Although it allowed her to provide a home for her family, the money was only enough for them to just get by.

For 11 years Marie worked at the recorder of deeds’ office, and according to Louise, she hated it. But for all that the job lacked, it did provide Marie with insights into the inner workings of her local government. She recognized the need for change and in 1949, Marie ran for tax collector in the borough of Bethel.

Being both a woman and a Democrat made her a long shot. For over 50 years, men had been elected tax collector, and for the previous 24, Merle Long held the office. Marie lost that first race, but in 1953 she made a second run and unseated Long by just nine votes.

Sayenga6Marie would hold onto the job for the next 24 years, winning five subsequent elections. In 1973, in her final race, she received more votes than anyone else on the ballot running for any office in the borough.

Marie died in February 1993 at the age of 83.

Bill came to StoryCorps with Marie’s granddaughter, Ellen Riek (pictured above), to remember their family’s influential and powerful matriarch.

Originally aired May 20, 2016, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Photos of Marie Sayenga and the borough of Bethel tax office courtesy of Louise Randolph.

Mary Reed and Emma McMahon

In the summer of 2010, following her junior year of high school, Emma McMahon left her home in Tucson, Arizona, and traveled to Washington, D.C., to work as a page for her local Congresswoman, U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords.

Following her internship, she returned home to her family, but without one important memento from her summer—a photo of herself with the congresswoman.

Looking to rectify the situation, her mother, Mary Reed, learned months later that Rep. Giffords would be holding a constituent meet-and-greet in the parking lot of an area shopping center and made plans for her family to attend and finally get that coveted photo.

That was the day, January 8, 2011, that Jared Lee Loughner opened fire on a crowd outside of the Safeway critically wounding Gabby Giffords and shooting 18 others—six of whom were killed.

Mary, one of those who were shot that day, came to StoryCorps with Emma to remember the day she shielded her daughter from a gunman.

McMahon&GiffordsOriginally aired January 8, 2016, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Above photo: Former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and Emma McMahon at a dinner for survivors of the 2011 shooting held at the Giffords home on January 8, 2014 (courtesy of Emma McMahon).
Top photo: Mary Reed and Emma McMahon, this month, in the parking lot of the Casas Adobes Safeway where the shooting took place.