Arkansas Archives - StoryCorps

At The End Of High School, A Special Kind Of Thank You

Cole Phillips was like most teenagers heading into their first year of high school, wanting to make friends and fit in. But Cole, unlike his peers, had recently become blind due to complications from glaucoma. And he had the extra burden of an adult following him from class to class.

That was Rugenia Keefe, known as Miss Ru. Rugenia is a paraprofessional who assisted Cole with many of his most difficult subjects — attending class, taking notes, and ultimately becoming a friend and confidant.

Over the four years they worked together, Miss Ru and Cole came to rely on each other’s humor and humility. So, when Cole got an assignment to “record someone who made an impact on your time in high school” for a senior project, there was no question in Cole’s mind whom to interview — it had to be Miss Ru.  

Top Photo: Rugenia Keefe (left) and Cole Phillips at Bentonville West High School. Courtesy of Cole Phillips.

Originally aired June 19, 2020, on NPR’s Morning Edition. 

A Married Couple Remembers Those They Lost to AIDS

Over the years, many people have come to StoryCorps to remember those who have died of AIDS. And for those left behind, how to move forward is never an easy path.

Larry Dearmon and Stephen Mills met in 1992, during the height of the AIDS epidemic in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Together for 26 years, the two came to StoryCorps to remember the loss that eventually brought them together.

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Larry and Stephen have been together for 26 years. The two were married in 2013, a day that Larry calls “the best day of my life.”

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Top photo: Larry Dearmon and Stephen Mills at their StoryCorps interview in Little Rock, Arkansas in 2015. By Natalia Fidenholtz for StoryCorps.
Middle photo: Michael Braig poses for a photo in Frankfurt, Germany. He succumbed to AIDS in 1991. Courtesy Larry Dearmon.
Bottom photo: Stephen Mills and Larry Dearmon pose for a photo on their wedding day at Lake Tahoe in 2013. Courtesy Larry Dearmon.

Originally aired November 30, 2018, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Kayla Wilson and Wendy Founds

In this story, we hear two interviews, recorded ten years apart.

When Kayla Wilson was 13 years old, her mother, Wendy Founds, was arrested and convicted on multiple felony drug charges. Wendy was sentenced to three years in state prison, leaving behind Kayla and her two younger sisters. Kayla went to live with her father; she said she struggled to make sense of what happened and how to manage life without her mother.

Kayla Wilson (L) and Terilyn Coulter-Colclasure (R)During the period that Wendy was incarcerated, her mother Teri Lyn Coulter-Colclasure took her granddaughter Kayla to visit her mom. The visits helped to re-build Kayla and Wendy’s relationship, but Kayla still had trouble coping. So in 2006, Teri Lyn asked Kayla to come to StoryCorps (pictured together in 2006, right) to talk about the impact that Wendy’s addiction and incarceration had on the family. Kayla openly wondered what life would be like upon her mother’s return.

Wendy was released from prison in 2008; she was in recovery and hoped to reunite with her family. But the road to re-entry was not always smooth. Wendy lost irretrievable time with friends and family, some of whom were not quick to forgive. And while Kayla’s prison visits helped pave the way to reconciliation with her mom, questions remained.

In 2016, Kayla brought her mom to StoryCorps to talk about where they are today.

Originally aired January 5, 2017, on NPR’s Morning Edition

Producer’s Note: In 2017, Kayla is a high school teacher in Benton, Arkansas. Wendy lives with Kayla and counsels other parents who are struggling with addiction. In March 2016, Wendy was granted a pardon for her felony convictions from the governor of Arkansas.

Top Photo: Kayla and Wendy in 2016. Photo credit: Morgan Feigel-Stickles.

Zeek Taylor and Dick Titus

Dick Titus and Zeek Taylor met in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1971. Zeek was openly gay having already come out to his friends and family, but Dick was still in the closet with the added burden of having his family living close by.

TItus3In order for the two of them to be together, they decided to leave Memphis and move to Fayetteville, Arkansas, a city that would put some distance between Dick and his family, and where he knew he could find work as an electrician. But when they got there, Dick was convinced that he would have to continue to remain closeted after encountering homophobia on job sites, leading him to believe that he would lose work if anyone discovered that he was gay.

In order to protect Dick (pictured on the right), they decided to buy two homes—one to live in together and another to use as a dummy house for Dick in case any of his fellow workers wanted to come by at the end of the day. They also established a code in case they ran into any of the people Dick worked with while they were out together. Dick’s colleagues called him “Oscar,” so when they were in public and heard someone use the name, Zeek (pictured on the left) would pretend that they did not know each other.

Today, Dick is out to his friends and family. They came to StoryCorps to recall their journey from owners of multiple homes for 13 years, to married owners of a single home together in Eureka Springs, Arkansas.

Originally aired March 4, 2016, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Darlene Lewis and James Taylor

When Darlene Lewis’ son was released from prison 20 years ago, he couldn’t find work. So, Darlene decided to do something about it.

She founded an organization dedicated to helping former inmates find jobs. Darlene prepares them for interviews, places them with local businesses, and advocates for them in court.

She’s helped thousands of men and women—including James Taylor, who served seven years for weapons possession and drug charges. Today, James works as a videographer, youth mentor, and also volunteers for Darlene’s organization.

Darlene and James came to StoryCorps to talk about their relationship.

Originally aired January 8, 2015, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Jim Harwood and Ruth Coker Burks

When the AIDS epidemic hit Arkansas in the early 1980s, Ruth Coker Burks was just a young mother in her early twenties.

She didn’t have any medical training, but she took it upon herself to care for AIDS patients who were abandoned by their families and the medical professionals who feared the disease.

Some families, though, were different.

At StoryCorps, Ruth sat down with her friend Jim Harwood, one father who stayed by his son’s side.

They remember his son, Raymond, and what the early days of the AIDS crisis were like.

Listen to Ruth’s interview with Paul Wineland, the partner of another AIDS patient she cared for during this time.

Ruth Coker Burks and Paul Wineland

Ruth Coker Burks was in her early 20s and raising a small child when the AIDS epidemic hit Arkansas, her home state.

Although she had no formal medical training, Ruth took it upon herself to care for AIDS patients who were abandoned by their families and medical professionals who feared the disease.

Ruth estimates that she has cared for nearly 1000 people since the 1980s. One of those people was Paul Wineland’s partner.

At StoryCorps Ruth told Paul about how she got started after visiting a friend at a hospital where one of the state’s early AIDS patient was dying.

Listen to Ruth’s interview with Jim Harwood, the father of another AIDS patient she cared for during this time.

Originally aired December 5, 2014, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Karama Neal and Judge Olly Neal

Judge Olly Neal grew up in Arkansas during the ’50s and didn’t care much for high school. One day he cut class and wandered into the library. It’s there he came across a book by African-American author Frank Yerby. The provocative cover piqued his interest, but Olly had a rough-and-tumble reputation to uphold. So rather than check out the book and have his classmates see he was voluntarily reading, he stole it.

The Treasure of Pleasant Valley

He came to StoryCorps to tell his daughter Karama Neal about what happened next.

Check out Judge Olly Neal’s story as a StoryCorps animated short, “The Treasures of Mrs. Grady’s Library.”

Originally aired on October 2, 2009, on NPR’s Morning Edition. A rebroadcast aired on September 27, 2019 on the same program.

Jo Ann and Bob Chew

Jo Ann Chew, who has Alzheimer’s disease, talks with her husband, Bob, about how they met, their life together, and how they are coping with her diagnosis. Jo Ann’s one regret is “Just not having control of…my thoughts and my actions. And I don’t think it’s fair to you, either.”

Originally aired February 9, 2007, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Johnnie Tyson and Sandra Fleming

Johnnie Tyson (left), who weighed 250 lbs when she was 9 years old, talks with her niece Sandra Fleming about the difficulties of growing up obese. “You have to be extremely heavy before you understand what a painful situation it is. I really believe it helps me to establish an empathy with most any problem that people have.”

Originally aired January 19, 2007, on NPR’s Morning Edition.