“It’s Okay to Be a Hero”: Remembering Justice Ginsburg’s Words
Sharron Cohen had no idea that at the age of 25, she’d find herself at the center of a legal battle with the potential to change women’s rights forever. In the early 1970s, Sharron was a newlywed Air Force Lieutenant who was denied the same spousal benefits offered to her male colleagues. So with the help of a lawyer named Joe Levin, co-founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center, she sued the federal government for discrimination on the basis of sex.
Photo: A young Sharron Frontiero (now Cohen) dressed in Air Force uniform in 1972. Courtesy of Sharron Cohen.
That lawsuit eventually came to the attention of a young Ruth Bader Ginsburg at the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project, and then onto the docket of the U.S. Supreme Court. Together, Levin and Ginsburg argued the case, which came to be known as Frontiero v. Richardson. It won in an 8-to-1 vote, and became one of the first successful sex discrimination cases in U.S. history.
In December of 2020, Sharron came to StoryCorps in Massachusetts with her son Nathan to remember the late Justice Ginsburg.
Top Photo: (L) Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg with former plaintiff Sharron Cohen, her husband David Cohen, and son (R) Nathan on the steps of the Supreme Court building in 1999. Courtesy of Sharron Cohen.
Bottom Photo: (L) Nathan Cohen and his mother Sharron on the day of his wedding in 2013. Courtesy of Sharron Cohen.
Originally aired December 18, 2020 on NPR’s Morning Edition.
“Brighten the Corner Where You Are”: Finding a New Way To Be Thankful in a Pandemic
Back in 1985, when Scott Macaulay’s parents were going through an acrimonious divorce, he found himself alone on Thanksgiving. So he decided to start cooking dinner for other people who had nowhere else to go. We first heard his story in an interview from 2010.
Scott Macaulay looking through one of his photo albums commemorating his Thanksgiving dinners.
For the last 35 years, he’s advertised his dinners in his local newspaper, and in what began as a dinner for a dozen people, he now typically serves upwards of 100 guests at his Thanksgiving table. But in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic forced him to find new ways of connecting with strangers on this holiday. Instead he has partnered with a local restaurant to offer free meals and is handing out groceries from the window of his vacuum repair shop, Macaulay’s House of Vacuums.
Loretta Saint-Louis has been attending Scott’s dinners since 2017. Over StoryCorps Connect, Loretta and Scott talked about how they first met and what she’ll miss about not gathering this year.
Top Photo: Scott Macaulay and Loretta Saint-Louis after their StoryCorps interview in Melrose, MA on November 6th, 2020. By Alanna Kouri and Loretta Saint-Louis for StoryCorps.
Originally aired November 13th 2020, on NPR’s Morning Edition.
Interviewing Neighbors During COVID Brought Her Light “When Things Seemed So Dark.”
Leverett, Massachusetts is a rural town of about 1,800 people in the western part of the state. Downtown Leverett, if you can call it that, consists of a church, a post office, and the town hall. You can drive through town without stopping — there are no traffic lights in Leverett. If you need groceries, there’s just one store.
“It’s a beautiful place with not a lot going on,” says Leverett resident Jinny Savolainen. “An exciting moment in town is when the cows get loose and they’re in the road.”
But just like everywhere else, COVID-19 came to Leverett. And when the town went into lockdown, Jinny wanted to do something meaningful with her time. Quarantine was especially isolating for her. In 2019, Jinny lost her daughter. And when the pandemic hit, she lost her job.
So she sent an email to the town listserv asking if anyone wanted to record remote StoryCorps interviews about their life during COVID.
“I believe our grandchildren [and] great-grandchildren will want to know how we fared during this pandemic,” she wrote in her message. “I think they will be in awe of the way Leverett has come together, in the kindest, most humblest of ways.”
What started with one email ended in a collection of over a dozen interviews recorded with StoryCorps Connect. And we asked Jinny to introduce us to some of her friends and neighbors, including:
Betsy Neisner, a long-time cancer survivor, who has lived in Leverett for almost 25 years. She and Jinny met through the local elementary school, where their children studied together.
Portia Weiskel, a town fixture for more than 50 years, who is lovingly known as “the egg lady” for her doorstep egg deliveries in her ancient Volvo. She spoke with Jinny about a quirky quarantine tradition that started at Leverett Pond and can be heard throughout the town.
Mary Hankinson, who is a nurse at a long-term care facility working with memory-loss patients. When the pandemic first hit and she realized how hard it was to access personal protective equipment, she coordinated a group of almost a dozen women who volunteered to make masks. They were hung on a rack outside the post office, where anyone could pick one up for free.
Taken together, these conversations paint a picture of small town life and community during an unprecedented time. As Jinny put it, “Just when things seemed so dark, I found some light in the words of the people all around me.”
Top Photo: Jinny Savolainen standing in the garden of her home in Leverett, MA. Courtesy of Jinny Savolainen.
Second Photo: A quiet day in downtown Leverett. Courtesy of Jinny Savolainen.
Third Photo: Leverett Pond, where people gather on Sundays at 8 PM, to express their gratitude for essential workers by howling. Courtesy of Jinny Savolainen.
Bottom Photo: The Leverett Post Office, where hand-made free masks are available to anyone and everyone. Courtesy of Jinny Savolainen.
Originally aired October 9, 2020, on NPR’s Morning Edition.
“Amnesty Days:” One Father’s Made-Up Day of Forgiveness
There are many religious traditions that help people atone for doing something wrong. But in this StoryCorps conversation, we’ll hear from a dad who created his own method of repentance for his kids.
Vickie and Michael Feldstein grew up in Newton, Massachusetts in the late 1960s. As adults, they came to StoryCorps with their dad, Bernie Feldstein, to talk about what he called “Amnesty Days.”
Top photo: From left to right, the Feldstein family in 1983; Michael, Bernie, Barbara and Vickie in Newton, MA. Courtesy of the Feldstein family.
Originally aired October 11, 2019, on NPR’s Morning Edition.
Longtime Friends Reconnect in a Homeless Shelter
Longtime friends Barbara Parham and Jeanne Satterfield first met during the 90’s — two native New Yorkers who had moved to Boston and found a sense of community and camaraderie in the city’s LGBTQ scene.
The pair ran in the same social circle for a number of years, but gradually drifted apart. Barbara had moved back in with her mother and was caring for her during a serious illness. And Jeanne was working full-time as a drug and alcohol counselor.
They’d see each other on occasion — sometimes at the doctor’s office, once at a memorial service for a mutual friend — but for the most part they were leading separate lives.
It wasn’t until 2017, when Barbara and Jeanne really reconnected; this time, at a place neither one of them expected to be: the Pine Street Inn homeless shelter.
Top Photo: Jeanne Satterfield (left) and Barbara Parham (right) in front of the Pine Street Inn homeless shelter in Boston, Massachusetts. By Jud Esty-Kendall for StoryCorps.
Originally aired December 21, 2018, on NPR’s Morning Edition.
Recalling a Life Lived Through the Window of an Ice Cream Truck
Every summer, the town of Peabody, Massachusetts is serenaded with the familiar strains of “Yankee Doodle.” It’s the sweet sound of Allan Ganz’s ice cream truck. Ganz has worked as an ice cream man for more than seven decades. He only takes one day off per season.
Over the years, he’s watched his customers grow up to become parents and even grandparents. The town loves him so much it has a street sign designating him “The King of Cool.”
He came to StoryCorps with his wife, Rosalyn, to share the story of how his father got him started in the business over 70 years ago.
Top photo: Allan and Rosalyn Ganz at their StoryCorps interview on July 12, 2018 in Peabody, Massachusetts. By Camila Kerwin for StoryCorps.
Middle photo: Allan is greeted by a bevy of neighborhood kids as he makes a stop along his typical ice cream route in Peabody, Massachusetts. Courtesy Allan Ganz.
Bottom photo: Allan poses in front of his dad’s ice cream truck at age 19. Courtesy Allan Ganz.
Originally aired July 27, 2018, on NPR’s Morning Edition.
Greg Gibson and Wayne Lo
This StoryCorps conversation was one that was difficult to have, and for some, will be hard to hear. It happened at a prison, where a father sat down to talk with the school shooter who killed his son.
On December 14, 1992, Wayne Lo, an 18-year-old student at Simon’s Rock college in Massachusetts, stalked the campus with an SKS semiautomatic rifle loaded with ammunition he ordered over the phone and had delivered to him at school. He fired at random, killing two people and wounding four others. At the time, he said he was receiving commands from God. Today, Lo is serving two life sentences without the possibility of parole.
Greg Gibson’s son Galen, also a student at Simon’s Rock, was murdered that night. In the years since, Gibson has set out to understand how it happened, in the hopes of preventing anyone else from having to live through what he has. He interviewed other people involved in the shooting — victims and their families, school officials, even the man who sold Lo the gun. He later put those conversations into a book, Gone Boy: A Father’s Search for the Truth in His Son’s Murder.
Then, after it was published, Gibson started getting letters from the one person he hadn’t talked to: Wayne Lo.
As the 25th anniversary of the shooting approached, Gibson visited Lo in prison for a StoryCorps interview. Gibson said he wasn’t looking to forgive him or to find closure, but just to look Lo in the eye and talk. It was the first time they had ever spoken.
In the introduction to his book, Greg writes about his often complicated journey:
But what about this matter of moving on, and the healing and forgiveness it implies? There’s a lot of grand-sounding mumbo jumbo in circulation, but I’ve never read book or seen a talk show that can explain the mystery of a person making a conscious decision not to be defined by a Bad Thing, and simply living life from that point on, day-by-day. Then the Bad Thing becomes just a part of a life, and when we look around at other people we discover that most of them have experienced bad things too, and have made similar decisions. Survival is the rule, not the exception, and I can’t understand the “why” of it any more than I can understand why a cut heals over.
The idea of forgiveness is a greater mystery still—one I’ll spend the rest of my life attempting to unravel. As it happens, I’ve got a helper in this endeavor, a strange sort of sidekick. His name is Wayne Lo and he’s the man who murdered my son.
Wayne writes to me a few times a year, usually with a small check, which I deposit in the Galen Gibson Scholarship Trust. He earns the money by selling his artwork on the internet. This made the news for a moment in the spring of 2007 when a zealous fellow down in Houston realized that murderers were cashing in on their crimes. He coined the term “murderabilia” and decided to put an end to this practice.
Media people contacted me for an opinion, expecting some juicy murdered-son outrage. I opined that donating money to a scholarship fund in Galen’s name was one of the ways that Wayne Lo, locked in prison for the rest of his life, could try to atone for what he’d done. Society, I told them, has been very efficient about punishment, but backward about reconciliation and rehabilitation. This was not the answer they wanted to hear, so it didn’t make the news…
…There are endless branches on this journey, and no two people’s experiences are ever the same. I hear a lot about what I “ought” to be doing and feeling and, as was the case with the “murderabilia” issue, I am often confronted by people who expect me to feel a certain way when, in fact, I do not feel that way at all.
Much of the time, I realize that what I’m really dealing with are people’s own fears or their overwhelming desire to normalize what for them must be an unthinkable situation. What is there to do but try to be honest with them, and keep on moving? If I’ve learned anything since Galen’s death, it is simply to follow my heart, regardless of the expectations that surround me.
That, as much as anything else, is what this book is about.
From Gone Boy by Gregory Gibson. Published by North Atlantic Books, copyright © 2011 by Gregory Gibson. Reprinted by permission of publisher.
Originally aired December 8, 2017, on NPR’s Morning Edition.
Bottom photo: Galen Gibson at Simon’s Rock. Courtesy of Greg Gibson.
Jenn Stanley and Peter Stanley
During the 2016 presidential race, many families are finding their viewpoints incompatible with those of even their closest relatives. So rather than spend their time constantly arguing, they have agreed to just avoid discussing politics all together.
Jenn Stanley, 29, and her father, Peter, have experienced a strain on their relationship for years. Political discussions regularly leave them angry and frustrated with each other. Jenn, a self-described liberal who turns to yoga to clear her head, writes about feminist issues for various publications and produces a podcast about women’s rights. Peter, who relaxes by shooting his guns, works in construction and began voting Republican in 1980 during the Reagan revolution.
Whenever they are together and the news comes on the television, they argue.
When Jenn was younger, she considered Peter to be her best friend. She played softball—which she hated—because Peter liked baseball; he coached her team because he thought she wanted to play. But as she got older and left for college, their views grew further apart, making it difficult for them to talk about many of the things that are most important to each of them.
They came to StoryCorps to try to put their differences aside, and listen to each other’s points of view.
Originally aired November 4, 2016, on NPR’s Morning Edition.
Photo: Peter and Jenn in 1994, courtesy of Peter Stanley.
Student Voices: Amanda
“I remember lying in bed, not being able to breathe.”
Amanda, a student at Methuen High School in Methuen, Massachusetts, recorded the following story during the 2014-2015 school year:
Hi, my name is Amanda and today I wanted to talk about my past events with anxiety and how it affects me pretty much every day. It’s really hard to talk about and whatnot because of stuff, and yeah. So I wrote maybe two pages of stuff just so I can be able to say it because otherwise I wouldn’t be able to.
So the first time I ever remember getting a panic attack was when I broke up with this one guy and then three days later he got with my best friend. I know it seems really, really silly, but I just remember laying in bed, not being able to breathe, crying, just like shaking, and not being able to fall asleep; it was a really long night.
And that’s how it feels. You just can’t breathe, your heart starts to race, and all you want to do is lay down and cry. But sometimes my vision gets blurry and whatnot, and spotty. It’s really bad because sometimes I’ll get it in class. I’ll get it in the bus, I’ll get it at home, I’ll get it in the locker room, I’ll get it anywhere and anytime. And how it works is like you can have a five to twenty-five minute period of it. You could also get it all day by just having a really high attack for five minutes, going down really low to no anxiety for half an hour, then going back up; it’s terrible. It’s worse when I get it in class because all I can do is just sit there and let it pass and hope that no one notices because you can’t really escape the feeling of that, especially while all your peers are around.
It gets really scary because I don’t want anybody else to see that part of me, I guess. I don’t tell anyone. When I told my mom about it, it was maybe a month or two ago. The only thing that I found that will get rid of it would be ice hockey but that also makes it worse at the same time due to long-term effects. Because in ice hockey, you are taught to be physically and mentally tough. You are always taught to get back up when you fall down. Because of that, I don’t really like talking to anybody about it. I feel that it makes me look weak, like crying and just wanting to get away from everybody. It all makes me sick. I just really hate that because I play boys’ hockey. You got to be tough; especially for a girl. You got to be wicked tough.
These attacks affect my school and social life. I will get one in class and do badly that day because, like I said, once you get one, it could stop that day or it could go up and down all day, so I may have a twenty minute resting period but then go back to really high anxiety levels or I just stop and that’s the only one for that day. I can’t go out with my friends anymore because I’m afraid that I might get one. We might be at the mall and I might get one. I might not be able to control it as I could in class.
I really have no clue what sets me off, so it’s really hard to stay away from things that might set me off. I remember in Spanish class last year, people would not shut up and my teacher didn’t do anything. She was a terrible teacher and she would just not do her job. So I became really nervous and I just had to leave the room. That’s the first time I ever left class like that. Otherwise, I’ll just sit there. I’ll just let it pass, not tell anybody about it. I’ll sit there shaking my leg, I don’t know what to do. My mom suggested going to the doctors and getting medicine for it, but I know that’s not going to help me. It’s going to get rid of the pain but not actually fix it, especially during presentations at my school. It’s the worst.
Getting up in front of everybody and talking. All my classmates that are recording today, they can tell you when I did a presentation a week or two ago, my face got so red. I started shaking. I couldn’t speak. It’s honestly terrible, and you can’t even do the things you love anymore. The only thing that I really do nowadays is hockey because that’s the only thing that helps, but also makes it worse. I stopped doing other things that make me happy like going out. I stopped reading, I think, yeah, because I was afraid that people would judge me and say, “Ugh, she’s reading a book. No one likes her,” stuff like that. I think that is it. So thank you for listening.
After Amanda recorded the above story, she was invited by StoryCorps to record a full-length interview to be archived in the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. She was joined by her hockey coach, Erin Shattuck. Listen to their conversation:
Student Voices: Amirah
“I valued my own heritage so much to the point that I made a life-changing thing for that, and I would never want it any other way.”
Amirah, a student at Methuen High School in Methuen, Massachusetts, recorded the following story during the 2014-2015 school year:
This past summer in August, I made a very life-changing decision. I am a born Muslim, but I was born here in the United States, in Boston to be exact. So, I am a full-blown American here. I made the decision that I wanted to wear the hijab. You might be wondering, “What is that?” Well the hijab is the headscarf that Muslim women wear on their heads when they’re out in public. I value my heritage and my religion and my culture very, very much. It’s one of my number one priorities in life. To be honest, I always had wanted to wear it since the eighth grade, but I never brought myself to do it. As you probably know, being born in America, there’s a lot of hate on my religion in the media and stuff. But to be honest, the majority of that is totally ridiculous and untrue. But still, that influenced me to not wear it out of fear of being judged. I felt like if I were to wear it, people would judge me based on my religion, and I thought they would think untrue things about me. I was just terrified of what my friends would think, what people would think, but truly, deep in my heart, I really wanted to wear it.
Because I valued what I believed in so much, I finally made the decision last summer to wear it full-time. Originally, I would just wear it part-time when I would go to the local mosque or somewhere where I was around a lot of other Muslims like me, so I didn’t feel left out. However, something changed last summer. I became friends with a girl in my class at school who was also Muslim. We got really close, really really fast. Over the summer we were hanging out and she just brought up one day. She was like, “Maybe we should start wearing it.” I thought, “Oh my gosh! This is a great opportunity for me.” I was so scared, but I thought if I had a buddy to do it with me, I wouldn’t be as judged. I wouldn’t feel left out and like a loner, that kind of thing. So we were like, “Hmmm okay, we’ll wear it junior year of high school. That’s a great idea.” But then something in our hearts was pulling us towards wearing it. Maybe a week later, we were like, “Why don’t we just start wearing it tomorrow?”
I took that leap and it changed my life for the better for sure. Now people know me for who I actually am. I don’t feel like I’m fake, because before that I felt like people didn’t know me for me. It’s very difficult to explain, but how can people even tell what religion I am if I don’t wear it? I wanted people to know, because I was proud of that. I’m very, very grateful that I made that decision.
When we first started wearing it, we went to school and I was nervous about how people were going to react. I walked in and all my friends were there from last year, and there were new people there. Nobody said a word. It was like nothing had changed. It was great and I didn’t have any problems, and I was so thankful and grateful for that. I will never ever regret that decision.
I realized that the only thing that was originally stopping me was my fear of being judged. You shouldn’t let other people get in the way of what you want to do. You can’t stop yourself from doing something if you really want to do it just because of the opinions of others. So I valued my own heritage so much to the point that I made a life-changing thing for that, and I would never want it any other way.
After Amirah recorded the above story, she was invited by StoryCorps to record a full-length interview to be archived in the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. She was joined by her friend, Nadine Shahin (below right), who she references in her first recording. Listen to their conversation: