Angels and Mentors – StoryCorps

Little Bit of Me—A Father And Son Look Back On A Life Filled With Music

Seventy-year-old Jim Von Stein was a Navy kid, and grew up all over the country before his family landed in Chattanooga, Tennessee. 

He became a draftsman by trade before retiring as an HVAC service technician, where he would crawl under houses installing heating and air conditioning units—hard work that often involved handling hazardous materials. 

But if you were looking around his trailer in rural Tennessee, you’d see mountains of songbooks and homemade recordings, and scraps of paper and napkins scribbled with lyrics. These are songs he’s been writing since he was nine years old, that almost nobody has ever heard.

Jason and Jim Von Stein in Birmingham, Alabama, in August of 2018. Courtesy of the Von Stein family.

Jim came to StoryCorps with his son, Jason, to look back on a life of music and the ultimate gesture of love.

Jim and Jason Von Stein on  September 18th, 1982, in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Courtesy of the Von Stein family.
Top Photo: Jim and Jason Von Stein at their StoryCorps interview in Chattanooga, TN on April 1st, 2019. By Eleanor Vassili for StoryCorps

This broadcast is supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Originally aired March 10th, 2023 on NPR’s Morning Edition.



Her Father’s Piano And A Page From WWII History

Loretta Berning’s father, Air Force Pilot Major Harold Martin, spent most of World War II training other pilots stateside. But just after the war he was stationed in Germany, flying relief supplies to Allies trapped behind Soviet lines in Berlin.

Harold was also an accomplished musician, playing saxophone in Big Band Jazz groups. Loretta and her younger sister grew up in a house full of music and were expected to learn the piano from a young age.

Harold Martin (5th from the Left in the back row) posing for a photo with Purvis Henson and his orchestra at Macdill Air Force Base in 1947. Photo courtesy of Loretta Berning.

While in Germany, Harold had found a rare and precious object that he had flown back to the States after his tour. It was a Victory Vertical Piano, made by the Steinway and Sons piano makers. In 1942 Steinway was tapped to make war-proof pianos for troops in the field.  In total they made about 2,500 pianos  built to be strong enough to be dropped out of supply planes, resistant to the humidity of the Pacific, and small enough to fit on submarines. Each piano was delivered by parachute from a supply plane.

Loretta Berning, age 15, pictured with the family’s Victory Vertical piano. 

When Harold brought the piano home after the war, it was one of the few to make the roundtrip journey back to the States. For Loretta, it was a lifelong reminder of her father and his love of music.

Top Photo: Loretta Berning at her StoryCorps interview in Mandeville, LA on May 11th, 2022. By Katie Fernelius for StoryCorps.

Originally aired July 30th, 2022, on NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday.

This broadcast is supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

After 82 Years, A Grandfather Inspires His Grandson To Live Full Of Honesty And Love

When Jeffrey Perri was growing up in Rochester, New York, his grandfather, Tony Perri, came out to him as gay. Jeffrey was only 9 years old. Years later, Jeffrey also came out, and what was already a close relationship became something even more meaningful for both of them.

They originally came to StoryCorps to reflect on their stories and relationship in 2009

Tony had remained friends with Jeffrey’s grandmother, Shirley Perri, after they divorced, and Tony went on to have two more long term relationships. These men were “uncles” to Jeffrey, and Tony modeled loving relationships throughout Jeffrey’s childhood.

Now, in 2022, Jeffrey and Tony returned to StoryCorps to reflect on their shared connection — and Tony’s feelings about aging and family.


Top Photo:
Jeffrey Perri and Tony Perri on May 7th, 2022 at a family wedding. Courtesy of Jeffery Perri. (L) 
Jeffrey Perri and Tony Perri at their StoryCorps interview in Rochester, NY on July 11, 2009. By Jeremy Helton for StoryCorps. (R)

Originally aired July 22, 2022, on NPR’s Morning Edition. 

This broadcast is supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

“She Had Dreams In Life”: A Remembrance Of Latasha Harlins

We should note that the audio version of this story contains a graphic description of violence.

On April 29th, 1992, the city of Los Angeles erupted into 6 days of uprisings. Over 60 people died, over 2,000 were injured, there was widespread theft and property damage to the area, and thousands of residents took to the streets in protest — the cause widely known to be the acquittal of the four police officers who brutally assaulted Rodney King.

But there was another case that also grabbed the attention of Los Angeles at that time; the killing of 15-year-old Latasha Harlins. On March 16, 1991, Harlins was shot and killed by a store clerk who accused her of stealing. 

Even though Latasha’s killer was convicted by a jury of voluntary manslaughter, a judge allowed her to avoid jail time. It was among the catalysts for the Los Angeles Riots.

Latasha’s sister, Dr. Christina Rogers, and her brother, Vester Acoff, were 8 and 10 years old, respectively, when she was killed. The three children were being raised by their grandmother, Ruth Harlins. 

Latasha’s cousin, Shinese Harlins-Kilgore (left), with Latasha Harlins (right) in 1983. Courtesy of Christina Rogers.

Vester, Ruth, and Christina sat down for StoryCorps, more than 30 years later, to remember Latasha. 

In 1992, the family started the Latasha Harlins Foundation in her name. They aim to make lasting change for low-income and Black families and children in the Los Angeles area.

Latasha Harlins as an early teen. Courtesy of Christina Rogers. 

Breaking Baseball’s Color Barrier: How Jackie Robinson Inspired One Man “To Be Somebody”

On April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball when he took Ebbets Field for the Brooklyn Dodgers. That day is a historic marker for racial progress, but his journey to becoming the first African American player in the majors began in Daytona Beach, Florida — a year earlier.

During the spring of 1946, Robinson was a member of the Montreal Royals, the minor league club for the Dodgers, and he was in Daytona Beach to train. In the segregated South, he couldn’t play on whites-only ballfields with the rest of his team, so he practiced at Kelly Field, a local playground in the Black section of town.

It was at Kelly Field where Harold Lucas, Jr. met Jackie Robinson.

Photo of 6-year-old Harold Lucas, Jr., from 1949. Courtesy of Harold Lucas, Jr.

The Royals were preparing to play a minor league game in Sanford, Florida, but segregation laws — and a mob of threatening townsfolk — prevented Robinson from taking the field. So Black leaders in Daytona Beach stepped in, and gave Robinson a place to play — and an opportunity for Black residents to cheer for him.

Harold Lucas attended Robinson’s first game, and remembered that day at StoryCorps.

Top Photo: D’Lorah Butts-Lucas, Harold Lucas, Jr. and Darryll Lucas after their StoryCorps interview in Daytona Beach, Florida on March 21, 2022.

Hear more about Jackie Robinson’s journey to the big leagues in Daytona Beach.

Originally aired April 15, 2022, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

From Civil War To Civil Rights: Remembering A “Fearless” Midwife And Matriarch

Mary Stepp Burnette Hayden was born into enslavement in Black Mountain, North Carolina. She was 7 years old when she was freed.

Mary Stepp Burnette Hayden, about 1942, with her granddaughter, Mary Othella Burnette, and two of Hayden’s great-grandchildren. Courtesy of Mary O. Burnette.

Mary would go on to become a midwife in the Appalachian town, a practice she learned from her mother, who was sold to a plantation in Black Mountain at the age of 13 to treat sick or injured enslaved people. 

Mary died at the age of 98, at the dawn of the civil rights era. 

In her lifetime, she delivered several hundred babies… including her own grandchildren.

One of them, Mary Othella Burnette, came to StoryCorps with her daughter, Debora Hamilton Palmer, to honor the family matriarch.

Mary Othella Burnette and Debora Hamilton Palmer in 2015, Michigan. Courtesy of Mary O. Burnette.


Top Photo: Mary Othella Burnette and Debora Hamilton Palmer at their StoryCorps interview in Saint Clair Shores, MI, and Sparks, NV, on Feb. 6, 2022. By StoryCorps.

Originally aired February 18, 2022 on NPR’s Morning Edition.

He Survived The Holocaust Because Of A Stranger’s Kindness

In 1941, Philip Lazowski and his family were among thousands of Jewish people sent to the Zhetel Ghetto in what was then Poland.

One day, the Lazowski family caught wind that the Nazis were killing Jewish people in the ghetto and they decided to go into hiding. But Philip, just 11 years old, was caught alone by a German soldier after helping his parents and siblings take shelter in a hideout they’d built in their apartment.

Rounded up into the Zhetel marketplace, he saw the soldiers sending children and the elderly to their deaths, but noticed they seemed to be sparing families with adults who had jobs deemed valuable by the Nazis, like doctors, tailors or cobblers.

When he was 91 years old, Rabbi Philip Lazowski came to StoryCorps with his wife, Ruth, 86, to remember a quick decision that saved his life.

Rabbi Philip and Ruth Lazowski on their wedding day, in 1955. Credit: courtesy of the Lazowski family.


Top Photo: Rabbi Philip Lazowski and Ruth Lazowski. Credit: courtesy of the Lazowski family.

Originally aired January 21st, 2022 on NPR’s Morning Edition.

How A Shared Language Helped Two Young People Find Their Voice

In 2006, Luis Paulino immigrated to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic. He was a child and didn’t speak any English, so he struggled during his first year in school.

Four years later — then a senior in high school — he’d meet Angel Gonzalez, who reminded him of his younger self. Angel was also a transfer student from the Dominican Republic, and he was facing challenges that Luis could understand.

Angel Gonzalez and Luis Paulino, in New York, after Luis’s high school graduation in 2011. Courtesy of Angel Gonzalez.

They came to StoryCorps to remember that time, and how they got through it together.

Originally aired January 7th, 2022 on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Love and Skating: One Family That’s Rolled Through Six Generations

When Temica Hunt was growing up in Washington D.C. she was introduced to the jumping, whirling, bopping world of roller skating. She’s the fifth generation in her family to take up the pastime. Her mother, Necothia Bowens-Robinson, would bring Temica with her to the rink every chance they got, not for your typical sweet roll around the rink but more like a dance party on wheels. This brand of skating includes impressive tricks, spectacular moves and plenty of style.

Necothia Bowens-Robinson and Temica Hunt at the Crystals Skate Palace in 2009. Courtesy of Necothia Bowens-Robinson.

Necothia has her own memories of learning to skate from her father, David A. Bowens. A loving, hard-working man who “knew how to roll.”

Temica Hunt, about 8 years old, with her grandfather, David A. Bowens. Courtesy of Necothia Bowens-Robinson. 

Necothia came to StoryCorps with her daughter to reflect on the family’s skating legacy, with Temica now raising the sixth generation of skaters. . .

Temica Hunt with her daughter Kennedi, at Anacostia Skate Pavillion. Courtesy of Necothia Bowens-Robinson. 
Top Photo: Temica Hunt and Necothia Bowens-Robinson at their StoryCorps interview in Washington D.C. on December 14th, 2021. By Selcuk Selcuk Karaoglan for StoryCorps.

Originally aired December 31st, 2021 on NPR’s Morning Edition

“Kids Bring Happiness”: A Couple Finds Purpose Opening Their Home To Children Affected By The Opioid Crisis

The opioid crisis reached a grim milestone during the heaviest months of the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 100,000 people died from overdoses, a record number that has touched families and communities across the country.

Historically, one of the hardest hit areas has been Blue Creek, Ohio, where Jesus and Suzanne Valle lived and raised their family for two decades. It eventually hit close to home, when Suzanne’s brother and sister-in-law started struggling with drug addiction. 

When it became clear to the Valles that their four nieces and nephews would go into the foster care system, they stepped in and filed for custody. They eventually adopted the kids, as well as two more children from the larger community.

Jesus and Suzanne with their adopted children in Art Van Atta Park, OH, July of 2021. (Courtesy of the Valle family)

In 2017, they came to StoryCorps to reflect on their decision to take in more kids, and how they’ve found purpose and happiness in their bustling household.


Top Photo: Jesus and Suzanne Valle at their StoryCorps interview in Blue Creek, OH, on August 13, 2017. By Jacqueline Van Meter for StoryCorps.

Originally aired December 17, 2021, on NPR’s Morning Edition.