COVID-19 Archives - StoryCorps
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“It’s important to look after people.” A Big Brother Reflects on What His Younger Brother Taught Him.

The Rigano family lived just north of New York City in New Rochelle. There were five siblings: Denise, Phil, Lola, Adele, and Robbie, who grew up in a loving home in the 1960s. But Robbie held a special place in their hearts. 

Left to Right: Phil Rigano school portrait at age 6; Adele, Rob, and Phil Rigano in the 1960s; Lola, Rob, and Denise Rigano on a family vacation to Lake George, NY in 1971. Photos courtesy of Lola Rigano. 

Robbie is developmentally disabled, and from a young age was known for getting into sticky situations.  He was especially drawn to cars, which led to a number of what his brother Phil described as “shenanigans.”

Phil and Rob Rigano during a visit to California in 2014. Photo courtesy of Phil Rigano.

In 2006 Phil brought Robbie to record a conversation together when theStoryCorps Mobile Tour stopped nearby.  Knowing Robbie’s love of cars, Phil knew he’d get a kick out of recording in the iconic Airstream trailer. He came back 17 years later to reflect on that first recording.

Rob Rigano at his job at the Department of Public Works for the City of Larchmont in 1987. Photo courtesy of Lola Rigano.

 

Top Photo: Rob and Phil Rigano at their StoryCorps interview in San Diego, California on February 11, 2006. By Piya Kochhar 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 December 8, 2023, on NPR’s Morning Edition. 

18 Years After Katrina, A Grocer Rebuilds His Community One Shop at a Time

To mark StoryCorps’ 20th Anniversary we are revisiting classic conversations from the past two decades with updates from the participants.

This story is from New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward. The neighborhood was hit hard by Hurricane Katrina and was slow to recover. Almost 10 years after the storm it still didn’t have a single grocery store.

Lower Ninth Ward resident Burnell Cotlon wanted to change that. He saved money by working at fast food restaurants and dollar stores and used it to buy a dilapidated building on an empty block, and opened a neighborhood grocery. 

In 2015 he told his mother, Lillie, how his story started in the days after the flood…

 

Produce, snacks, and a picture of the building before it was renovated at ‘Burnell’s Lower Ninth Ward Market’, New Orleans, Louisiana. By Ian Spencer Cook for StoryCorps. Photo of original building courtesy of Daniel Schergen, who helped renovate it.

 

Burnell Cotlon and customers in his store in the Lower Ninth Ward, New Orleans, Louisiana in September, 2023. Courtesy of Burnell Cotlon.

 

Top Photo: Lillie Cotlon and Burnell Cotlon in front of Burnell’s store, ‘Burnell’s Lower Ninth Ward Market’ in New Orleans, Louisiana on August 19, 2015. By Ian Spencer Cook 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 September 22nd, 2023, on NPR’s Morning Edition. 

First story aired on August 8th, 2015 on NPR’s Morning Edition. 

This story is featured in Callings: The Purpose and Passion of Work, a collection that celebrates the passion, determination, and courage it takes to pursue the work we feel called to do from Penguin Books.

“Fear” Wasn’t A Word His Father Knew: The Origins Of A Civil Rights Leader

Rev. Harry Blake grew up working on a cotton plantation in Louisiana. At an early age, he learned the delicate balance between standing up for yourself and survival. Entering adulthood he was drawn to the ministry, eventually becoming the Pastor of Mount Canaan Baptist Church, where he served for many decades.

Rev. Harry Blake in the mid 1960s as a young Pastor of Mount Canaan Baptist Church courtesy of Monica Mickle.

Blake became active in the Civil Rights movement and was invited by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to work for him at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He survived beatings, arrests and even an assassination attempt. 

Rev. Harry Blake (c) talks with Shreveport police outside a memorial service at the Little Union Baptist Church on Sept. 22, 1963. Local authorities refused a permit to hold a memorial for four girls killed in a bomb blast in Birmingham, Ala., several days earlier. When it appeared a march would be held anyway, a tense confrontation ensued. © Langston McEachern, Port Huron Times Herald via Imagn Content Services, LLC

In 2017 Rev. Blake came to StoryCorps with his daughter Monica Mickle. At the age of 85, Rev. Harry Blake Died from COVID-19 in the early months of the pandemic.

Top Photo: Monica Mickle and Rev. Harry Blake at their StoryCorps interview in Shreveport, Louisiana on October 30, 2017. By Madison Mullen 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 on January 13, 2023 on NPR’s Morning Edition.

 

 

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“We’re Stuck With Each Other”: An Unconventional Quarantine Love Story

Neil Kramer and Sophia Lansky married in 1996, but it didn’t work out. After they divorced, Neil moved across the country, but they still leaned on each other. 

At the end of 2019, when the pipes in Sophia’s apartment burst, she was stuck with no place to stay. So she called the one person she knew she could depend on.

Neil Kramer and Sophia Lansky holding hands in Queens, New York, in October of 2021, on what would have been their 25th wedding anniversary. Courtesy of Neil Kramer.

Sophia moved in with Neil at the beginning of 2020. Coincidentally, Neil’s mother also moved back in with him around the same time, and the three of them decided to share the two-bedroom New York apartment for what they thought would be “a few weeks”. 

Elaine Kramer (left), Neil Kramer, and Sophia Lansky in Queens NY, in May of 2021. Courtesy of Neil Kramer.

Exes Sophia and Neil came to StoryCorps to talk about what they’ve learned from living together during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Early on during the pandemic, Neil started chronicling their odd living arrangements through a photography project. 

From left to right: Sophia, Neil, and Elaine watching the news in March of 2020. Queens, New York. Courtesy of Neil Kramer. 

He’s still taking photographs of their shared experience. And the three of them are able to collectively tap into the humor and absurdity of their life.

Top Photo: Neil Kramer and Sophia Lansky on February 9th, 2022 in Queens, New York. Courtesy of Neil Kramer.

Originally aired February 11, 2022, on NPR’s Morning Edition. 

As The Curtain Goes Up —Two Performers Remember “Phantom’s” Beloved Costume Dresser

Phantom of the Opera had its Broadway premiere in 1988, at the Majestic Theatre. Not long after its opening, Jennifer Arnold would become a permanent fixture on the crew, working as a costume dresser for over thirty years. 

Jennifer Arnold, courtesy of Janet Saia.

Jen embodied the spirit of the theater world, with a quirky sense of style and an enigmatic spark. She was also known for creating intricate matchboxes with photos and glitter, giving them as gifts to members of the cast and crew. Each one, intentionally designed for the person.

Janet Saia’s collection of matchboxes gifted to her by Jennifer Arnold. Courtesy of Janet Saia.

When the COVID-19 Pandemic shut down Broadway, the theaters closed their doors. Within a matter of weeks, Jen would pass away. 

Kelly Jeanne Grant and Janet Saia are two performers for the show. They came to StoryCorps as the show reopened in 2021 to remember their friend, and the impact she had on their lives.

Janet Saia and Kelly Grant in costume backstage at the Majestic Theatre in January of 2016. Courtesy of Janet Saia. 
Top Photo: From left to right, Kelly Jeanne Grant, Jennifer Arnold, and Janet Saia in New York in 2016. Courtesy of Janet Saia.

Originally aired October 22nd, 2021 on NPR’s Morning Edition.

A COVID Love Story: Detroit Couple Reflect on How a Difficult Year Brought Them Closer Together

When they first met, it didn’t take long for Namira and Omar Anani to fall in love. For Omar it was instant, but for Namira, it was Omar’s small acts of kindness that made her realize he was the one.  

They got married in November of 2019, but just four months into their marriage, their busy lives changed as Namira, a non-profit lawyer and Omar, a restaurateur, were faced with a slew of challenges brought on by the arrival of COVID-19.

They came to StoryCorps to reflect on a difficult year and how it ultimately brought them closer together. 

Photo: Namira and Omar Anani at their wedding in 2019. Courtesy of Namira Islam Anani.
Top Photo: Namira and Omar Anani in 2020. Courtesy of Namira Islam Anani.

This interview was recorded in partnership with the Arab American National Museum. It is part of the Anwar Collection of Muslim Voices through StoryCorps’ American Pathways initiative. This initiative is made possible by the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art and an Anonymous Foundation. Additional support is provided by the Stuart Family Foundation. It will be archived at the Library of Congress.

Originally aired February 19th, 2021, on NPR’s Morning Edition. 

A Grandmother Gives Advice On Living Through “Crazy and Consequential Times”

As a young girl growing up during WWII, Jane Isay heard stories about how both of her grandparents had died during the 1918 influenza pandemic, leaving her mother an orphan from a young age. 

Now, as the United States contends with the COVID-19 pandemic, Jane made time to sit with her grandson, Tobey Isay, 11, to impart some of her hard earned wisdom. They recorded this conversation using StoryCorps Connect, not long after Tobey had contracted and recovered from COVID himself.

Editor’s note: Jane Isay is the mother of Dave Isay, founder of StoryCorps. Tobey Isay is the son of Dave Isay.

Top Photo:  Jane Isay and Tobey Isay at their StoryCorps interview in Brooklyn, New York on April 11, 2020.
Middle Photo: Tobey Isay and Jane Isay. Photo courtesy of Jane Isay.

 

Chicago Siblings Remember Brother Lost To COVID and the Love He Left Behind

Growing up in the Little Village neighborhood of Chicago, Jorge and Jessica Valdivia looked up to their older brother, Mauricio. To many, he was a larger-than-life personality known to light up the room with his jokes and pranks. To his siblings, he was the rock of the family who always took the time to let them know they were loved.

Jorge remembers one Christmas when his parents couldn’t afford presents and Mauricio surprised him with his first Transformer, which he still has.

In April 2020, Mauricio, 52, died from COVID-19. He left behind his wife, their two sons, and a huge void in the lives of those who loved him most. Jorge and Jessica came to StoryCorps to share their favorite memories of Mauricio and what he meant to them.

Top Photo: The Valdivia siblings, from left to right: Eliseo Jr., Mauricio, Jessica and Jorge. Courtesy of Jorge Valdivia.

Bottom Photo: Jorge Valdivia holds the Optimus Prime Transformer that his late brother Mauricio got him one Christmas when they were young. Courtesy of Jorge Valdivia.

Originally aired February 5, 2021 on NPR’s Morning Edition.

After a Century of Living, Lessons From a Woman Who Was Larger Than Life

As of the end of 2020, more than 300,000 people in the United States have died after contracting COVID-19.

In this story, we remember one of those people: a grandmother and great-grandmother who was a larger-than-life character from a small town in northern New York.

Rose Pearl Liscum on her 96th birthday. Photo courtesy of Shelly Noti.

Rosella Pearl Liscum grew up near Ogdensburg, New York, where she died the day after Christmas at the age of 101. 

Back in 2012, she sat down for StoryCorps with her daughter, Marlene Watson, to talk about some of her most treasured relationships, including how she met her boyfriend, Bill “Wild Bill” Cota.

Rose Liscum and her boyfriend, “Wild Bill” Cota, dancing at the Heuvelton, NY AMVETS, where they first met. Photo courtesy of Marlene Watson.

 

Top Photo: Marlene Watson and Rose Pearl Liscum at their StoryCorps interview in Rensselaer Falls, NY on July 9, 2012. By Jasmyn Morris for StoryCorps.

Editor’s note: Jasmyn Morris, who co-produced this interview, is related to some of the subjects in this story. Rose Liscum was her distant cousin, Gert Uhl was Morris’ great-grandmother, and Joyce is her grandmother.

Originally aired January 1, 2021, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

A Queens Family’s Tradition of Feeding Those in Need — 365 Days a Year

Since 2004, Jorge Muñoz has gathered with his family in their small kitchen in Queens, New York where they cook meals for those in need. Together, they’ve provided more than one hundred meals per day to day laborers, many of whom are undocumented immigrants, in the city.

They’ve kept up the tradition year-round for the last 16 years, providing approximately 500,000 meals — until May, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

Using StoryCorps Connect, Jorge spoke with his sister, Luz, to remember the beginning of their journey, and how their mother inspired them to give to those in need.

Top Photo: Siblings Luz and Jorge Muñoz spoke about how their meal program began in their recent StoryCorps interview from their home in Queens, NY.

Middle Photo: The Muñoz family, (from left to right) Jorge, Justin, Blanca, and Luz, prepares meals from their kitchen in 2010.

Originally aired December 4, 2020, on NPR’s Morning Edition.