Friendship – StoryCorps

“It Feels Like a Gift”: How Taking a Name Kept One Man’s Legacy Alive

In 1981, the death of 21-year-old Cameroonian man Acha Mbiwan devastated his family. Losing Acha — known for his mischievous sense of humor and prodigious intelligence — sent shockwaves through the family’s tight-knit community.  

For more than 40 years, they found it difficult to even speak about Acha. But little did they know that Acha had befriended an American man in college named Atiba, who was so moved by Acha’s death that he took his friend’s last name, Mbiwan, as a tribute.

In 2012, Acha’s sisters Didi Ndando and Egbe Monjimbo learned of Atiba’s existence after stumbling across him on the internet. All three sat down for StoryCorps to talk about what happened next.

This story was adapted from the StoryCorps Podcast. To hear the full story, listen to the episode: “One Who Is Understanding

Top Photo: Didi Ndando, Atiba Mbiwan, and Egbe Monjimbo at a reunion for Atiba’s family in Atlanta in 2014. Courtesy of Egbe Monjimbo.
Middle Photo: Acha Mbiwan posing in a photo booth in 1980 in Paris, France. Courtesy of Egbe Monjimbo.

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 2, 2022, on NPR’s Morning Edition

Separated by Time and Distance, Best Friends Reunited After More Than Three Decades

Pak Yan and Joe Chan grew up in the same neighborhood in Hong Kong. They developed a close friendship, learning to ride bikes without training wheels and walking each other to school every day. Then, in 1962, Joe’s family moved to the U.S., seeking refuge amidst the Great Chinese Famine.

Pak Yan (left) and Joe Chang at a StoryCorps interview in San Francisco on September 18, 2014. By Geraldine Ah-Sue for StoryCorps.

An ocean between them, the two sent handwritten letters weekly via airmail. But after several years, as they moved and their addresses changed, the two lost contact. Pak often wondered what had become of his friend, and when he was 30 years old he also moved to the U.S. Years later—in 2000, when the internet was still relatively new—Pak decided to use Yahoo to search for his friend. He found 108 Joe Chan’s and called them one by one, leaving voice messages until he finally reached Joe on the 104th call.

“It’s like we just picked up where we left off,” Joe said. In 2014, the two men came to StoryCorps to remember their reunion.

Top Photo: Pak Yan (left) and Joe Chan (right) at Friendship Park in Richmond, CA soon after they reunited. The text on the rock reads ‘friendship’ in Chinese. 

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 November 25, 2022 on NPR’s Morning Edition. 

Your support makes it possible for StoryCorps, an independently funded nonprofit, to collect, archive, and share the stories of people from all backgrounds because everyone’s stories deserve to be heard.

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“We Didn’t Have Time To Be Afraid”: Two Army Nurses Reflect On Serving At The Front Lines

Army veterans Diane Evans and Edie Meeks arrived in Plaiku, Vietnam on the same day in February of 1969. Both were from Minnesota, and they built an almost instant friendship. And they were “hooch” neighbors, so bunked right next to each other.

Diane Evans in Long Binh, Vietnam in 1968. Courtesy of Diane Evans.

In 1969, Plaiku was one of the hot spots of the war, and Diane and Edie worked as nurses on the front lines. They saw casualties of war firsthand, but they never shied away from their job of protecting their patients.

They came to StoryCorps to share their story of service.

Diane Evans treating wounded soldiers at the 36th Evacuation Hospital in Vung Tau, Vietnam in 1968. Courtesy of Diane Evans.
Top Photo: Diane Evans and Edie Meeks at the Vietnam Women’s Memorial in Washington, D.C. Courtesy of Diane Evans.

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 November 5, 2022, on NPR’s Weekend Edition.

Your support makes it possible for StoryCorps, an independently funded nonprofit, to collect, archive, and share the stories of people from all backgrounds because everyone’s stories deserve to be heard.

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“We Lived Happily Ever After”: Milt And Etta Share Their Love Story

In the summer of 1955, Milt Ehrlich knew he’d met the love of his life. Her name was Etta, and they were both applying to be counselors at a summer camp for children with special needs. 

“You’re going to marry me,” he told her. She was initially unsure, so much so she made Milt wait 5 years before ultimately saying yes. 

Throughout her life, Etta was consumed by her art and appreciated Milt’s enthusiasm for helping her find the raw materials she would use. He frequented garage sales to hunt for objects such as tools or bottles — so long as they had charm.

Etta and Milt Ehrlich in Prince Edward Island, Canada in the early 1980s. Photo courtesy of the Ehrlich family.

In 2014, the couple came to StoryCorps to record the story of their love, and talk about how they used art and creativity as a vehicle for grappling with aging, grief, and the fear of death. 

They were married for almost 62 years, until Etta’s death in August of 2021. She was 90 years old. Milt came back to StoryCorps a year later to remember her. 

 

Top Photo: Milt and Etta Ehrlich on their wedding anniversary in Prince Edward Island, Canada in August. 1985. Photo courtesy of the Ehrlich family.

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 Nov. 4, 2022, on NPR’s Morning Edition. 

Your support makes it possible for StoryCorps, an independently funded nonprofit, to collect, archive, and share the stories of people from all backgrounds because everyone’s stories deserve to be heard.

Donate

“Why He Was Unknown Is A Mystery”: Remembering One Gay Man Who Sued For The Right To Work

In the 1970s, Faygele ben Miriam returned from serving overseas in the Army during the Vietnam war, and he settled in Seattle, Washington. Born John Singer, he changed his name to Faygele – meaning “little bird’ in Yiddish – to reclaim its derogatory use for “effeminate gay men.” And to honor his mother, he added “ben Miriam,” literally meaning “Little Bird, son of Miriam.” 

Faygele was an explosive character, and he often challenged his friends and colleagues to think of freedom in everything from how they dressed to who they stood up for, and at what cost. He was willing to put everything on the line – even his own safety – if it meant making the world a better place to live. And he earned the trust of his peers for taking bold, direct action. In 1971, Faygele applied for a marriage license with his friend and lover, Paul Barwick, an act that was unthinkable at the time.

Being so open, he was known for often wearing dresses in public because he was unafraid to proclaim his sexuality, no matter what room he was in. And in 1974, his frankness set the stage for a discrimination lawsuit with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), when they unjustly fired him for his sexuality.

Ronni Gilboa and Patrick Haggerty at their StoryCorps interview in Bremerton, Washington on August 13, 2022. By Bella Gonzalez for StoryCorps.

Faygele died in 2000, at the age of 55. And recently, Faygele’s friends, Patrick Haggerty and Ronni Gilboa, came to StoryCorps to remember the man who left an indelible mark on their lives. 

Top Photo: Faygele ben Miriam at his last Seder before his death in 2000. Courtesy of the University of Washington Library, Geoff Manasse special collection.

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 16, 2022, on NPR’s Morning Edition. 

“He Took Me Under His Wing”: The Father Figure Who Mentored Aspiring Black Surgeons

As a kid, Vivien Thomas had dreams of being a doctor. He enrolled in college at Tennessee A&I State College, but in 1929, the stock market crashed, and he couldn’t afford to continue. But Thomas was determined to make his dreams a reality, and he got a job working under prominent surgeon, Alfred Blalock. Eventually, Thomas became the Director of Surgical Research Laboratories at Johns Hopkins University.

Dr. Thomas was at the forefront of medical breakthroughs. He invented several surgical tools and methods, many of which are still used today. He is most notably credited with identifying a solution for a deadly condition known as “Blue Baby Syndrome” — a congenital heart affliction in babies.

During his over four-decade career at Hopkins, Dr. Thomas passed down the knowledge by training dozens of other aspiring surgeons, particularly Black men, like Fred Gilliam and Jerry Harris. 

Fred Gilliam and Jerry Harris at their StoryCorps interview in Baltimore, Maryland. Photo by Alletta Cooper for StoryCorps.

Many of the men who Dr. Thomas trained had little-to-no formal medical training before they worked for him, including Fred and Jerry.

They came to StoryCorps to remember the time they spent learning and training under Dr. Thomas, and how his mentorship changed their lives.

Dr. Vivien Thomas in his lab. Public Domain. 

Dr. Vivien Thomas never received a formal medical degree, but In 1976, he received an honorary degree from Johns Hopkins Hospital. Dr. Thomas died in 1985.

Fred Gilliam started his work with Dr. Thomas shortly after finishing high school. Dr. Thomas encouraged and enabled Fred to continue his higher education. Fred received his Associates degree in Emergency Medical Technology, and he went on to work at the American Red Cross.

Jerry Harris had previously been in nursing school before his time with Dr. Thomas. He honed his skills in pediatric surgery during his time with Dr. Thomas, and later stayed at Johns Hopkins as a coordinator in the School of Medicine. Harris died in 2019.

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 July 1st, 2022, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

A Columbine Survivor On Going Home To Teach

Warning: the audio version of this story contains strong language.

Mandy Cooke was a sophomore at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado in 1999, when two students opened fire at the school, killing 13 people and themselves.

Mandy later became a teacher back at Columbine.

At StoryCorps in Denver, Mandy sat down with Paula Reed — her former teacher from Columbine — to talk about the two decades that followed, and the lasting impact of the shooting.

Originally broadcast May 27, 2022 on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Top photo: Paula Reed (L) and Mandy Cooke (R) at StoryCorps in Denver, CO. By Kevin Oliver for StoryCorps.

“We’re Just Big Guys Dancing”: How One Man Found His Calling As A Mavs ManiAAC

When Rob Maiden was a kid, he was a little bigger than some of his classmates. And during one summer, he shot up from 5’6” to 6’3”, becoming the tallest one in his family. His father — a huge football enthusiast — couldn’t wait to watch Rob play football.

But Rob found his calling in another sport: a hip hop dance group of self-proclaimed “beefy” men who perform during Dallas Mavericks basketball games.

Mavs ManiAACs at a Dallas Mavericks game performance. Courtesy of Daniel Jacob.

Rob came to StoryCorps with his friend Daniel Jacob, to talk about how they both ended up as part of the Mavs ManiAACs, and how Rob’s father eventually saw him do what he was “born to do.”

Top Photo: Daniel Jacob and Rob Maiden at their StoryCorps interview in Dallas, TX in 2014. Photo by Liyna Anwar for StoryCorps.

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

In A House Full Of Rules, Cousins Remember A Rare Glimpse Of Freedom

In the early 1980s, Monica Jordan and her family moved in with her great aunt in Atlanta. That’s where she and her cousin, LaTonya Walker, developed a bond that made them more like sisters.

With two moms raising them under one roof, there were plenty of rules. Church was required every Sunday and no one got to play unless all of their chores were done.

At seven and nine years old, Monica and LaTonya dreamed of the day where they could spend a day doing whatever they wanted. And one particular afternoon, that’s exactly what they did.

Monica and LaTonya came to StoryCorps to remember their rare glimpse of freedom.

Top Photo: Monica Jordan and LaTonya Walker at their StoryCorps interview in Atlanta, Georgia on May 30th, 2021 for StoryCorps.

Originally aired Friday, April 1, 2022, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

‘A Package Deal’: Two Brothers Face Mortality Together

David Carles and his little brother, Mark Carles, were best friends.

David and Mark Carles at a family wedding in 2002. Courtesy of Mark Carles.

Growing up on Staten Island, the two did everything together. But in 2018, at the age of 24, Mark’s life was upended by a rare form of liver cancer called fibrolamellar hepatocellular carcinoma.

David Carles’ Tinder profile. Courtesy of David Carles.

A year after that diagnosis, the brothers sat down at StoryCorps in New York City to talk about the ways Mark’s illness had changed their lives.

Mark died on February 24th, 2022. He was 27. David came back to StoryCorps to remember him, just a few days after his death.  

Top photo: Mark Carles and David Carles at their StoryCorps interview in New York City on November 6th, 2019. By Mia Warren for StoryCorps.

Listen to David and Mark’s original 2019 conversation:

Originally aired November 22nd, 2019, on NPR’s Morning Edition. An edited version was rebroadcast on March 4, 2022 on the same program.