Wellness Archives - StoryCorps

For Old Friends, Hospital Work Brings New Challenges During COVID-19

Josh Belser and Sam Dow have always had a way of looking out for each other. The longtime friends first met in the early 80s, when they were young kids growing up in a suburb outside Tampa, Florida. 

As adults, they each pursued a career in medicine: Josh as a nurse in Syracuse, New York, and Sam as a health technician in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

When COVID-19 hit, they both found their work lives dramatically altered by one of the most deadly global pandemics in a century.

With almost 400 miles between them, Josh and Sam used StoryCorps’ new remote recording platform, StoryCorps Connect, to talk about their decades-long friendship, and how they continue to support each other, especially during this difficult time.

Top photo: Sam Dow at his job in Ann Arbor, Michigan and his friend Josh Belser at work in Syracuse, NY in 2020. Courtesy of Josh Belser.
Second photo: Josh Belser in 1985 with his best friend, Sam Dow, in Brandon, FL where they grew up together. Courtesy of Josh Belser.

Originally aired April 17, 2020, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Ellie Dahmer and Bettie Dahmer

During the mid-1960s, Vernon Dahmer was a successful black farmer and businessman in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. He was also a civil rights leader and had served as the head of his local NAACP chapter. This work often made his family a target of threats by the Ku Klux Klan. Despite the danger, Vernon worked to help register black voters in the community.

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Although the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act gave racial minorities equal access to the right to vote, the state of Mississippi still required residents to pay a poll tax when registering, impeding many potential black voters. And so on January 9, 1966, Vernon publicly offered to pay the poll tax for blacks who wanted to register but could not afford it.

That night, the KKK firebombed his home while he was inside with his wife, Ellie Dahmer, and three of their children—Bettie, Dennis, and Harold. Vernon exchanged gunfire with the attackers and held them off so he and his family could escape. He later died from injuries he sustained in the fire.

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Ellie went on to serve as an election commissioner in Hattiesburg for more than a decade, continuing the work that she and her husband had started. It took more than 30 years for Samuel Bowers, the Klan leader who ordered the attack, to be convicted of Vernon’s murder.

At StoryCorps, Ellie and Bettie, who was 10 years old at the time, remembered the night Vernon was killed.

Originally aired January 13, 2017, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Top photo: The charred remains of the Dahmer home and car. Courtesy of Moncrief Photograph Collection, ID #513, Mississippi Department of Archives & History.
Middle Photo: Ellie Dahmer (L) and Bettie Dahmer outside Ellie’s home, which was built in the same location as the house that was destroyed. Credit: Roselyn Almonte, StoryCorps.
Bottom Photo: Ellie Dahmer holds a photo of her late husband. Credit: Roselyn Almonte, StoryCorps.