Jess Buzzutto, Eileen Logiudice, and Tori Medina
St. Patrick’s Day in Yonkers, New York has not been the same since Jess Buzzutto died in 2012. With a five-foot frame and a sartorial preference for the color green, he was affectionately dubbed by his neighbors the Leprechaun of Yonkers.
Jess embraced what he called his “leprechaunishness.” A fixture on the street of Yonkers for many years, he was well-known as a friendly neighborhood denizen who loved to care for his garden, always ready to provide a passing car with a wave and a smile.
In 2010, Jess came to StoryCorps with his sister, Eileen Logiudice, and niece, Tori Medina, to talk about how it all started, by chance, with a green felt hat.
Eileen and Tori returned to StoryCorps in 2017, just before St. Patrick’s Day, to record a tribute to Jess.
Top photo: by Richard Perry/The New York Times/Redux
Bottom photo: Eileen Logiudice (left) and Tori Medina (right)
Originally aired March 17, 2017, on NPR’s Morning Edition.
John Marboe and Charlie Marboe
John Marboe is known to many as Reverend Doctor Garbage Man. He’s a Lutheran pastor, a professor, and a garbage hauler.
Growing up in Alexandria, Minnesota, he admired his local garbage man. In fact, he was friends with that man’s son and regularly played on the edge of the city landfill, marveling at the treasures people would discard.
After finishing his graduate degree in 2011, times were lean for John’s family. So he took a job hauling trash and before long, he discovered some surprising connections between his work on his garbage route and his work as a pastor.
At StoryCorps, John spoke with his 13-year-old daughter, Charlie.
You can learn more about John on his blog, Rev. Dr. Garbage Man.
Originally broadcast January 20, 2017, on NPR’s Morning Edition.
Photo: John Marboe on his garbage route. Courtesy of John Marboe.
This StoryCorps interview was recorded as part of The American Pilgrimage Project, a partnership based out of Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs that is devoted to gathering stories of religious faith. Author and Berkley Center senior research fellow Paul Elie is the project director and Adelina Lancianese is the project assistant.
Francisco Ortega and Kaya Ortega
Growing up in rural Tijuana, Mexico, Francisco Ortega was among the youngest of his family’s 10 children. In 1975, his parents made the difficult decision to leave him and his siblings in the care of his beloved aunt, Trinidad, and move to Los Angeles to find work. Once there, his father worked as a busboy and his mother as a seamstress in a clothing factory; each month they sent back money for food and clothing.
Only about 6 years old when his parents left, Francisco was an intuitive, energetic, and excitable boy. He spent hours playing in the hills and fruit orchards of Tijuana, and chasing rattlesnakes with his dogs. He also acted up a lot and often gave his aunt a hard time.
He didn’t see his parents for nearly three and a half years, and couldn’t understand why they left. He missed his mother terribly but through hard work his parents became more financially stable, and in 1978, 9-year-old Francisco joined them in Los Angeles.
At StoryCorps, Francisco—who works to strengthen relationships between the Los Angeles Police Department and the community—shares memories of his childhood in Tijuana with his 16-year-old daughter, Kaya, and tells her about the day he left Mexico to reunite with his parents in Los Angeles.
Originally aired December 16, 2016, on NPR’s Morning Edition.
Above: Francisco and his younger sister Ana after arriving in Los Angeles in 1978. Photo courtesy of Francisco Ortega.
Fred Davie and Robert Sanchez
Robert Sanchez (right) is a social worker who helps people coming out of prison find work and get the support they need. He has a unique understanding of his clients’ struggles because in 2001, Robert was released from New York’s Sing Sing Correctional Facility after serving 15 years for a nonviolent drug offense.
Robert has also recorded StoryCorps interviews with those who have helped him over the years, and in March 2010, his conversation with Felix Aponte was broadcast on NPR. More recently, he sat down with Fred Davie (left), a long-time mentor and friend to thank him for the spiritual support he has provided.
A Presbyterian minister who heads the Union Theological Seminary, Fred met Robert in 1998 when he was visiting Sing Sing and Robert was working towards his master’s degree in theology. They struck up a conversation and made an instant connection, and after Robert’s release, Fred helped him navigate the difficult process of finding work, interpersonal relationships, and fatherhood.
They have both remained outspoken about the importance of providing guidance and support to individuals following their incarceration, and together they developed the Ready4Work reentry program which provides mentoring and job counseling to former prisoners to help with their transition and avoid returning to prison.
At StoryCorps Robert and Fred remember their first meeting, and discuss how their relationship has grown since.
Originally aired December 2, 2016, on NPR’s Morning Edition.
William Chambers and Ceceley Chambers
William Chambers’ mother, Ceceley, is an interfaith chaplain who has provided spiritual support to seniors and hospice patients suffering from memory loss and dementia. Her work involves talking with people about their faith, listening to their stories, and praying with them — sometimes up to ten times a day.
Last year William, 9, went to work with his mother while she was visiting with residents of the Boston-area Hebrew Rehabilitation Center. Ceceley knew that many of the residents liked having children around, and they were thrilled to have William there.
At first William was afraid to go to the center, but his experience there left him pleasantly surprised. Among the residents he spent time with was a woman with end-stage Alzheimer’s disease who carried a baby doll with her that she treated like a real child. This didn’t faze William who told his mother, “I think people are free to think whatever they want to think.”
Since his initial visit, William has returned to work with his mother several more times. While Ceceley finds it difficult to say goodbye to the residents at the end of the day, they have taught her the “importance of being present, and the beauty of just little small moments.” William says that his time going to work with his mother has changed how he sees things as well: “They made me think, you should enjoy life as much as you can cause it doesn’t happen forever.”
They came to StoryCorps to discuss the affect Ceceley’s work has had on them both.
[Of the many residents Ceceley has counseled, she felt particularly connected to one man who would sing her love songs and tell her dirty jokes. Listen below to hear one of the love songs.]
Originally aired September 2, 2016, on NPR’s Morning Edition.
Above photo of William and Ceceley courtesy of Ceceley Chambers.
Melva Washington Toomer and John Washington
John Washington was born blind and with a severe loss of hearing that has become more extreme over time. Just before he turned 30, he met his future wife, Fannie Ruth, who was also blind and deaf. In 1950 they got married, and remained together for 55 years having three children together—Melva, Warren, and Canady—before Fannie Ruth passed away in 2005.
John, who did not finish high school, began reading books in braille “to learn the ways of life,” and went on to teach others to read braille as well. He spent years working as a massage therapist, and in 1952, in what he considers one of his proudest achievements, he helped found the first braille magazine in the United States focused solely on issues important to the African American community—The Negro Braille Magazine.
Now 95 years old, John recently recorded a StoryCorps interview with his eldest child, Melva Washington Toomer (pictured in the player above), using a TeleBraille machine, a device that requires Melva to type her questions on a keyboard which are then translated to a braille touchpad for her father to read.
At StoryCorps, he shared some of his favorite stories about raising his children, and asked his daughter an important question about what she plans to do with him as he continues to move closer to being 100 years old.
Besides using a TeleBraille machine, John also speaks with others through fingerspelling–a method of communication where words are spelled out directly into his hand by another person using the American Sign Language alphabet. (Watch the above video to see John and Melva fingerspell.)
Originally aired August 19, 2016, on NPR’s Morning Edition.
Above: John and Fannie Ruth Washington at the Durham, North Carolina, YMCA in the mid-1970s where were he worked as a massage therapist. Photo courtesy of Melva Washington Toomer.
Vanessa Silva-Welch and Arnaldo Silva
Ten years ago, Arnaldo Silva noticed a lump on his chest. After going to a doctor and getting a mammogram, he learned that he had breast cancer.
Breast cancer in men is rare (according to the National Institutes of Health, male breast cancer accounts for less than one percent of all breast cancer diagnosis worldwide), but Arnaldo’s diagnosis and the discovery that he carried a genetic predisposition to cancer led other members of his family to get tested as well. Soon after, his daughter, Vanessa Silva-Welch, learned that she too had breast cancer.
During their treatments, Arnaldo and Vanessa became each other’s support systems as they went through chemotherapy and fought cancer together. And while Arnaldo is now cancer free, four months ago Vanessa received a new breast cancer diagnosis and once again began treatment.
At StoryCorps, they discuss their battles with cancer and Arnaldo’s concern that his children will remember him as the one who passed this hereditary disease on to them.
Originally aired July 29, 2016, on NPR’s Morning Edition.
Above: Vanessa and Arnaldo in 2009 after they finished chemotherapy. Photo courtesy of Vanessa Silva-Welch.
Bill Sayenga and Ellen Riek
Bill Sayenga’s father died when he was just four years old leaving behind his mother, Marie, and his older sister Louise.
In order to support her family, Marie (pictured in 1964 in the player above) found a job with the Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, recorder of deeds office as a secretary, but her pay—about a dollar an hour and just over $2,000 a year—was miserable. Although it allowed her to provide a home for her family, the money was only enough for them to just get by.
For 11 years Marie worked at the recorder of deeds’ office, and according to Louise, she hated it. But for all that the job lacked, it did provide Marie with insights into the inner workings of her local government. She recognized the need for change and in 1949, Marie ran for tax collector in the borough of Bethel.
Being both a woman and a Democrat made her a long shot. For over 50 years, men had been elected tax collector, and for the previous 24, Merle Long held the office. Marie lost that first race, but in 1953 she made a second run and unseated Long by just nine votes.
Marie would hold onto the job for the next 24 years, winning five subsequent elections. In 1973, in her final race, she received more votes than anyone else on the ballot running for any office in the borough.
Marie died in February 1993 at the age of 83.
Bill came to StoryCorps with Marie’s granddaughter, Ellen Riek (pictured above), to remember their family’s influential and powerful matriarch.
Originally aired May 20, 2016, on NPR’s Morning Edition.
Photos of Marie Sayenga and the borough of Bethel tax office courtesy of Louise Randolph.
Vito de la Cruz and Maria Sefchick-Del Paso
Vito de la Cruz’s parents were already separated when he was born, and when he was 6 months old, his father left him in the care of his 19-year-old aunt, Iris de la Cruz, a woman he called Nena.
Vito’s extended family traveled the migrant trail, finding work on farms across the United States. At 5 years old, Vito joined them in the fields. He remembers the excitement of traveling in the summers with his aunts, uncles, and grandmother from tomato fields in South Texas, to cherry orchards in Ohio, and sugar beet farms in North Dakota. During the days, they worked side-by-side, and in the evenings, they gathered together for dinner.
But their family’s migrant lifestyle was not easy; it was “equal parts hardship and poverty.” When he was 13, Border Patrol agents raided the farm where Vito and his family were working and rounded up undocumented workers. Witnessing workers’ fear of law enforcement struck a “profound chord in his being” and changed the course of his life.
Vito had always excelled in school, with Nena’s encouragement. She, herself, was the first person in the de la Cruz family to graduate high school, and she later went on to college. Following Nena’s example, Vito left South Texas for Yale University and then went on to attend law school at the University of California, Berkeley.
After law school, Vito began volunteering with the United Farm Workers union and focused the early part of his legal career on immigrant and farmworker rights. Years later, he became a federal public defender in Nevada before moving to Bellevue, Washington, where he continues to practice civil rights law.
Vito came to StoryCorps with his wife, Maria Sefchick-Del Paso (pictured together above), to remember how his childhood and his loving Nena shaped his future.
Vito’s story is one of 53 work stories featured in our new book, Callings: The Purpose and Passion of Work, now available in bookstores.
Originally aired April 22, 2016, on NPR’s Morning Edition.
Photo courtesy of Vito de la Cruz.
Barb Abelhauser and John Maycumber
For 14 years, Barbara Abelhauser got up each day and went to work in an office. She hated her job, and finally, one day she quit, reasoning, “I could get hit by a bus tomorrow. And if that happens, I want to have woken up that day and not thought, ‘I don’t want to go to work.’ ”
Her next job was nothing like the one before; it didn’t require her to put on pantyhose or navigate tricky office politics—Barb became a bridgetender. Sitting in a booth called a tenderhouse (pictured at left) over the Ortega River in Jacksonville, Florida, she opened and closed the bridge to allow boats to pass from one side to the other. Her office now consisted of a console with buttons and the walls were so close that she couldn’t even fully stretch out her arms. But windows surrounded her and from her perch on top of the bridge she had “the most gorgeous view in the entire city.”
The bridge over the Ortega River requires that a bridgetender always be on duty, but that doesn’t mean that passersby were always aware of Barb’s presence. The position requires both patience and vigilance, and from her spot she became familiar with the people (joggers, fishermen and couples out for romantic strolls), and the animals (birds, manatee, and alligators), that spend their days on and around the bridge. She was “getting paid to stop and look.”
When she took the job, Barb didn’t expect to be a bridgetender for more than a year, but for the next 14 years, she watched the sun rise and set on the river from the tenderhouse. She now documents her observations and experiences on her blog, “The View from a Drawbridge.” In 2014, Barb left Jacksonville and moved to Seattle, Washington, where she continues to bridgetend.
Barb came to StoryCorps with her friend, John Maycumber, to explain why she fell in love with her job.
Originally aired April 15, 2016, on NPR’s Morning Edition.
This story is featured in Callings: The Purpose and Passion of Work, a collection that celebrate the passion, determination, and courage it takes to pursue the work we feel called to do.
Callings is now available from Penguin Books. Get the book at our neighborhood bookstore, Greenlight Bookstore, or find it at your local bookstore.