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.

garbageman1After 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.

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.

Julie Taylor and Fred Taylor

Each year as the holidays approach, airline companies brace themselves for record numbers of travelers, flights, and inevitable delays. And when flights are interrupted, airline customer relations officers like Fred Taylor step in to deal with angry customers.

taylor3 For 15 years, Fred was the Senior Manager of Proactive Customer Communications for Southwest Airlines or, as his daughter lovingly calls him, “The Sorry Man.” He created this department in 2004 in response to fliers who were impacted travel by issues, from the most mundane weather delays to scary airplane malfunctions and unruly passengers.

For example, Fred explains that if an engine shuts down because parts of the fan blade come apart, it makes a lot of noise and creates plumes of fire that come out of the back. This is a fairly common mechanical issue, but it can be terrifying for the passengers aboard who don’t know much about planes. That’s where Fred came in. 

On another memorable flight, a woman combined alcohol and prescription medication in order to deal with her fear of flying. As a result, she took off all of her clothing and starting chewing on the seat bottom cushion. Fred says he had to apologize to the other 137 other passengers who were also aboard that flight. 

Fred came to StoryCorps with his wife, Julie, to share his experiences as a professional apologizer.

Originally aired December 30, 2016, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Saboor Sahely and Jessica Sahely

Saboor Sahely grew up in eastern Afghanistan’s Laghman province. He remembers the village in which he was raised as being like a big family, with neighbors coming and going freely from each other’s homes, sharing food, and attending one another’s celebrations. On hot summer nights they would sleep on their roofs entertaining each other with stories late into the night. That is also where he first heard about America, planting a desire to one day come to the United States.

sahely1In 1978, a long Afghani civil war began, and Saboor’s family, fearing that he would be unable to soon leave the country, urged him to go to the United States. He had already been accepted to Utah State University, and when he arrived in New York City, he only had with him a suitcase, the phone number of a relative he had never met, and a few hundred dollars. He used the money to purchase a bus ticket to Logan, Utah.

In Logan, he got a job as at a restaurant as a dishwasher and quickly moved up to cook, eventually becoming a district manager. But the restaurant ran into financial problems and closed. Saboor used the money he had saved to purchase the building, and in 1983 he opened Angie’s Restaurant—named after his then 2-year-old daughter.

Starting 26 years ago, Angie’s Restaurant began offering free meals to the Logan community on Thanksgiving. Saboor came to StoryCorps with his younger daughter, Jessica, to talk about his life in Afghanistan, and how the lessons he learned continue to inspire him.

Originally aired November 25, 2016, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Lou Olivera and Joe Serna

In 2013, Green Beret Sergeant Joe Serna retired from the Army after more than 18 years of service that included three tours of duty in Afghanistan and numerous awards including two Purple Hearts. Returning to North Carolina to be with his wife and children, he found adjusting to civilian life difficult.

oliveraextraIn 2014, following a DWI arrest, Joe’s case was assigned to the Cumberland County Veterans Treatment Court. After a probation violation, District Court Judge Lou Olivera (above left), an Army veteran who served during the Gulf War, sentenced Joe to a night in jail.

Joe was with three other soldiers in Afghanistan in 2008 when their armored truck flipped over and landed in a river. It quickly filled with water and Joe was the only survivor. Knowing Joe’s history and how difficult it would be for him to spend an evening confined, Judge Olivera decided to spend the night with Joe in his jail cell.

At StoryCorps, they reflect upon the night they spent together, the difficult memories that being sentenced brought back, and the relationship they have formed since.

Originally aired October 14, 2016, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Above photo courtesy of Joe Serna.

Idella Hansen and Sandi Talbott

Idella Hansen started driving big rig trucks in 1968 when she was just 18 years old. At the time, she was pregnant and hungry for independence so she filled a tanker with gasoline, took to the road, and to this day has not looked back. idella_truckNow 66 years old, Idella has been driving for more than four decades, and her best friend is fellow trucker Sandi Talbott.

Sandi, 75, began driving alongside her husband, Jim, in 1979. They drove as partners for years until Jim’s health began to decline and Sandi took over most of the driving. After Jim’s death in 2000, Sandi continued on the road without him, and has now been behind the wheel for over three decades.

Together, Idella (top left) and Sandi (top right) have driven over 9 million miles hauling everything from missiles to tadpoles. At StoryCorps they discuss their friendship, their adventures, and why they’ll never retire.

Originally aired September 23, 2016, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Photo of Idella in 1996 courtesy of Idella Hansen.

Larry Kushner and Eileen Kushner

For as long as she can remember, Eileen Kushner has had a difficult time reading and doing simple math. Growing up in Detroit the 1950s, she recalls her teachers calling her “stupid” and “lazy,” but no one knew she had a processing disorder until she was tested and diagnosed by a psychiatrist when she was in her mid-30s. “It was like a door in my brain would drop and it wouldn’t allow me to process any of the information.”

larry-eileenAfter graduating high school, Eileen married Larry Kushner and over time they had three daughters. Eileen hoped that staying out of the workforce would help her hide her learning difficulties, but surviving on the money Larry earned as a bank teller was hard. There were days when their family didn’t have enough food in the refrigerator, so Eileen began to look for a job.

She worked briefly as a secretary but was fired because her notes were riddled with misspellings, and then Larry suggested that she apply for a job at the McDonald’s next to the bank where he worked. Eileen was overjoyed when she got the job and started by making French fries and milkshakes and cleaning the floors. She secretly hoped she would not be promoted because she knew that would mean working at the cash register.

In the 1960s, McDonald’s cashiers manually calculated the cost of an order, and Eileen was afraid that a promotion would lead others to discover her secret — she wasn’t able to add. But she did so well with her first responsibilities that a promotion to the register soon followed. For Eileen, it was a tragic moment, and she told Larry she was going to quit. That’s when he came up with a solution.

eileen-larryLarry brought home different denominations of bills from the bank, and Eileen brought home Big Mac boxes, French fry containers, and cups, and they began playing McDonald’s at their kitchen counter. Larry would pretend to be the customer and Eileen would practice adding up his order. They did this every day until Eileen felt comfortable enough to accept her promotion.

Eileen moved her way up at McDonald’s eventually becoming a manager and then attending Hamburger University. Together Eileen and Larry have owned five separate McDonald’s restaurants (currently, they own one). Now in their 70s, she credits Larry with their success while he believes that it was her dogged perseverance and hard work that got them to where they are today.

They came to StoryCorps to remember their earlier struggles.

Originally aired September 16, 2016, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Top photo of Eileen and Larry at their February 1963 wedding and bottom photo of Larry and Eileen in their McDonald’s uniforms courtesy of the Kushner family.

Vaughn Allex and Denise Allex

This weekend marks 15 years since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Each year since, StoryCorps has commemorated the day by featuring stories from the parents, wives, husbands, coworkers, and friends of those who died on 9/11. This year we hear from Vaughn Allex, a man whose life was affected in another way.

Vaughn was working at the American Airlines ticket counter at Dulles International Airport outside of Washington, D.C., on the morning of September 11 checking in passengers on Flight 77. Allex1As he was wrapping up, two men who were running late for the flight came to his counter.

Before the creation of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), airport security was more lax, and Vaughn did exactly what he was supposed to do — he checked both men’s IDs, asked them a few standard security questions, and then flagged their bags for extra scrutiny.

Vaughn then checked the two men in and they boarded the flight to Los Angeles.

Those two men were among the five hijackers onboard who crashed American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon, killing 189 people including themselves.

Vaughn, who retired from the airline industry in 2008 and now works for the Department of Homeland Security, came to StoryCorps with his wife, Denise, to discuss how he has felt since learning the next day that he checked in two of the 9/11 hijackers on American Airlines Flight 77.

Originally aired September 9, 2016, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Illustration by Matt Huynh for StoryCorps.

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. photoCeceley 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.]

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"Enjoy life as much as you can cause it doesn’t happen forever.”
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Originally aired September 2, 2016, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Above photo of William and Ceceley courtesy of Ceceley Chambers.

Frank Mutz and Phil Mutz

We’re almost three-quarters of the way through what scientists are predicting will be the hottest year on record, so it’s a good time to take a moment to remember those who help keep us cool—air conditioner repair people.

During the 1950s, as AC units were becoming more common sights in U.S. homes, brothers Frank and Harold Mutz were operating a business installing and repairing units. In the 1970s, Frank’s son Thomas took over the business and soon after, Thomas’s son, Frank II, moved to Atlanta and took up the profession as well.

Frank only intended to remain in Atlanta a short time, but working with his father, he found that he had a knack for cooling and heating and ended up staying.

Over the years, their company, Moncrief Heating & Air Conditioning, has grown, and today two of Frank’s three children—Tom and Phil—and his son-in-law, Matt, work alongside him.

Frank and Phil came to StoryCorps in Atlanta to talk about their work; from fixing broken units at churches without AC during Sunday morning sermons, to dealing with cranky customers who need to be turned from unhappy to happy.

Originally aired August 26, 2016, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

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Each week, the StoryCorps podcast shares these unscripted conversations, revealing the wisdom, courage, and poetry in the words of people you might not notice walking down the street.