NPR StoryCorps

When he was just 2 weeks old, Ibukun Owolabi's mother died suddenly and unexpectedly. It fell to his then-teenage sister Alice to help raise him instead.

"It's still really hard to talk about her," Alice says of their mother, "because her passing was around the same time as you being born."

On a recent visit with StoryCorps, Alice, now 25, talked with her 10-year-old brother about the mother they shared — but whom he never really knew. That doesn't mean he wasn't loved by her, though.

Before this month's shooting in Orlando, the deadliest attack on gay people in the U.S. happened at the UpStairs Lounge, a gay bar in New Orleans. On this date in 1973, someone set fire to that bar in the French Quarter, killing 32 people.

No one was ever charged with the arson. And though it remains the deadliest fire in the city's history, neither the mayor nor the governor spoke about it then.

Marine 1st Lt. Ernesto Rodriguez is a father of two. When he deployed to Iraq in 2005, he had only recently become a dad. When he got back, he struggled to hold his life together.

But he'd never spoken about those times with his son, Sebastian, until they sat down for a StoryCorps interview.

Just off the boardwalk at Brooklyn's Coney Island sits the New York Aquarium, the oldest continuously operating aquarium in the U.S. Among its many attractions, the place plays host to tiger sharks, sea lions — and one former rock star.

Four years ago Jamal Faison was home on college break.

One night during this vacation from school, he was with a group of people who tried to steal mobile devices from a subway passenger.

Faison spent eight months in New York City's Rikers Island jail complex for the crime. When he left, Faison wasn't sure what was next for him.

Donna Engeman enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1981. About two years later, she left after she got pregnant with her first-born, a son called Patrick. She left having achieved the rank of specialist and having found the love of her life, her husband, Army Chief Warrant Officer John W. Engeman.

In addition to Patrick, they had a daughter, Nicole McKenna.

Some people may only remember Vice Adm. James Stockdale as independent presidential candidate Ross Perot's running mate in 1992. His opening statement of a disastrous performance during the vice presidential debate — "Who am I? Why am I here?" — made him a punchline on late night TV.

But Stockdale's legacy far surpasses any failed political endeavors. In 1965, his plane was shot down over North Vietnam and he was taken as a prisoner of war at Hoa Lo. He would be a POW for nearly eight years.

National Park Service

Steve Yancho has deep ties to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. He retired several years ago as chief of natural resources after a decades long career with the park.

“I came here with the intention of being, maybe here for a year … but instead it lasted a lifetime because I fell in love with this place,” Yancho says.

And beyond his own career, Steve has another connection to Sleeping Bear Dunes: his son Sam works as a park ranger there, too.

The Yanchos recorded a conversation about the park for the storytelling initiative StoryCorps last year. The National Park Service is celebrating its centennial this year, and StoryCorps visited Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore as part of that celebration.

“It's hard to put into words how much this area means to me now that I grew up with it.  It's a part of who I am today,” Sam Yancho says.


In the late 1940s, in the small, coal-mining township of Bethel, Pa., Marie Sayenga was raising two children — one named Bill — on a secretary's salary.

"Mama was widowed when I was 4 years old," retired teacher Bill Sayenga says to his daughter Ellen Riek during a recent visit to StoryCorps. "She had no education beyond high school. Raised my sister and me on almost no money. And bought a house so that her kids would have a proper place to grow up."

Francisco Preciado came to California from Mexico as a young child. By the early 1980s, he was raising a young family of his own in the U.S. and working as a groundskeeper at Stanford.

On a recent visit to StoryCorps, his son, Frankie, recalls, "Since I was around 9 or 10, I would come sometimes with you to help you on campus."

"I told you that one day, you were going to go here to Stanford," answers Francisco.

A years and a half ago, Patricia Mishler was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease. The condition, also called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, attacks the cells that control muscle function — and it is considered terminal.

"Most doctors will tell you three to 10 years, but nobody really knows," Mishler, 73, tells her two daughters, Suzanne and Janette, in a StoryCorps conversation for Mother's Day.

With that diagnosis comes a sense of impending loss, she says — not simply the prospect of death, but the loss of many abilities once taken for granted.

Sharon Long found her calling later in life. Back in the 1980s, she was a single mom trying to support her two kids, holding down several jobs at once — none of which she liked much.

"I worked at the Dairy Queen, and I cleaned a dentist's office, and I was a secretary," Long recalls, on a recent visit with StoryCorps. "I hated every morning I got up."

But, as she tells her colleague Steve Sutter, everything changed for her at age 40. When she she took her daughter to register for college, a financial aid officer persuaded Long to enroll herself.

Vito de la Cruz practices law in Washington state, but his roots actually rest in Texas, where he grew up in a family of migrant farm workers. When de la Cruz was 5, he began working the fields himself in the 1960s.

"The family, we used to migrate. We traveled the migrant farmworkers' circuit," he tells his wife, Maria Sefchick-Del Paso, on a recent visit with StoryCorps. "It was equal parts hardship and poverty."

On-air challenge: Ignore the vowels in each word given. The consonants in each word are the same consonants in the same order as in the name of a well-known American city. Name the cities.

For example: DOLLIES ---> DALLAS.

At first glance, a posting for the job of bridgetender might not be the most attractive you've ever seen. For 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the person at the controls of the Ortega River Bridge in Jacksonville, Fla., must sit in a tiny booth, opening and closing the bridge so boats can pass.

Sounds like an awful job, right?

Some accidents have deadly consequences. And sometimes it's the thing you didn't do — didn't say, didn't see — that leaves you with the most guilt.

For 25 years, retired Army Col. David Taylor has carried feelings of guilt over the death of one of the soldiers in a maneuver he was leading.

In 1991, during one of the final battles of the Gulf War, Army Spc. Andy Alaniz was killed by friendly fire in Iraq. A U.S. tank unit fired rounds at the group of vehicles Alaniz was in, mistaking them for the enemy. He was one of 35 Americans killed by friendly fire in the war.

Some accidents have deadly consequences. And sometimes it's the thing you didn't do — didn't say, didn't see — that leaves you with the most guilt.

For 25 years, retired Army Col. David Taylor has carried feelings of guilt over the death of one of the soldiers in a maneuver he was leading.

In 1991, during one of the final battles of the Gulf War, Army Spc. Andy Alaniz was killed by friendly fire in Iraq. A U.S. tank unit fired rounds at the group of vehicles Alaniz was in, mistaking them for the enemy. He was one of 35 Americans killed by friendly fire in the war.

After a long, desolate winter devoid of bats and balls and more than a few questionable called strikes, big-league baseball is finally once more upon us. And while the action on the diamond is the main attraction, it's by no means the only competition that rages in ballparks across the country.

For a glimpse of another battle entirely, just look to the stands. There, in the aisles, you'll find vendors roaming the stadium selling refreshments, vying with one another to end each game as the day's top seller.

After a long, desolate winter devoid of bats and balls and more than a few questionable called strikes, big-league baseball is finally once more upon us. And while the action on the diamond is the main attraction, it's by no means the only competition that rages in ballparks across the country.

For a glimpse of another battle entirely, just look to the stands. There, in the aisles, you'll find vendors roaming the stadium selling refreshments, vying with one another to end each game as the day's top seller.

Meet Yetta Bronstein, candidate for president.

At least, she was a presidential candidate — kind of. In the 1960s, a pair of professional pranksters, husband and wife Alan and Jeanne Abel, orchestrated an election-year hoax with Bronstein, a politician as much as she was a fiction.

"Yetta Bronstein lives in the Bronx. She has a boy named Marvin. He plays the drums, badly," recalls Jeanne. "And one day she decides to run for president!"

Earlier this year, when her father was in the final stages of lung and liver cancer, Eva Vega-Olds spoke to him for the final time. Leonardo Vega, 73, had been in hospice care at his home in New Jersey, so weak that he could barely muster the strength to answer his daughter's questions.

But still, Eva asked them — and took the opportunity to tell her father what he meant to her. And she recorded the conversation for StoryCorps, using her smartphone.

For three generations, Tanya James' family has worked the coal mines of West Virginia. James is no different. She began working in the mines in 1979, when only about 1 in 100 coal miners were women — and she didn't begin under the happiest of circumstances.

Her father died when she was 17, leaving her mother to take care of the family. Out of necessity, Tanya's mother took a mining class, and Tanya would go down with her every day — so the instructor invited Tanya to join the class.

Six months later, Tanya was working in the mines as well.

His is not just a gentle voice; for many people, it's a very familiar one, too. For 25 years, Francois Clemmons played a role on the beloved children's program Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. Clemmons joined the cast of the show in 1968, becoming the first African-American to have a recurring role on a kids TV series.

And, as it happens, it was Clemmons' voice that Fred Rogers noticed, too, when he heard Clemmons singing in church.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

When the military opens front-line combat roles to women soldiers — across all branches — in April, it will mark the culmination of a years-long process, which was often subject both to consternation and controversy. It will also mark a historic first for a female service members, many of whom enlisted decades ago in a very different kind of military.

Among those women is Capt. Margie Finlay, who first enlisted in 1973.

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