NPR StoryCorps

Since the coronavirus pandemic hit New York, Dr. Roberto Vargas has been working long hours, running labs that do COVID-19 testing in Rochester.

To minimize his family's risk of exposure, Roberto has been isolating himself from his wife, Susan, and their four kids since March.

For two weeks, Roberto stayed at a hotel near Rochester Regional Hospital, where he works as the director of microbiology. Then, he moved to the basement of his home.

Around Memorial Day of 2000, Emily Aho took her then 75-year-old father, Emilio "Leo" DiPalma, on a trip back to Germany, where the World War II veteran served as a guard at the Nuremberg Trials.

Coming up on Memorial Day two decades later, Aho holds those memories with him especially close. Last month, DiPalma died of complications from COVID-19 at 93 years old in Holyoke, Mass.

"He had all these things he wanted to talk to me about. I'll never forget it. I may not have had a lot of time with my dad before, but I had that week," Aho, 62, said.

When Evette Jourdain was struggling to get back on her feet, landing a job as a postal worker gave her security. Now, during the coronavirus pandemic, the job carries new risks she and her colleagues never imagined.

Jourdain, 32, and her friend and fellow mail carrier Craig Boddie, 48, spoke for a remote StoryCorps conversation last month from Palm Beach, Fla., about how their work has changed since the coronavirus outbreak in the United States.

Alice Stockton-Rossini and her 90-year-old mother, Jackie Stockton, survived COVID-19.

But the virus took the lives of some of their friends and a relative.

The outbreak in their community in Ship Bottom, N.J., can be traced back to Stockton's 90th birthday party, held at her church on March 8 before much of the U.S. began practicing social distancing.

In a recent remote StoryCorps conversation, Stockton told her 62-year-old daughter that she didn't realize she had contracted the virus until she landed in the hospital.

As the coronavirus pandemic hit the U.S., Dan Flynn made his way from Santa Barbara, Calif., to New York City, joining 58 others as part of a national mortuary response team.

Flynn, a funeral director, has been with the team since 2008. The group helps identify victims and assist with mortuary services to help loved ones find closure. While in New York last month, Flynn assisted with autopsies and photographed, fingerprinted and catalogued bodies.

New York City bus operators Tyrone Hampton and Frank de Jesus have witnessed a crushing loss in their field of work. As of Wednesday, 83 Metropolitan Transportation Authority workers have died from COVID-19, 30 of them also bus operators.

Hampton, 50, and de Jesus, 30, spoke for a remote StoryCorps conversation about how the outbreak is putting their love for the job to the test.

Friends Josh Belser and Sam Dow are more than 400 miles apart from each other, but, as health care workers, they're united in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

Belser, a nurse in Syracuse, N.Y., and Dow, a health care technician in Ann Arbor, Mich., grew up together in Florida.

Both are self-isolating from loved ones and regularly speak with each other, but the childhood friends connected remotely this week for a special StoryCorps conversation.

This episode of StoryCorps originally aired in 2018.

At 20 years old, Pfc. Roman Coley Davis was stationed in Afghanistan when the loneliness of war began to seep in. At StoryCorps 12 years later, Davis tells a friend how a surprise package from his Georgia hometown brought him immense comfort.

Audio produced for Weekend Edition Saturday by Aisha Turner.

This episode of StoryCorps originally aired in 2015.

Chloe Longfellow, 32, remembers her close relationship with her grandmother, Doris Louise Rolison, who taught her to cook in a kitchen that also served as a classroom for Rolison's life lessons.

"It's really surprising the amount of life lessons you can learn in a kitchen if you have the right teacher," Longfellow said.

Lillian Bloodworth lives up to her name, so to speak.

Over the course of nearly five decades, the 92-year-old has donated 23 gallons of blood, starting in the 1960s. (The average person's body contains about 1.5 gallons.)

"When I first started, I would have donors read my name tag and ask if that was really my name or was that a gimmick for the blood bank," she said.

During a StoryCorps conversation recorded in January 2010 in Gulf Breeze, Fla., Lillian told her late husband, John, about why it was important for her to give blood as often as she can.

Ruth Owens, 93, has lived in the same small town in the mountains of Tennessee her whole life. It's her compassion for others that led her to want to take care of her community.

Before she retired at age 85, Owens inspired several of her children and grandchildren to follow in her footsteps into nursing, including her grandson, James Taylor.

"It takes a special person to be a nurse," she told Taylor, 41, during a StoryCorps interview in April. "That was the most rewarding profession that you could have. So I'm real thankful for that."

Fifty years ago, federal postal workers walked out in a strike that lasted eight days, spanned more than 30 cities and prompted President Richard Nixon to declare a national emergency. The effort won postal workers living wages.

Tom Germano was one of them, picketing in the middle of New York City alongside fellow letter carriers and clerks. As a strike leader of Branch 36 of the National Association of Letter Carriers, Germano helped rally support.

When Rep. James Clyburn — the highest-ranking African American in Congress — endorsed Joe Biden's 2020 bid for president, it helped propel the candidate to crucial victories in the South Carolina primary last month and on Super Tuesday.

Clyburn, elected to Congress in 1992, has served two stints as House Majority Whip, a post he currently holds. At StoryCorps in 2007, Clyburn talked to his granddaughter about success and failure.

Click the play button to hear their conversation.

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Anita Rao.

Olivia Hooker was a 6-year-old in Tulsa, Okla., when a race riot destroyed her community as well as her own home.

In less than 24 hours, mobs of white men destroyed more than 1,000 homes and businesses in the Greenwood District, an affluent African American neighborhood of Tulsa. It's estimated as many as 300 people were killed.

As they wrecked her own home, she and her three siblings quietly hid under a dining room table, careful not to make a sound.

Shig Yabu was 10 years old when he and his family were forced from their home in San Francisco and relocated to an internment camp in Wyoming.

In 1942, two months after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 authorizing the detention of anyone deemed a potential threat to the country. Roughly 120,000 people of Japanese descent were forcibly relocated to internment camps as a result — the Yabu family included.

Eddie Chang and his three daughters lost a wife and mother when E.F. Wen died of colon cancer 10 years ago.

They're still grieving but are comforted when they read her old journals and share stories.

Eddie Chang visited StoryCorps in 2017 with his youngest daughter, Tria, now 36, to tell her the story of how he first met her mother.

Kevin Craw always encouraged his children to embrace the unexpected.

His daughter, Kate Quarfordt, the eldest of his three children, was in high school the first time she truly understood the spirit of her father's philosophy.

In a conversation at StoryCorps last month, Quarfordt told her dad how he inspired her to take more risks in life.

It all started with her vocal talent.

Quarfordt grew up in Connecticut with a passion for singing. In high school, she starred in several musicals, but was also interested in performing other kinds of music.

Derrick Storms and his little brother Raymond grew up in southern Florida in a troubled, at times unstable, home.

When they were in high school, their mother died of cancer.

The brothers didn't really have each other, either. Derrick held a lot of anger and tormented Raymond.

"I just remember you being so cruel," Raymond told Derrick.

In a conversation at StoryCorps this month, the two sat down to talk about how they reclaimed their relationship.

Derrick would play malicious tricks on him, Raymond said.

At six years old, Jerry Morrison is already shooting for the stars.

"I want to live on another planet," Jerry told his uncle, Joey Jefferson, at StoryCorps in November. "There's so much sights to see: nebulas, hot Jupiters and supernova remnants. They look so beautiful."

Jefferson, 29, also fell in love with space at an early age. It started with a wind-up space shuttle toy his mother gave him when he was a kid. Today he's a mission operations engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab, where he commanded the Spitzer Space Telescope and the Cassini spacecraft to Saturn.

Rep. John Lewis is the last living speaker from the March on Washington, the 1963 landmark civil rights protest that culminated with Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech.

But before Lewis dedicated his life to fighting for racial equality, he grew up in Troy, Ala., with dreams of becoming a different kind of orator.

"When I was very young, I wanted to preach the gospel," Lewis said on a visit to StoryCorps in February 2018.

He wanted to be a minister. His nearest congregation was the family livestock.

As a young boy growing up in Minneapolis during the 1970s, Russell King knew he wasn't into the things most other boys liked.

"I didn't really like sports, and I liked to play with the girls," King, now 57, said on a visit to StoryCorps this past November. King liked dolls, but he got the message early that because he was a boy, he wasn't supposed to.

Dena Kohleriter had always planned on having a family. But when she was 36 years old and hadn't yet met the person she wanted to build one with, she decided to take matters into her own hands. She met with a reproductive endocrinologist in 2010 and gave birth to her daughter, Jori, the following year.

That it's just the two of them is what makes their family "a little bit unique," Dena tells 8-year-old Jori at StoryCorps in Dallas.

In 2015, Asma Jama was dining out with family at an Applebee's restaurant in Coon Rapids, Minn., when she was attacked by another customer. Jama, a Somali American, was wearing a hijab and speaking Swahili when a woman in the next booth demanded she speak English.

The woman, Jodie Burchard-Risch, then hit Jama in the face with a glass beer mug. Burchard-Risch pleaded guilty to felony assault charges, admitted she acted out of bias and served time in jail for assault.

Drew Lanham grew up in Edgefield County, S.C., on the farm his grandfather built in the 1920s.

Lanham, now 54, says his father felt a responsibility to stay on the land and care for the animals and crops planted there. "I saw my father, in large, through the land, and I saw the land as my father's heart," he said on a visit to StoryCorps earlier this month.

To Lanham, that family land was intertwined with his fascination for the critters around him.

Jessica Kibblewhite grew up the daughter of an astronomer. Her dad, Edward Kibblewhite, invented, among other things, a system that allows scientists to take clearer pictures of stars.

Given his background, Jessica asked him for help finding clarity on a different subject: starting a family.

The world, Jessica told Edward at StoryCorps last October, seemed like an especially difficult place, and she and her husband had been struggling with the idea of bringing children into it.

She felt scared for the future.

Edward, now 75, asks her what the alternative is.

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