StoryCorps | KUNC

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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