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Logan StoryCorps: Our unusual life

Michael Ballam stands behind his wife and daughter, with a hand on each of their shoulders. He wears a blue button-up shirt and a large gold ring on his right forefinger.  His hair is full and white and he smiles into the camera.  Laurie Ballam has dark brown hair and stands full head shorter than her husband.  Her eyes are green and she wears a burgundy red blouse, smiling toward the camera.  Vanessa Ballam is half a head taller than her mother and half a head shorter than her father. She has dark brown hair and green eyes. She wears a long teardrop pendant earring and wears a blue blouse with a tie in the front and smiles into the camera.
Laurie, Michael and Vanessa Ballam at their StoryCorps interview in Logan, May 2023.

MICHAEL BALLAM: I am Michael Ballam

LAURIE BALLAM: And I'm Laurie Ballam. I kind of knew what I was getting into when I married you.

VANESSA BALLAM: My name is Vanessa Ballam, here with my father and my mother and I just assumed all children lived their lives like this. One of their parents was a professional performer and we would be able to go and spend time with him one on one.

MICHAEL BALLAM: Do you know why I started taking one of you with me?

VANESSA BALLAM: I think it's my fault isn't?

MICHAEL BALLAM: It is your fault. Completely your fault. I was at the Kennedy Center and I got a phone call. You were crying. You'd been watching La Traviata. And you said it's about a little girl whose daddy is always gone. And she's so sad that she says, "I will die if you don't come back." And I knew then: this should not be the case.

LAURIE BALLAM: And I decided that we could arrange to send this little 5-year-old.

VANESSA BALLAM: And I think I had a sign on me that said, "Help me." I flew by myself.

LAURIE BALLAM: Yes. She had a stewardess assigned to her.

VANESSA BALLAM: I really credit my parents for that choice. We were allowed to just go into these operatic rehearsals and we were welcomed. And so for me, not only being inspired by the operatic theatre magic that I was seeing in front of me and also the community that existed, I knew I wanted to be a part of it. And I am curious when Leora Thatcher came into your life.

MICHAEL BALLAM: I was 13. She was a Broadway star. She came over to see a community production of Oliver! I was playing the Artful Dodger; she was there with her marble covered cane holding court. And she wanted to tell me that I had what it took, and that she and I would have a future together someday. And she became a mentor and friend and she was rabidly interested in Grand Opera. On Saturdays, she would play the Met broadcasts, but she told me I could not hiccup or sneeze or say a word. Two and a half hours of music, we sat there in silence. And I was just transported.

Well and then she asked me what makeup classes I had had. And I said, "I have had none." And she said, "Well, then Saturday morning, show up with clean face at 8 a.m." And I got there and she had a towel and she said, "Where's your makeup kit?" And I said, "I don't own a makeup kit." And she was disgruntled and she went upstairs and she brought down the makeup kit she had used on Broadway, and we started with ingenue and worked our way up through the characters to old man and it was five o'clock. We had worked through lunch and she had taught me every kind of makeup. I thanked her and went to the door. And she said, "You forgot your makeup kit." And I said, "I didn't bring one," and she handed me hers which was so meaningful to me. It's a treasure.

VANESSA BALLAM: And there are still elements from that makeup kit that you bring every show.

MICHAEL BALLAM: I have never thrown them away. She was very special to me.

Mary got hooked on oral histories while visiting Ellis Island and hearing the recorded voices of immigrants that had passed through. StoryCorps drew her to UPR. After she retired from teaching at Preston High, she walked into the station and said she wanted to help. Kerry put her to work taking the best 3 minutes out of the 30 minute interviews recorded in Vernal. Passion kicked in. Mary went on to collect more and more stories and return them to the community on UPR's radio waves. Major credits to date: Utah Works, One Small Step, and the award winning documentary Ride the Rails.
Kirsten grew up listening to Utah Public Radio in Smithfield, Utah and now resides in Logan. She has three children and is currently producing Utah StoryCorps and working as the Saturday morning host on UPR. Kirsten graduated from Utah State University with a Bachelor's degree History in 2000 and dual minors in Horticulture and German. She enjoys doing voice work, reading, writing, drawing, teaching children, and dancing. Major credits include StoryCorps, Utah Works, One Small Step, and the APTRA award-winning documentary Ride the Rails.
Check out our past StoryCorps episodes.