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Logan StoryCorps: I want people to laugh

 Jeanne O'Connor and her son Jim DeRito at their Logan StoryCorps appointment in May 2023.  Jeanne has chin length light blonde hair and her blue eyes deliver a piercing gaze as she looks pleasantly into the camera. She has on a tan wrap styled top with four brown buttons across the left side, embroidered with flower stems coming up from the right hemline.  Jim DeRito has eyes like his mother's, though they look a little darker. His hair is dark brown with streaks of white in his trim beard. He wears a green and white plaid button-up shirt with a pen in the pocket.  His arm is around his mother.

Jim DeRito: Well, thanks for coming out, Mom, all the way from New York out here to Logan, Utah for your oldest granddaughter's graduation. And I'm Jim DeRito, and I'm interviewing my mom, Jeanne.

Jeanne O'Connor: This is Jeanne O'Connor and Jim, I am thrilled out of my mind to be here for Kayla's graduation, and for this event, too, and we're having a great time already.

Jim DeRito: You obviously come from a really big family; much larger than typical. What was it like growing up with all those siblings in Syracuse, New York?

Jeanne O'Connor: Well, I am one of 14 wonderful children, Suzy Julie, Linda, Billy Peter, Jeanne Marie, Timmy, Mary, David, Martha, Tommy, Maggie, Pat — it's all one word. And it was an amazing experience. Why? Because we had enough kids to have teams for anything we ever did. So that's what we got to do. We played captured the flag and kickball. And we were all pretty good at that stuff.

And when you have that many kids in your family, there's no parental interaction at all. They just couldn't do it. So we had tremendous freedom. We were outside for as much of 24 hours as we could possibly be. Nobody was out looking for us. Nobody was concerned. Nobody was worried. It was amazing. We would skate and sled in the winter until our toes were frostbitten, and then go home and scream because they hurt so much. We never stopped running ever, ever, ever.

Now, John Carella and his brothers and sons would come in to do the interior painting of the house. So this one time they had done the painting. And one of us geniuses, the day after painting, went in with a box of Crayola crayons, and did our own personal artwork in the bathroom. So my father gets home from work that night. And he calls us all downstairs and we're all like, "Oh my God, like what is it?" So he lines us up — this didn't happen often — he lines us up. And he says, "Someone used their crayons on the newly painted bathroom. I want to know who did it. And the first one who says, 'I didn't do it,' is going to be spanked."

So we stood there quietly for a minute .... I was probably four or five with these rag curlers in my hair and cute as heck with my teddy bear. And I took a little step forward. And I said, "Daddy, I didn't do it." And I knew I didn't do it. He cracked right up. I thought he was going to fall off his chair. He could not believe after what he said .... And he just laughed, and he let us all go. So everybody clapped me on the back and they said, "Good going, Jeanne." So I love that story. And it's true.

Jim DeRito: How would you like to be remembered?

Jeanne O'Connor: I would have to say number one, Jim, I want people to remember I was funny. And I want people to laugh about things I said or did that were hysterical. And at my funeral, I'm going to pay 50 bucks for the person who says the funniest story about me, because I think that laughing is one of the cures for a lot of the things that are going wrong now. And if we can just release some of that grief and sorrow and sadness and fear. I think that's a pretty good thing.

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.